64 talented youngsters ages 6 to 13 are in the cast

By Calvin Nuttall

South Valley families, get ready to embark on an enchanting voyage of self-discovery as “Moana Jr.” sets sail for 10 shows.

South Valley Civic Theatre showcases a vibrant cast of 64 talented youngsters ages 6-13. This 75-minute musical adaptation of Disney’s 2016 animated film offers fresh music, characters, and changes in the storyline compared to the movie. The show opens Friday, Sept. 22 and runs three weekends.

Delphine Sen, 13, leads the cast as “Moana,” a young Polynesian woman with an adventurous soul who feels restless among her insular island village community.

“Moana loves her family, but she just wants to go out into the ocean and see what is out there, and her parents won’t let her,” Sen said.

The adventure begins when Moana, in defiance of her family’s wishes, casts off on a quest to restore the stolen heart of an ancient spirit in order to save her village from blight and famine. Along her journey she encounters “Maui,” a boisterous demigod with a personality leagues different from what Moana is accustomed to.

“She has never met someone quite like him,” Sen said. “He is free-spirited and adventurous. When she goes on this adventure, at first I think she is scared, but then she grows more confident when she meets Maui. He encourages her to let her true self shine through. She discovers her confidence.”

Adam Hart, 12, plays the shape-shifting trickster Maui. Together, the two unlikely companions brave mythic dangers in order to right the wrongs of the past and save the world.

“It’s very fun,” he said. “Maui always loves to joke around, and he is adventurous. He loves to go out into the wild. In the beginning, he thinks Moana is just a fan of his, like everybody else who knows him. But the more you get into the show, the more they become real friends.”

Supporting Moana and Maui is a cast of characters, many of whom are specially written for the stage adaptation.

“One of the great things about the musical is that, in addition to these two main characters, there are a lot of outstanding featured parts,” said co-producer Ken Christopher. “A lot of kids get the chance to shine.”

While working with so many performers presents challenges, the kids take it in stride.

“It’s really fun working with such a big cast,” Sen said. “No matter what rehearsal you go to, you’ll always have a friend. Everyone in the cast is so sweet and talented, and I’m really grateful to work with everybody.”

Shepherding the actors required a coordinated effort between the crew and the parents of the cast, who have been heavily involved in the production. Director Jenn Oliphant is well qualified to lead such an effort. A mother of six, she is no stranger to the task.

“It’s a lot of energy, but I have never minded that,” Oliphant said. “I have learned that with a lot of energy you just channel that into something that is productive. Acting is a really good outlet for really big feelings. Singing and dancing are great at helping kids to feel good moving in their own bodies and using their own voices.”

The cast size is a testament to the success of SVCT’s children’s show program, which aims to engage new families in the performing arts. The “Moana” cast is larger than recent children’s shows, Christopher said, which had been slow to recover their numbers after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We wanted to make sure we really got a fire going under the kids’ program,” he said. “We knew a Disney show was going to be a sure-fire thing to get kids and the community excited. With getting more than 64 kids cast, more than quadruple the previous kids’ show, we feel like we completed our mission.”

Michael Horta co-produces the show. He has a passion for working with children and loves finding ways to help them express themselves creatively and cultivate their talents.

“We knew ‘Moana’ would bring in kids,” he said. “I think it helps they know the show, and they are excited to see the new songs and other things that aren’t in the movie. I’m hopeful most if not all of those families will come back for the kids’ show next year, or move on to the teen show.”

The set will be as vibrant as the cast, with a Polynesian-influenced artistic theme. The art is inspired by the work of husband-and-wife duo Matthew and Roxanne Ortiz, aka “Wooden Wave.” Their murals can be found in Hawaii and across the U.S., Oliphant said.

“My other love, besides working with kids, is set design,” she said. “We have these incredible murals you’ll see inspired by Wooden Wave. It’s very colorful and appealing to kids. This is a kid’s show by kids and for kids, so it has a lot of colors and shapes.”

While “Moana, Jr.,” is a fun and energetic adventure for audiences of all ages, the production’s importance goes beyond its face value, Oliphant said. By enabling young people to get involved in the creative process, projects like this encourage the development of essential skills and generate positive mental health outcomes.

“When you are paying to go see a kids’ show, it’s not just about the entertainment factor,” she said. “When you come to a kids’ show, you are investing in a future where children have grown into adults who know how to interact with the world and everyone around them. These kids are learning empathy, because they are having to step into other characters’ shoes. They’re learning how to express themselves, and they’re learning self-discipline.”

Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill-based freelance reporter and columnist.

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Producers Ken Christopher
Michael Horta
Director Jenn Oliphant
Assistant Director Malisha Kumar
Vocal Director Lynette Oliphant
Choreographer Natalie Fitzgibbons
Stage Manager Dana Scribner
Props Lorraine Bell
Lighting Designers Clara Shem-Tov
Spencer Oliphant
Sound Designer Brian Bourke
Moana Delphine Sen
Maui Adam Hart
Tamatoa Dara Hargreaves
Left Claw Coraline Christian
Right Claw Brielle Johnson
Chief Tui Ezrah Cortez
Sina Isabella Seki
Gramma Tala Sofia Longoria
Ancestor 1 Lizzy Call
Ancestor 2 Chloe Grotz
Ancestor 3 Kaileya De La Serna
Hei Hei Sienna Avila
Pua Savanna Torres
Te Ka London Henry
Te Fiti Claire Oliphant
Ancestor/Village Ensemble Ashlen Hsu
Allyson Dauphin
Mila Henry
Matthew Horta
Jase Puente
Brenden Oliphant
Harper Sebok
Annabella Zambaturo
Miles Avila
Tiffany Torres
Titus Fulk
Monsters Emmie Hernandez (Gate Monster)
Reia Vasquez
Alice Ball
Genie Oliphant
Willow Raposo
Grace Butler
Olivia Perales
Lucas Hecht
Mila Mitchell
Ocean Ensemble Kathleen Gonzalez
Ava Meehan
Julia Tracy
Allie Borja
Emma Bennett
Cooper Popa
Emily Rempel
Molly Rempel
Tiffany Torres
Danee Harer
Demianna Delgatty
Alexis Hsu
Leah Fulk
Layla Fulk
Elsa Soohoo
Maisie Maiorino
Dacia Christian
Londyn Little
Julia Klamo
Lola Rose
Emma Stebbins
Audrey Weppler
Laya Haritsa
Cady Oliphant
Harper Eaton
Flags Miriam Shem-Tov (lead)
Grace Rogers
Joselynn Klamo
Jaylina Vera
Maui Ensemble Jase Puente
Brenden Oliphant
Matthew Horta
Graham Bortolussi
Cooper Popa
Miles Avila
Titus Fulk
Ethan Soohoo
Levi Wharton
Ethan Hecht
Miriam Shem-Tov
Shiny Ensemble Amari Johl
Harper Sebok
Graham Bortolussi
Annabella Zambararo
Ava Meehan
Tiffany Torres
Azalea Rodgers
Grace Butler
Tessa Flores
Daniella Bergot
Keila Conesa-Mora