CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond’s Virginia Repertory Theatre, one of the largest performing arts organizations in central Virginia, announced on Tuesday that the Disney Musicals in Schools program is coming to Chesterfield next year.

Disney Musicals in Schools works to create theater programs at under-resourced elementary schools that may not otherwise have access to the arts. Chesterfield is now the 26th school district to collaborate with Disney Musicals in Schools, and the first place in Virginia.

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, representatives from Chesterfield County Public Schools and the theatre announced the program, as well as what schools will be part of it. Four Title I elementary schools were chosen to participate in the first year of the Disney Musicals program; Bensley Elementary, Crestwood Elementary, Harrowgate Elementary and Reams Elementary.

Each school will select one of these seven Disney KIDS shows to perform — “101 Dalmatians,” “Aladdin,” “The Aristocats,” “Frozen,” “The Jungle Book,” “The Lion King” or “Winnie the Pooh.” These shows are each 30-minute musicals adapted especially for elementary school performers.

Beginning in January, teams of students and teachers from each school will participate in a 17-week musical theater residency led by a team of Virginia Repertory teaching artists. As part of this residency, school teams will learn how to produce, direct and choreograph as students in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade get involved with on-stage and off-stage roles. The program will ultimately allow kids to develop skills like critical thinking, problem solving, communication, self-confidence and interpersonal skills.

This residency will come at no cost to the schools, and involved teachers will receive a stipend for their participation.

For the culmination of the program, school teams will not only get to perform their musical for families, friends and school staff, but the four schools will also perform for a community audience during Student Share Celebrations at the Perkinson Center for the Arts and Education in Chester and at Virginia Rep’s new Center for Arts and Education in Richmond.

The opportunity is not only exciting for the schools, but also for Virginia Rep. While the theatre company has been involved with some children’s theatre in the past, Phil Whiteway, managing director for Virginia Repertory Theatre, believes Disney Musicals will open up new doors.

“We have already been a local leader in providing theatre for children, but it has mainly been though our professional performances for children and families, or kids performing in our plays,” Whiteway said. “Now, Disney Musicals in Schools lets us focus on providing the schools’ faculty with the training and tools necessary to support their student performances and productions, and to empower them to do so.”

Disney Musicals in Schools is a planned two-year program for Chesterfield Schools. In the 2023-24 school year, plans are to continue with the four schools selected for the first year as well as to add four new schools.

Virginia Repertory Theatre received the Disney Musicals in Schools grant in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the program until now.