On May 18, the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall’s historic stage will welcome approximately 30 entertainers in a cabaret-style show to raise funds for the Pediatric Orthopedic Research Fund.
“The Artist Alignment — Shine for the Spines” is the brainchild of 16-year-old Thea Flanzer.
“I’m staying ahead of the curve,” Thea said.
The high school junior, who identifies herself as “an actor who can sing and dance,” is indeed staying ahead of the curve — and it’s personal. Thea was diagnosed with scoliosis — curvature of the spine — when she was 10 years old. Her experience with the condition and the surgeons who corrected it inspired her to produce the upcoming show.
“I didn’t find theater — theater found me,” Thea said. As a young child, she told her parents she was going to be Jane Banks in “Mary Poppins.” She recalls their skeptical reaction. But her prediction came true after she enrolled in Gateway Playhouse’s School for the Performing Arts in Bellport.
Michael Baker at Gateway has been her primary mentor ever since. She went on to perform on Gateway’s stage in “Billy Elliot” and the junior versions of The “Wizard of Oz,” “Pinocchio,” “Shrek” and many other shows . In 2017 she made her off-Broadway debut in “If You Press Yer Eyes Hard Enuf,” and she has danced in “Don Paquale,” a comic opera.
To accommodate her need for a flexible schedule, she attends the Laurel Springs Academy, a private online school for gifted and talented students.
“I love to learn,” she said enthusiastically. “Laurel Springs has been great for me, but acting has giving me an amazing education.”
The East Quogue teen aims to attend Yale School of Drama, the alma mater of Meryl Streep, Paul Newman, Henry Winkler and scores of other Hollywood names.
Thea credits her surgeons with giving her the good health that allows her to live the life she enjoys.
Scoliosis usually is most observable during or after a growth spurt and true to form, Thea’s spine became noticeably twisted in her early teen years, when it was measured at a 38-degree bend. Doctors told her she’d need surgery to fuse her spine to prevent the curve from progressing. Months of searching for the right doctors and the treatment led Thea and her family to Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in New York City. By then, her spine’s curve measured 45 degrees.
Five days prior to her 16th birthday, Thea underwent a type of surgery known as the MAGEC system. The acronym stands for Magnetic Expansion Control. It took seven hours for orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Vitale and neurosurgeon Dr. Richard Anderson to screw two adjustable rods to Thea’s spine, using 18 screws. The rods the surgeons used are expandable and can be lengthened as the patient grows. The MAGEC system’s beauty is that the rods can be lengthened by using magnets outside of the body, thus requiring no additional surgery to adjust the rods to fit Theas’s spine as she grows.
Thea decided to raise funds to help her surgeons continue research into the causes and treatments of scoliosis and to set aside a fund of money for “scoli kids” who don’t have enough insurance coverage to afford the surgery she had. She wrote up a business plan and presented it to her mentor Baker, who thought it was a great idea for a great cause.
“The kindness of my friends made me do this show. My Gateway family gave me so much support during my recovery,” she said. “At least 90 percent of the people I asked to perform agreed to do it,” she said. “The show will be a combination of contemporary Broadway and some pop music.”
Dr. Peter Pace, the accompanist at the Gateway is playing the show. Baker and Ethan Eisenberg from Mary Poppins are co-directing. Friends from Broadway, off-Broadway and the Gateway have all volunteered their time and talent.
There will be a 50/50 raffle and a lucky basket auction, too.
Tickets are $15 and are available at eventbrite.com. The doors open at 6:30 p.m. on May 18.
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