El Dorado Musical Theater is presenting the musical comedy Legally Blonde, which was based on the novel and 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon. This lighthearted show is an EDMT “Encore Production”, which means the entire cast had to pass an audition to be in the show, and it features the youth theater group's top performers. The cast of Legally Blonde are all 12 to 21 years old, and star many young veterans of local musical theater. But unlike many EDMT shows, it is geared toward a more mature audience, and is rated PG-13 due to the subject matter and some language.
The story of Legally Blonde is of a beautiful, young, high performing college student at UCLA who thinks she has the dream life all set up for her. Her plans are shattered when her boyfriend, rather than make the expected marriage proposal, rejects her as not a serious enough partner for his ambitions, as he prepares to leave for Harvard Law School. Rather than dismiss him as a shallow social and political climber, she decides to devote herself to getting into Harvard herself, thus proving to be worthy of his life and future. And thus the fish-out-of-water tale begins, and hijinks ensue...
Heather Clark stars as Elle Woods, the Southern California girl who loves pink clothes and her Chihuahua “Bruiser.” Clark, at 21, is the senior member of the cast, and has played in 30 prior EDMT shows. She has been a featured performer in many, notably as Grizzelda in Cats and Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, but Legally Blonde has given her the chance to step out front as the star of the show, and she handles the role very well. Her voice is strong and dynamic, and she is featured in nearly all of the musical numbers. Her soprano soars high with never an off note, and she interacts with her castmates with good comic timing and expression.
The role of Emmett Forrest, Elle's eventual love interest, is played by Jonathan Cramner, one of the best leading men EDMT has ever had. He did a great job with roles such as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast and Curly in Oklahoma! with a terrific leading voice and stage presence. At only 17 he already shows star quality. An extra challenge came to him for the opening weekend of Legally Blonde, as a cold left him with a husky voice. He rose to the challenge, and did a terrific job with the dialog and singing, only struggling a bit in the high parts. He should be even better the remainder of the run with all his tools in place.
Also a standout performance, 16-year-old Jillian Curry played the part of hair stylist Paulette Bonafonte. Curry stunned the audience with her song Ireland late in the first act. It was a highlight of the show for her powerful vocal performance. She also did a great job of playing an older woman looking for a new lease on life. (Taylor Presnall brought cheers and whistles as Kyle, her UPS driver love interest.)
Other EDMT regulars stood out as well. Andrew Wilson did a great job as the cad Warner Huntington III, the guy who broke Elle’s heart and leaves her for Vivienne, played by Kaileen Teter, another “bad guy” until she turns good. Elle’s three best friends, who become her “Greek chorus”, are played by Olivia Kaufmann, Carly Speno, and Julia Adams, all who have done great work in prior shows, and kept the energy high whenever they appeared. Speno notably also came in for the fitness/jump roping scene and as a prison inmate. All three are great singers, interacting well with Elle and each other. And Alex Levy, who played three roles, along with being in the group scenes, is always a memorable personality, and can steal any scene, as he did in the courtroom drama part of the show.
Anjie Rose Wilson, David Bryant, Micah Long, Zack Collins and the perennial Zach Wilson all stood out as well, and the rest of the cast filled in nicely, as there was never a lull in the action. (Zach has been in every EDMT show I have seen, and will no doubt soon break the record for appearances.) Rounding out the cast were two rescue dogs, Jagger Minnie, a nine-month-old Chihuahua who played Bruiser, Elle’s pet, and Kiki King, a three-year-old Bulldog playing Rufus, Paulette’s dog. Both handled their roles well, meaning they didn’t run away or freak out when the audience applauded. They added the cuteness factor to the show, generating plenty of “ahhhhs” from the crowd.
Set designers Jordan Maxey and Stephen Wathen created a great environment for each scene, the jail scene being striking for its bold and minimal treatment. Costumer Christine Martorana did her usual great job, and vocal director Jennifer Wittmayer’s efforts are shown in the terrific performances of the entire company. Of course credit for the whole look and feel of the show and cast, and the choreography as well, go to Director Debbie Wilson, who consistently produces great shows year after year (and many times a year!) since she helped found EDMT in 2001.
Legally Blonde opened February 15 and runs Thursdays through Sundays until March 3. For tickets and more info, visit www.edmt.info or www.threestages.net. The show is rated PG-13 due to some mature content and language, and suitable for teenagers and up.
Ken Kiunke 2/18/2013 Originally published in the Gold Country Times. Reprintable with attribution to the Gold Country Times and Ken Kiunke
Heather Clark leads the Legally Blonde cast
I have now seen several El Dorado Musical Theater stage musicals, and their presentation of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, which opened Friday at the Three Stages theater in Folsom, is one of my two favorites, the other being the 2006 Peter Pan show featuring Hannah Mae Sturges. It may be because Oklahoma! is one of my favorite musicals, but the performers in this show also do a wonderful job, and bring the show to life, and the audience to their feet. Peter Pan was great largely due to the amazing performance of then 16-year-old Hannah Mae Sturges. The rest of that cast was very good, but her great singing and acting brought the heart and soul to the show. Oklahoma! relies on many more of the cast to bring the heart, soul, and comedy to the stage, and they all deliver.
Youth theater company EDMT regularly presents popular shows performed by young area talent. Though Oklahoma! is one of their “Main Stage” productions, which usually feature large casts of kids from 6 to 20 years old, this show actually has more of an “Encore Show” feeling. (Encore shows, like the recent 42nd Street, are “audition only” shows featuring only the top performers. Main Stage shows welcome all kids, though parts are determined by audition.) Oklahoma! has no cast members under 10, and only a handful under 12. So the stage is dominated by the older, more experienced performers, and there are just enough young ones to bring the cute factor without over-filling the stage. And while there are two casts for this show, the male leads are the same in both, so there is more consistency between the shows.
Oklahoma!, for those not familiar, was Rogers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration, and you can see they tried to fit as much as they could into their show. There is romance, comedy, drama, Americana, history, dancing, fighting, and even a ballet sequence in the middle. It tells the story of two young ladies trying to find the right man. Laurey Williams must choose between the flirtatious and charming cowboy Curly McLain, and the steady and reliable (but creepy and menacing) Jud Fry. While her friend Ado Annie Carnes wants any guy who will “talk purty” to her, it has come down to the itinerant Persian peddler Ali Hakim, and the dim but talented cowboy Will Parker. While the right choices may seem obvious, the cowboys seem to do their best to drive their girls to their rivals every chance they get. Meanwhile, the backdrop is the Oklahoma territory settlers striving to establish a community and become a state, with rivalries between the farmers and the cowboy ranchers over land management...and lots of great song and dance.
The show opens with Jonathan Cramner as Curly singing Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’ followed by Surrey With The Fringe On Top, two great songs that set the tone of the show. Cramner has a great voice and stage presence, and lets the audience know right away they are in for quite a show. Soon after, Will Parker arrives and sings (Everything's Up To Date In) Kansas City, along with some great company dancing, and even rope tricks. Stefan Sorgea, who plays Will, has been one of the great male dancers in the EDMT company for a long time (20 shows), but this is his first chance to play one of the key lead roles, and he makes the most of it, hamming and mugging his way into and out of Ado Annie’s heart. We meet Annie with her signature song I Can't Say No, along with the peddler Ali Hakim. Carly Speno and Heather Clark, as Annie in the two shows, bring the sass and humor, and along with Alex Levy as Ali, they form the comedic love triangle with Will that keeps the show light-hearted and moving forward. Levy brings a lot of personality to the stage as Ali Hakim, you cannot look away from him while he is on stage.
Laurey gets her first song with Many A New Day, along with the girls in the cast in a nicely choreographed song and dance. Julia Adams and Clara Regula are the two cast’s leading ladies, and they both have a nice wholesome beauty to go along with their lovely singing voices. They sound especially nice when paired with Curly in the song People Will Say We're In Love.
Jonathan Cramner also pairs very nicely (in a very different way) with his rival Jud Fry, played by Braiden Wells. Their duet in Pore Jud Is Daid is beautiful and sinister as we are taken into the smokehouse – Jud’s lair. The idea of singing a beautifully harmonized duet about one of them being dead from suicide is a strange concept, and they bring it off well, forming the dark center of the story.
Watching the film version for Oklahoma!, I always felt that the middle “Dream Ballet” sequence really brought the whole story to a halt, and went on way too long without adding much. But on stage it really becomes a highlight, an effective way to show how Laurey has become scared of Jud and realizes her feelings for Curly. The “Dream” dancers – Andrew Wilson as Curly, and Anjie Rose Wilson and Samantha Teter as Laurey in the two casts, get to show off their dancing skills in a ballet setting. It is really a moving center to the show as the first act closes.
The Second act is just as fun as the first, and opens up showcasing the characters of old coot Andrew Carnes (Matt Surges) and mother figure to all, Aunt Eller (Kaileen Teter and Helen Regula), as the whole cast sings and dances The Farmer And The Cowman. We get more of Ado Annie and Will Parker in All Er Nothin’, more danger and romance with Curly, Laurie and Jud, and of course the big title song Oklahoma!. Throughout the show, the whole cast blends nicely in both their singing and dance numbers, as many of the supporting characters get a line or two in a song, and a chance to show of their talent as well. This is the last show for many of the EDMT veterans, who will be going off to college, and perhaps musical careers, so the company’s future stars are likely up on stage today, trying to make the most of their chances to show off.
Director and choreographer Debbie Wilson, vocal director Jennifer Martin, costumer Christine Martorana and producer Marylou Keane, have brought together the best of their talented cast and crew to create a satisfying close to the current season for Main Stage productions. Next season will open in the Fall with “Seussical the Musical”, followed by “Legally Blonde the Musical”, “How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying”, and “Bye Bye Birdie.” But now is your last chance for a while to see this great company in action, and your last chance to see many of EDMT’s brightest stars, and there’s no better way to enjoy that than with Oklahoma!
Ken Kiunke 4/22/2012 Originally published in the Gold Country Times. Reprintable with attribution to the Gold Country Times and Ken Kiunke
A stellar cast make Oklahoma! one of EDMT's best shows
El Dorado Musical Theater is presenting the Broadway musical 42nd street, featuring the top performers from its usual stable of talented young singers and dancers. Unlike their usual high quality shows, featuring kids aged 6 to 20, the is one of their once a year “Encore Productions”, which means the entire cast had to pass the audition just to be in the show. The 42nd street cast are all 12 to 22 years old.
Some people think of youth theater the way they think of high school plays. Great to go to if one of your kids is in the cast, and a pleasant surprise if the rest of the show turns out OK. But El Dorado Musical Theater has established a well deserved reputation for putting on professional shows, up to par with a typical “road show” cast of a popular Broadway show. The sets and costumes are usually nearly as good, and the talent is often better, especially in an “Encore” show. Many of these performers show genuine talent that will lead them on to greater success.
42nd Street is the story of an aging and fading stage star, whose only route into a new show is her relationship with the financial backer. Derided by the director and cast, she gets her part and makes the rules thanks to her rich Texan “sugar daddy.” Meanwhile, the young innocent girl from Allentown, with loads of talent, and just enough clumsiness, just wants a chance to be in the show. Set in New York during the depression, the rest of the story pretty much writes itself.
So the story is really about these two women, the fading star Dorothy Brock, played by Katherine Sorgea, and the new girl Peggy Sawyer, played by Carly Speno. At 21, this will probably be one of Katherine Sorgea's last EDMT shows (she has been in 19!) She has a real stage presence and acting ability, along with her great singing voice. She says playing an older and not very sympathetic character has been a bit strange for her, but she really got into the role. (Her last part was Belle, the heroine of Beauty and the Beast.) She really sets the tone of the show, and engenders both scorn and pitty for Dorothy, as she struggles with her place among the other performers and the men in her life. 17 year old Carly Speno looks and feels worlds apart from Dorothy in her role of Peggy Sawyer. She brings the wide eyed innocence needed to the role, along with some terrific tap dancing and singing, as she does her best to get in the show.
Of course, there are also men in the story, and leading the way is Julian Marsh, the director of “Pretty Lady”. Matt Surges plays Marsh with an over-the-top attitude that is perfect for the New York stage pro. He can deliver lines like “What the HELL is going on here” and “You’re going out there a youngster, but you're coming back a STAR!” with just the right amount of corny drama and New York attitude. But Surges also has a great singing voice, and it's a bit of a surprise when he breaks into Lullaby of Broadway in the second half of the show. Just like Dorothy, Julian has a polar opposite in the story, young star Billy Lawler, played by 15 year old Andrew Wilson. Andrew carries the singing and dancing parts like an old pro, even doing some acrobatics while he leads the company in We're In The Money. Stefan Sorgea, as dancer Andy Lee, shows some surprising tap dancing skills in the early numbers, sharing the stage with Carly (Peggy.) “I've been tap dancing since I was 9 years old” said Stefan, so he has spent half his life perfecting the craft. “We have over 168 combined years of tap dancing within this cast” says director Debbie Wilson, and it really shows. There are scenes when nearly the whole company shares the stage to show of their tap skills.
Other standouts in the cast include Helen Regula and Braiden Wells, who play show writers Maggie Jones and Bert Barrie. They are both EDMT veterans and know how to take over the stage. And the first number after intermission allows several of the supporting cast to sing solos, led by Heather Clark as Ann Reilly, as they sing There’s A Sunny Side To Every Situation. And the group singing is great—even when all the girls or guys sing together, the harmonies are beautifully done. The great appeal of the show is the big dance numbers that feature the whole company, with elaborate choreography, costumes, and of course, lots of tap dancing.
Director Debbie Wilson has worked hard with the cast for weeks, and is proud of their passion for the show and trust in her direction. Along with costumer Christine Martorana, vocal director Jennifer Martin, and show producer Marylou Keane, she brings a passion and dedication to making the show the best it can possibly be, and the results, especially for these “Encore” presentations, really show. EDMT is now doing auditions for their next show, Oklahoma!, opening April 20th. I look forward to seeing these performers in that Rogers & Hammerstein classic. Katherine Sorgea and Carly Speno would both make a great Laurie...
42nd Street opened February 17th and runs Thursdays through Sundays until March 4th. For tickets and more info, visit www.edmt.info or www.threestages.net. The show is rated appropriate for all ages, but the music and story are probably best suited for an older audience. But some younger kids may be impressed by the tap dancing and big stage numbers as well. If you've seen and loved 42nd Street before, you won't be disappointed, and if you haven't, this show is a great way to find out what “the lullaby of Broadway” is all about!
Ken Kiunke 2/21/2012 Originally published in the Gold Country Times. Reprintable with attribution to the Gold Country Times and Ken Kiunke
Carly Speno as Peggy Sawyer, the kid who just might make it as a star!
El Dorado Musical Theater’s new production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which opened Friday at Three Stages in Folsom, is up to the usual high standards of an EDMT show. If you are not familiar with EDMT, they are a youth theater company that features performers from the ages of 6 to 20. Everyone who auditions for a show will make the cast, though the key roles are assigned based on the talent shown in the audition, so many of the younger and less experienced kids fill the roles of background, chorus, and townspeople as needed in each musical. There is a sizable tuition and parent volunteer requirements. This, along with great sponsorship support and a professional production staff, allow EDMT to put on high quality shows complete with excellent scenery, costumes, makeup, and choreography that far exceed what you may expect at a typical school play featuring performers of similar ages. For the large “Main Stage” productions, the audition response usually means two entirely different casts will alternate performances. Though each cast may have its own standout performers, they are generally of equal quality overall – there is no primary and secondary designation.
The show I saw Saturday night was the opening show for the “Mirror” cast (the “Rose” cast had already done two shows). Katherine Sorgea, a veteran of many EDMT productions, played the leading role of Belle. Her voice and characterization of the young girl longing for something new were perfect for the role. She had many opportunities to shine in act one, both with the townspeople, and in solo. Belle’s partner and foil is Gaston, wonderfully played by Jonathan Cramner, another EDMT veteran. He embraced the role of the vain, buffoonish Gaston with gusto and talent, matching Belle’s sweet earnestness with his brazen self-loving bully of the town, adored by the silly girls but shunned by his prize, Belle. His songs with his sidekick, Lefou, played and sung very well by Jon Leadbetter, provided the great energy and humor of the beginning of the show.
As the action shifts to the Beast’s castle, we meet the company of enchanted household objects, led by Lumiere, played by Alex Levy, and Mrs. Potts, played by Helen Regula (two more EDMT veterans.) The Beast, played by Braiden Wells, emerges with a surprising deep baritone, setting the tone for the forbidden castle, and giving the Beast his heart and soul behind the fangs. But the somber mood is soon broken with the highlight of the show, Be Our Guest, a number featuring nearly the whole cast, including the little ones playing various plates, cups, and kitchen utensils, choreographed in a swirling and magical show. The ensemble singing sounds great, as Mrs. Potts and Lumiere lead the way. Dancing napkins do a French can-can as the acrobatic carpet (played by Gabi Griggs) delights the audience. The whole company shines in their rendition of this popular number.
The momentum built in act one fades somewhat in act two. There are a couple of highlights, as the castle group perform Human Again, one of the songs not in the original animated version, but added for the stage. And Mrs. Potts’ lovely performance of the title song is heartwarming. But act two is all about transformation, and much is lost in the translation. Gaston is no longer a humorous dolt, but now a mean-spirited mob leader. Belle goes from being an independent young lady to a girl falling for prince (soon to be) charming. The Beast changes from a angry master of his castle to an unsure Romeo hoping to win the girl’s heart. And the climactic battle that ends with the Beast’s transformation just sort of happens, with a very loud fog machine providing the soundtrack. (The preceding encounter of the town mob with the castle crew is fun, but doesn't really go anywhere.) Even the household’s becoming “human again” is not very momentous, and is treated with few quick scenes of dialog between the restored characters.
Though the second half does not hold up to the fun of the first, it is still overall an excellent production and quite an entertaining evening for the whole family. All of the singers do a great job, and the ensemble singing is surprisingly good, a tribute to the vocal director, Jennifer Martin. And Director/Choreographer Debbie Wilson shows she can put more than 50 kids, some as young as six years old, on a stage and make it look great (and do it with two entire casts!) A lot of love goes into a production like this, and it shows in the final product.
Ken Kiunke 11/1/2011 Originally published in the Gold Country Times. Reprintable with attribution to the Gold Country Times and Ken Kiunke
Braiden Wills, Katherine Sorgea, and Jonathan Cramner star in the beloved Disney musical