Northeast native and Calvary Christian Academy senior Melina Cruz starred in Walnut Street Theatre’s Moana JR., based on Disney’s 2016 movie Moana.
When Cruz heard that Walnut Street was putting on Moana, she was excited. Cruz had watched the movie 3 times in the first 24 hours of its release, and already had plenty of acting practice under her belt.
“I was so excited, and then I realized, ‘Oh my gosh I have so much work to do,’ ” Cruz said. “Everything was floating to my mind but my main thing was like, how do I make this role my own?”
The show, which ran for 60 minutes long, took up Cruz’s weekends for rehearsal and shows. But she was more than happy to balance school, acting, and life.
“I see Moana as such a strong girl where if she puts her mind to it, it’ll get done and that’s exactly how I am. So that’s how I relate to the character. If I put my mind to something I’m going to get it done,” she said.
Cruz began taking voice lessons in 3rd grade, and started acting when she was in 8th grade after seeing a live show right here in Philadelphia.
“I saw Wicked at the Kimmel Center and it completely changed my life. I was like, ‘Yup, this is what I want to do,’ ” Cruz said.
From there, she joined Walnut Street Theatre’s summer youth camp and landed her first role as Genie in the Kids Series Production of Aladdin.
“She’s got an infectious, positive, upbeat personality and she is vocally gifted and dedicated to her craft,” said TJ Sokso, Director of Education at Walnut Street Theatre. Sokso has been working with Cruz at the Theatre for 10 years.
In that time, Cruz has developed a passion for acting and a work ethic that landed her a spot at Tisch, NYU’s performing arts school.
“Not only do I love performing, I love the feeling when you know you’re doing a good job because the crowd is so engaged with what you’re doing. It just makes you want to work even harder and strive to do your best,” Cruz said.
Aside from making the crowd happy, Cruz is heavily motivated by her parents and her faith.
“I want to honor [my parents] and to honor them is to do everything I do with worship including school work. All that matters to me is that they’re happy because they’ve sacrificed so much for me. That’s what keeps me going. I want to keep them proud,” Cruz said.