Yass High School’s musical ‘Moana Jr’ was presented between Wednesday the 14th and Friday the 16th of June, at Yass High School. Adapted from the 2016 animated movie Moana, the musical was presented, organised and designed by students from years 7 through to 12, under the direction of teacher Ruth Riach, with the main cast featuring Ella-Rose Bywater as Moana, Jason Green as Maui, D’Artagnan Lewis as dual roles of Chief Tui and Tamatoa, with supporting cast including Bella Gavidi, Tameria Jones-Hope, Phoebe Cooke and Jasmine Taylor. Local primary schools Berinba Public and Yass Public also participated, featuring years 5 and 6 students in dancing roles. 


Ruth Riach spoke to the Yass Valley Times about the musical, the development behind the production, the performances and what she, students and audience members enjoyed most. 


Highlights from the musical, as described by Mrs Riach, include the performance of ‘You’re Welcome’ by Jason Greene, as well as Ella-Rose Bywater’s performance during the Tala death scene, with the performance having “brought me to tears”, said Mrs Riach.

Yass High School’s musical ‘Moana Jr’

On the extent of student involvement, Mrs Riach described the production as ‘student centred’, noting a strong collaboration between staff and students in every aspect of creating the musical; from writing, creating sets, props, sound work, lighting and costuming.


“This was very student centred, we had students from every aspect of the school, from our support class through to Year 12 drama students — absolutely every part of it was a collaboration between staff and students from every aspect across the school”, said Mrs Riach. 

The production between staff and students has been in development since the beginning of the 2023 school year. Mrs Riach spoke about the necessity for the musical as a means to get students back on the stage performing, regaining the confidence and ability that was lost during the covid lockdowns. Mrs Riach noted that as well as redeveloping these skills, the choice behind the Moana musical was to offer something familiar to children.


“Kids didn’t get an opportunity to perform during covid…I wanted to choose something which would encourage kids to have a go and that they would know already to an extent, be contemporary for them, but also not too long, to encourage them to get back into performing. The kids all knew Moana from the movie, so that was a bonus, but also the message of being yourself and looking after the earth”, said Mrs Riach. 

On how the students developed throughout production, Mrs Riach notes the growth in students’ confidence and abilities, with particular improvement with each performance, as well as describing the production as an opportunity for inter-year level collaboration, helping with developing bonds between students. Mrs Riach compares the collaborative aspect as cogs in a wheel, with each student contributing and building off each other. 


 Commenting on the development as “just mainly in confidence and feeling, sort of getting their sea legs on the stage. Each night of the performance they settled more into their characters. It was really lovely seeing them grow in confidence in every aspect of the show”, said Mrs Riach, commenting further on what students enjoyed;


“The collaborative aspect of it, making the connections across year groups with kids they otherwise may not have worked with”


“You do your own small part well and it pays into the bigger picture. Everybody did their bit beautifully, everyone knew where they had to be, did their lines, showed up and gave 150%. They were all that small cog in the big wheel of production.” 


Griffin Palen