Children’s theater group reaches new heights


Raz Benyamin isn’t the type to hold anything back. It must be the actor in him.
As he sat waiting for rehearsals to begin last week, the 10-year-old Riverdale resident admitted he was feeling some pre-show jitters.

“I didn’t think the theater would be so big,” he said, scanning the 550-seat Lovinger Theatre at Lehman College. “I’m a little nervous.”

Sure, Raz has been in front of an audience before, but for this production, the Kinneret Day School student would be doing more than just standing on stage and saying his lines. He would have to wear a harness, shoot 10 feet up in the air and fly around, too.

Becky Lillie-Woods and Derek Woods, co-founders of the Riverdale Children’s Theatre, have pulled out all the stops for their company’s biggest show of the year, Peter Pan, which opened to near-packed houses this past weekend. Flying children, Broadway-worthy backdrops, a live orchestra and a well-rehearsed cast have all contributed to make the show one of the most memorable in the theater company’s young history.

“Most children’s theaters don’t do the show because of the flying,” said Ms. Lillie-Woods.

But for Ms. Lillie-Woods, who has had her own experiences soaring on stage in a Peter Pan production, the flying is what makes the show more authentic for viewers and helps draw bigger audiences. And, like any theater company owner, attracting bigger crowds and making a name have become primary goals for the Woods, as they grow their fledgling business and reach out to budding young thespians.

The couple founded Riverdale Children’s Theatre in 2010, following Ms. Lillie-Woods’ rocky split with the Riverdale YM-YWHA, where she worked for four years. The Y could no longer offer her a full-time position, and the cut in hours meant no more health insurance for her family.

But from the messy break-up came her new labor of love. Ms. Lillie-Woods said she was able to maintain relationships with many local families she worked with at the Y, and in September 2010, Riverdale Children’s Theatre launched its inaugural show, The Wizard of Oz, at Lovinger Theatre.

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