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Meet the Director & Choreographer of Miss Nelson is Missing!

We are so excited to have a powerhouse creative team working on our upcoming production of Miss Nelson is Missing, including Director Janet Stanford and Choreographer Tony Thomas! 

Janet Stanford recently retired from her role as Founding Artistic Director of Imagination Stage after leading our organization for over 30 years. She has produced over 160 shows, directed 55, written 9, and commissioned 50 new works throughout her time here and is also the recipient of the 2017 Harold Oaks Award for Innovation in Theatre for Young Audiences and the 2024 Imagine Award for Lifelong Service.

Tony Thomas is an award-nominated director, choreographer, and interior architect. He choreographed his first ever Theatre for Young Audiences show in 2017 at Imagination Stage. With our theatre, he has choreographed The Freshest Snow Whyte; You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown; Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed; and directed and choreographed P.Nokio.

We spoke with these two accomplished artists to get a behind-the-scenes peek at their plans for the show. 

IS: What excites you most about the opportunity to direct/choreograph Miss Nelson is Missing?

Janet: Our fabulous cast excites me enormously. I have worked with all of them before (except for Theodore), and I know what depths of originality, vocal virtuosity, and potential for madcap humor lives with this group. I am excited to bring out the best "worst kids" and "best kids" in each and every one.

Tony: Miss Nelson is Missing! is a wonderful show that brings back so many memories from my childhood. I remember reading the book and absorbing each part of the story with all of the confusion, emotion, and excitement the author intended.

IS: What do you hope audiences will take away from this production?

Janet: As with everything at Imagination Stage, I want our audience to feel respected and seen.  As kids, most of us are attracted at one time or another by the idea of being cool rule breakers who can devote their full time to fun. But all actions have consequences and Miss Nelson's class is put on the spot for their naughtiness. The real fun is watching how they solve their enormous problem (aka the terrible substitute teacher Viola Swamp) and restore order to their lives. Yes, it is a morality tale, but, with playwright/lyricist Joan Cushing's delightful sense of humor, audiences always leave this show smiling and humming one of her tunes.

Tony: Not only is it my job to help tell the story in a physically creative way, but I must also help convey the message of this show, which centers on growth and maturity. I hope that the young audience members will be able to see themselves in the characters or story and then be able to use this connection to assess their behavior and consideration for others.

IS: Tony, how would you describe the style or styles of dance you will be including in this production?

Tony: When working with actors and movement, I heavily consider their personal creativity and natural physical abilities. As I build on a little hip-hop, jazz technique, and stylized ballet gestures, the most important element in the process is how the choreography is being presented. They are playing children and the choreography should feel fun and child-like.

IS: Janet, which scene are you most looking forward to staging and why?

Janet: The big show-stopper scene in this musical is the arrival in Room 207 of the terrifying substitute teacher, Miss Viola Swamp.  She is every school kid's worst nightmare. And because the audience recognizes that the children have been disrespectful and unkind, they actually ENJOY seeing the guilty students whipped into shape by the No Nonsense Miss Swamp. The rest of the play is a coming of age story as the kids problem-solve, confront their own short-comings, ask for forgiveness, and emerge as more mature, stronger, and better people.

IS: Tony, which number are you most looking forward to choreographing and why?

Tony: I am so excited about finding the fun in McSmogg Is Here and working through Worst Kids of All. Because the children deliver versions of Worst Kids of All twice in the show, we will be focusing a lot on how to differentiate between these two renditions. Janet and I really want to emphasize the journey of these kids and the valuable lessons they take from it.

IS: Janet, Miss Nelson is Missing! was presented at Imagination Stage in 2008. What can audiences expect to be different in this production?

Janet: While most past productions focus on the classroom scene, for me this is a play about a journey: a physical journey all around the town looking for the lost Miss Nelson (or some adult who can help the students find her) and a spiritual journey as the class of Room 207 learns that the only helpers they have are themselves. They learn that, together, they have the brains and hearts to make amends and earn a happy ending. Award-winning set designer Milagros Ponce de León has created a brilliant set that conveys the journey with the help of a turn-table, revolving walls, light-up signage, and lots of wheels that the kid characters travel on to make their epic voyage of self discovery.

Miss Nelson is Missing! runs June 20-August 10 with weekday and weekend matinees. When the students of Smedley Elementary School drive away their sweet teacher with their terrible behavior, they must track down Miss Nelson and beg her forgiveness or else face the wrath of dreaded substitute teacher Viola Swamp. Find out what happens in this tuneful and hilarious musical!

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