Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson serenades Staten Island students at big performance reveal

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STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Actor and former WWE wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson gave scores of Staten Island students and their teachers the shock of their lives recently when he appeared on-screen at the end of a video presentation in their school’s auditorium.

To the eruption of cheers and squeals of delight of students of P373R, Johnson delivered a personalized video message that ended with a serenade in his iconic singing voice of “You’re Welcome” from his character, Maui, in the beloved, animated Disney film, “Moana.”

 

The West Brighton school for children with developmental, emotional and cognitive delays is co-located at I.S. 61.

 
 

The students and faculty were assembled in the auditorium to hear the results of a vote on which musical to produce for their annual play, and Johnson delivered the news via video that “Moana” had won the election by a landslide.

 

“I surprised some very special kids at a school in Staten Island, NY – P373R – these awesome kids vote which play they want to do every year and MOANA by a landslide!!,” said Johnson on social media. “This student population consist of multiple disabilities such as autism and developmental delays, as well as students from low income housing.

 

“The musical performances have increased their confidence, communication and social skills. The musical is something they always look forward to.”

 
The Rock reveal

Students auditioning for chorus.Photo courtesy Christie Byrnes

 

One of the students, Javier — who will be playing Maui — said he plans to make Johnson proud.

 

“I think Dwayne Johnson will think I am a good and talented actor. I watch the movie and practice being sarcastic and funny, like Maui,” Javier said.

 

“I LOVE YOU GUYS”

 

In his video message, before he broke out in song, Johnson said, “This message goes out to all the amazing students at P373R out in Staten Island. Your awesome teachers told me that every year, you guys love choosing a musical because you’re so talented and you’re so excited.

 

“I hear that you guys are incredible…I love you guys, have the best time. I cannot wait to see it.”

 

Christie Byrnes, a special education teacher at P373R, said that school tradition is to do an event to unveil the annual show, and she reached out to the “Fast and Furious” star with a request to be part of the reveal.

 

“Each year, we strive to unveil the show in a fresh and captivating manner. Inspired by the immense popularity of the character ‘Maui’ among our students, we had an idea to reach out to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson via Instagram. We sent the DM and the rest is history,” she said.

 

To the school team’s surprise, the WWE star’s team replied.

 

“In early October 2023, the media team representing [Johnson] reached out to us. They flew [in and came to] Staten Island to conduct interviews with our staff and students and film the grand reveal of the show,” said special education teacher Jamie Forlenza.

 

“The appearance of The Rock on our big screen left both students and staff utterly amazed,” she continued. “Upon seeing the video, our students were filled with excitement beyond belief; they couldn’t trust what they were witnessing! One student, Ethan Burgos, exclaimed, ‘Is this for real? Is this some kind of AI? This is awesome!’”

 

Johnson then added another layer of excitement when he shared the video on Instagram with his nearly 400 million followers.

 

“[The musical] always includes inclusivity of all the students including non vocal communicators, those with physical impairments and social emotional delays,” Johnson continued in his social media post. “They find a role for EVERY KID And I’m the lucky guy who gets to sing YOU’RE WELCOME in keys that don’t exist.

 

“Have fun kiddos with your Moana Musical and YOU’RE ALL AWESOME! Stay cool, MAUI.”

 
The Rock reveal

Eighth grade student Franz Santiago holding a sign to thank Dwayne Johnson.Photo Courtesy Christie Byrnes

 

The kids were thrilled that Johnson had shared their story on social media.

 

“I felt powerful after seeing The Rock posted us on Instagram,” said Edon Muratovic.

 

P373R GEARS UP FOR THE BIG SHOW

 

Students will premiere “Moana” June 12, Byrnes said.

 

The mission of P373R, according to the school website, is: “We will embrace all identities, abilities and cultures and provide each member of the community with the support they need to achieve success. We will educate through a unique lens that sees all students as individuals while fostering a sense of belonging in our community.”

 

The school serves students diagnosed with autism, Down Syndrome, and intellectual and emotional disabilities. “Four years ago, we started a theater program as a way for our students to express themselves through performing arts. This avenue has been a great way for our students to build confidence, enhance social skills, and express themselves creatively!”

 

Assistant Principal Antonio Vastano said performance “promotes independence and allows the students’ inner star to shine.”

 

Christine Hoffman, the school’s principal, said that as the program progressed the team realized “the benefit of theater in the lives of students who may otherwise not have such a prominent presence or voice. Since then, each year, the productions become more and more amazing.

 

”It brings tears of joy to my eyes to showcase our students’ brilliant talents as the show comes alive.”

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