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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Encore! is a reality show about former cast members of high school musicals who are brought back together years after the show to mount one more performance. The amount of sexual content and violence in each episode varies with the show being produced. Some shows, like Grease, have risque elements like songs about sex and a subplot about pregnancy; Oklahoma! has a song about suicide. These references are very brief and not lingered on. Any cursing among cast members is bleeped. Adults drink together responsibly, toasting each other with beers or sharing wine at dinner with no one getting drunk. Cast members talk touchingly about their lives in high school and how they've changed; expect to hear personal anecdotes about marriage, divorce, parenthood, illness, and other sensitive topics. This sharing is generally well-received, with understanding and hugs. Participants demonstrate perseverance and teamwork as they rehearse the show for long hours over a five-day period; they then show courage by getting onstage in front of their loved ones to perform.
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What's the story?
Decades after they performed their high school musical, former cast members reunite for an ENCORE! performance. Hosted by self-proclaimed theater nerd Kristen Bell, each episode travels to a different town to bring back a different revival: Annie, Godspell, Grease, The Sound of Music, and other classic chestnuts of high school theater are revisited by actors who no longer have to draw on wrinkles or spray their hair gray.
Is it any good?
Sweet and easy to love, this charming reality series will inspire wistful nostalgia in viewers of a certain age. Theater is a time-honored gathering place for misfits; even those who didn't painstakingly prepare an audition song for their high school production of Cabaret already know that the stage was a place where outcasts could belong. The lovely thing that Encore! uncovers is that this "all for one" vibe is just as important to middle-aged people as to high schoolers. Watching former classmates and compadres reconnect, at first stiffly and haltingly, then more genuinely as they rehearse together, is simply gorgeous. In the Annie episode, former cast member Jarron says he was so shy in high school that he had barely any friends; his fellow Annie re-launchers don't even recognize him when he walks into the first day of rehearsals. Over beers, he admits he feared having kids because his own parents abandoned him; he didn't want to ruin someone else's life. "I bet you're a really good dad, though," says Jaimie, the former homecoming queen who barely even noticed Jarron in high school. Jarron's face lights up at the thought -- and it's obvious that Jaimie's right when we see his elated kids watching Dad onstage.
If it's sweet watching reunited cast members connecting to their high school selves and each other, it's even sweeter how touchingly grateful they are to have the experience, and how thrilled their loved ones are to share in it too. "It probably wasn't an Academy Award performance," says one player's dad after the end of a show, smiling from ear to ear, visibly proud. "But he did well." Debbie, who's playing multiple orphans in the Annie cast, calls her young children on the phone to demonstrate her dance number. "I want my kids to see 'Hey, she can do something!'" They do -- and they cling to her like burrs after she finishes her turn, clearly impressed with this version of their mother. No, these aren't Academy Award performances. But you'll want to present Encore! with a great big bouquet of roses anyway.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about reality shows. How "realistic" are they? How true-to-life does this particular reality show seem? Given that many popular "reality" shows are actually scripted, how does that affect how you view shows or documentaries purporting to show real people and real life? How does the presence of a camera affect how people interact? How does editing change "reality"? Can you really believe what you see?
Families can also talk about how Encore! illustrates what goes into making a show: actors, musicians, costumes, makeup, choreography, sets. Does watching the show come together impact your enjoyment of the final product? What is "suspension of disbelief"? Does seeing a show in its unfinished state impact your suspension of disbelief?
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