New Philanthropic Initiative Brings Musical Theater to West Oakland

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Undeterred by an initial fall in ratings, and skepticism over whether a show about backstage pratfalls in musical theater can really make a viable prime time soap opera, producers at NBC have launched an aggressive promotional campaign for the new show, Smash — and now it includes a philanthropic component. NBC recently teamed up with the New York-based theater education company iTheatrics to launch a new program that would bring musical theater to underprivileged schools. The two companies will help bankroll musical theater programs at 20 schools in 20 US cities, including West Oakland, where they've mounted this weekend's production of Annie Jr. at West Oakland Middle School (991 14th St., Oakland).

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The performers, all of whom are students at KIPP Bridge Charter School, are rookies in musical theater, but teachers have high hopes that the program will be fruitful, and self-sustaining. After all, they have the benefit of corporate largesse; the NBC execs behind Smash take it as an article of faith that musical theater can save lives, in addition to bringing network dollars. Annie Jr. runs Friday through Saturday, April 27-28 at KIPP Bridge Charter School. Shows happen at 5 p.m. Friday and 12:30 p.m. on Saturday; tickets cost $5 in advance, or $7 at the door.

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