Missy Gipson would like to invite theater lovers to visit the fountain of youth -- and she guarantees its efficacy.
"Come turn back time and feel the joy and excitement of being a kid," she says of attending a Young Actors Guild performance. "We don't take ourselves too seriously, and we really like to play. Sounds like a good way to live life!"
This time, thespians ages 7 to 15 are tackling the youth edition of "Anastasia," running about 60 minutes and tailored for younger actors. It's based, of course, on the Broadway hit by Terrence McNally, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, which racked up two Tony nods and more than a dozen Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk and Drama League Award nominations.
"We just closed 'Bright Star' this summer, and that show took place in the early 1900s and the 1920s -- exactly like 'Anastasia,' except on two different sides of the world," says Gipson, YAG's executive director. "It's been fun to play with that parallel -- Appalachia versus Russia and Paris."
YAG, the state's oldest theater company for young people with roots back to the early 1950s, does five shows a year -- generally two musicals, a play, a touring outreach show and the popular alumni show.
"Our auditions are open to anyone that fits the ages we are casting for," Gipson says. "Our casting is done by the director of the show, with input from the creative team where appropriate."
What sets YAG apart, she adds, is that there is "a zero participation fee policy. It's free to be in our shows, so it really cracks open arts education and makes it accessible for kids.
"Our auditions have been heavily attended this year, so we are looking at ways to expand our programming to include even more youth," she adds.
Gipson says programming is usually pretty evenly divided between musicals and nonmusical plays.
"There is a high level of musical theater fans in our community, but we acknowledge that not all kids want to sing and dance, so that's why we have a variety of shows we offer them," she says.
This show, however, "is filled with beautiful music, sweeping melodies and harmonies, as well as some fun waltzing," she says, all while "dipping its toe into the Bolshevik Revolution and the demise of the Romanov family."
"The story is a journey of a girl trying to remember who she was, and the people that love her and help her find who she is meant to be," Gipson says. "It's very much a fictionalized version compared to what really happened in history.
"It's a lovely piece, and it's the youth edition. So it's perfect for our youngest audience member."
As far as that fountain of youth, Gipson says the kids are splashing in it. The challenge for the supervising adults, she admits, is that they're "chatty. But that's also the reward."
"They are excited to be here, in this moment, together, creating and making memories and friends. It's all the good things of childhood."
'Anastasia: The Musical'
WHEN -- 7 p.m. Sept. 7-8; 2 & 7 p.m. Sept. 9
WHERE -- King Opera House in Van Buren
COST -- $12-$20
INFO -- kingoperahouse.com; weareyag.com