Leonard Bernstein teamed up with director and choreographer Jerome Robbins to create West Side Story in 1957, with Stephen Sondheim in his first Broadway production as lyricist and Arthur Laurents to write the book, for a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but set in the streets of Upper West Side New York about the rivalry between working-class white kids, of mostly Polish and Irish descent, with more recent Puerto Rican immigrant youth. The tragic, but uplifting tale joined Oklahoma! and The Music Man to become one of the quintessential traditional musicals about life in America. (Hamilton and Rent have since joined in telling America’s story from very different perspectives.)
El Dorado Musical Theatre, the professional-level youth theatre company, is presenting West Side Story at the Harris Center for the Arts at Folsom Lake College. The show opened Friday, April 26, and runs through Sunday, May 5. The show is their annual “Encore” production, which features an audition-only cast between ages 13 and 22 (with the addition of a few older actors to add authenticity to the characters) so the usual high quality of EDMT shows is stepped up just a notch higher.
The opening scenes let you know right away that this show is as much about dance to tell the story as it is about the music. Anjie Rose Wilson has choreographed the production, which features several dances with the entire Jets gang and the rival Sharks gang, along with the Jet Girls and Shark Girls, in intricate moves that communicate their camaraderie, aggression, and battles, along with joyous dances between the boys and girls. Riff, the leader of the Jets, played by EDMT veteran Zach Wilson in his 49th show, leads his gang in “The Jet Song” about what it means to be part of a gang who will always look out for you. Wilson’s precise, athletic dance moves show right away that he is in charge of both his gang and the stage.
His best friend, Tony, once a leader of the Jets but who now wants more, tells his friend to look beyond the streets and find something more in life, as he is trying to do, in the song “Something’s Comin’.” Ty Rhoades plays Tony, and his powerful, but subtle, tenor voice portrays the young man eager to leave the life of strife and find another world. Meanwhile, in a Puerto Rican bridal shop, Maria, a recent arrival who is supposed to find love with her brother’s friend Chino, is also dreaming of something else. She meets Tony at the big “Dance at the Gym” when both gangs briefly coexist under the watchful eyes of the adults in charge. Despite the great and colorful dances, featuring Riff and Velma, who is played by Daphne Huegel, and Bernardo and Anita (Luke Villanueva and Emily Fritz), tensions between the gangs rise when the others see Tony and Maria together.
Tony, however, head over heels in love with Maria, finds her home and sings the iconic song “Maria” up to her balcony, and Maria, played by Ashley Wright, joins him in her lovely soprano voice. Wright, along with Emily Fritz and the other Shark Girls, are not Latinas, but have to simulate a Puerto Rican accent without overdoing it, and they do a pretty good job, as in the next number as Anita and Rosalia, played by Kyra Schneider, sing “America,” the light-hearted song Rita Moreno made famous in the 1961 film. Another great song it “Tonight,” when Tony, Maria, Anita, Riff, and Bernardo all anticipate what is to come through their own desires, and the voices of all five performers blend beautifully.
Though most of the story focused on Tony and Maria, Riff, Bernardo, and Anita, there are a few moments when other cast members get a chance to shine. In the hilarious “Gee, Officer Krupke,” Braydon Bambino, as Jet gang member Action, leads the others in figuring out how they all went so wrong, with Joey Baciocco, Justin Harvey, and Josh Davis also getting in some good lines. Nittany Biggs sings the beautiful solo in the “Somewhere Ballet,” which is a dream sequence featuring another nicely choreographed dance featuring all of the company. Ryan Van Overeem does a great job as Lieutenant Shrank, the head of the police trying in vain to get control of his streets. Though only 22, he fits in with the other older adults, Dan Weaver, Ryan Jantzen, and Steve Waymire, who try to serve as the voices of reason, but are usually ignored or ridiculed by the gangs.
Director Debbie Wilson has done her usual great job in leading the cast, with help from Vocal Director Jennifer Whitmeyer and Costumer Karen McConnell, to put on a terrific, professional level show. And the set design and background projections by Zach Wilson, filling both in front and behind the scenes roles, are great, with changes between sets coming seamlessly, and featuring large scaffolds that serve as balconies and fire escapes, lending the right feel for the New York neighborhoods. (If Zach doesn’t pursue his talents as a singer, dancer, and actor, he could find a career in set design and other technical aspects of theatre. Or just do it all!)
EDMT’s production of West Side Story runs through Sunday, May 5. At over two hours long, with a 20 minute intermission, and with some mature themes, it is more suitable for older kids and adults, but younger kids with patience and an appreciation for music and dance may enjoy it as well. For tickets and more info, visit www.edmt.info or www.harriscenter.net. EDMT’s next show will be Annie, one of their “Rising Star” productions featuring their talented younger performers, beginning on July 5.
Ken Kiunke 4/27/2019
Originally published in GoldCountryMarketing.com. Reprintable with attribution to Gold Country Marketing and Ken Kiunke
Ashley Wright and Ty Rhoades in the famous balcony scene as Maria and Tony
El Dorado Musical Theatre, the professional-level youth theatre company, is presenting Disney's The Little Mermaid at the Harris Center for the Arts at Folsom Lake College. Based on the popular animated feature film, which is itself from an original Hans Christian Andersen story, this production was created in 2007 and, like other Disney stage adaptations such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, features a lot of new songs added to the original familiar film score. The show opened Friday, March 1, and features two entire casts: the “Coral” cast, which I saw on opening night, and the “Kelp” cast which plays in alternating performances. While I am writing about the stars of the Coral cast, EDMT typically has two companies of equal talent in their big “Main Stage” productions.
The story is a very familiar tale—a young girl longs to leave her home for new adventures and falls for someone her family doesn't approve of while outside forces scheme against them, loving friends try to help, and miscommunication gets in the way. In the end, young love wins out, evil is vanquished, and (almost) everyone lives happily ever after. And if the characters mermaids, sailors, crabs, seagulls, and a misunderstood octopus, you’ve got The Little Mermaid. With songs by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman from the original Disney film, and newer songs for the stage by Menken and Glenn Slater, the music is fun, catchy, and sometimes very touching. The calypso-inspired songs “Under The Sea” and “Kiss The Girl,” along with the ballad “Part Of Your World,” became the best known songs from the Disney film, but the newer songs stand up as well, especially the funny word play of “Positoovity” and the emotional theme “If Only,” which appears in several versions throughout the show.
Izzy Weaver stars as Ariel, the youngest of King Triton’s seven daughters, who wants to explore the world above the water. (The talented Nittany Biggs plays the role in the Kelp cast.) She opens the show with one of the newer songs “The World Above,” a lovely piece that is a prelude to “Part of Your World.” Weaver does a nice job with both of these solo performances, showing off her good range and adding a lot of feeling to her performance. Answering Ariel’s call are the sailors led by Prince Eric, in their opening number “Fathoms Below,” as the young man, played by Ty Rhoades in both casts, expresses his desire to be out in the world, on the ocean with his mates, rather than in a stuffy old palace. When he hears Ariel’s singing, he knows his destiny.
Meanwhile, back under the sea, the imposing King Triton, played by EDMT veteran Zach Wilson (also in both casts), is ready to hear his daughters sing at a celebration of the defeat of his arch enemy, Ursula. While the six older daughters sing their song, “Daughters of Triton,” Ariel misses her part, leading to Triton’s disappointment and the introduction of the song “If Only (Triton’s Lament)” The “Mersisters,” played by Ashley Wright, Maddie Jantzen, Nina Lopes, Ashley Slavin, Taylor Baker, and Marley Ross, are funny and cute, and do a nice job sharing their first song, and are even better later when they sing “She’s in Love” with Ariel’s best friend, Flounder. Played by Mikey Jantzen, Flounder mostly follows Ariel around and tries to help her, but he gets a chance to shine in this number, and does a great song and dance with the sisters in one of the early highlights of the show.
We meet Ursula the octopus, played by Jocelyn Haney, and her two sidekicks Flotsam and Jetsam, played by Seth Marchek and Lindsey Hunter, in the song “Daddy’s Little Angel” as they plot their scheme to get back at Triton through his treasured daughter. Haney has emerged as one of EDMT’s most reliable stars with her lovely voice and ability to perform equally well in nurturing roles, such as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, or wicked characters such as Ursula. The trio have an even better time with “Poor Unfortunate Souls” with Marchek and Hunter being slippery and conniving as they lure Ariel to Ursula’s trap.
Ty Rhoades, at only 14, is already emerging as one of EDMT’s most promising leading men, following his successful roles as Captain Hook in Peter Pan, Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie, Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast, and the title character in Willy Wonka. He has a great voice, and good command of the stage, and really shines in his first solo, “Her Voice,” and in the second act when he communicates through dance with the diabolically muted Ariel in “One Step Closer.” Look for him to really grow in more great roles in the years to come, as past EDMT stars like Jonathan Cramner, Andrew Wilson, and Zach Wilson have done. Rhoades shares the stage with Izzy Weaver, Zach Wilson, and Luke Villanueva (as Sebastian the crab in both casts) in the final version of the song “If Only” as the four blend their voices in their own shared laments. It’s a beautiful moment in the show, and expertly performed with perfect harmonies by the four singers.
Zach Wilson, performing in his 48th and probably one of his last shows with EDMT has taken a smaller role than usual. Though Triton is important in the show, he performs in only three songs, and just one solo, but Wilson makes the most of it, showing off his smooth, commanding voice and, about a foot or more taller than most of the performers, he dominates the stage as King Triton. At 19, he is aging out of the company, though he will probably play important roles in the remainder of this season, and possibly into the next. But like his sister, Anjie Rose Wilson, who is the choreographer in this and many shows, Zach also plays a big role behind the scenes as a set designer, scenic artist, projections designer, and overall technical wizard for the company.
Also standing out is the character Sebastian the Crab, played by Luke Villanueva. At the beginning, Sebastian is a comic character, put upon by Triton and the Mersisters as he tries to lead them in his song, which is ruined when Ariel shows up late. But at the end of the first act, Sebastian tries to convince Ariel that life in the sea is good, and leads the company in the colorful and uplifting “Under The Sea” in his Jamaican accent. He also leads the company in one of the biggest highlights of the show, “Kiss the Girl.” It is his great singing, along with Anjie Rose Wilson’s choreography, that brings those two numbers to life, uplifting the entire show. Also adding to the fun is Nick Ribadeneira as Scuttle, the comic seagull, who is the hilarious “voice of reason” for Ariel, especially with the cleverly written song “Positoovity.” Justin Harvey, who plays the French Chef Louis in both casts, also adds to the humor and chaos with his song “Les Poissons” as he horrifies Ariel by trying to serve her some of her ocean friends for dinner, including her guardian, Sebastian.
The show is well paced and full of great music and clever dialog, and a great show to enjoy for young and old alike. Director Debbie Wilson has done her usual phenomenal job in leading two casts, with 137 performers combined, to create a professional-level production. With choreography by Anjie Rose Wilson and help from Vocal Director Jennifer Whitmeyer, the performers aged 10 to 19 are given the chance to really shine and earn the great applause they receive throughout the show. Costumers Karen McConnell and Margie Rudolph, with assistance from many volunteers, have done an amazing job clothing all the performers in this unique show, most of them with several costume changes throughout. And the sets in this show, from Zach Wilson, are grander than any before it, with boats big and small, undersea grottos, and a clever seashore effect.
EDMT’s production of Disney's The Little Mermaid runs through Sunday, March 10. Even at two hours long, with a 20 minute intermission, it will keep kids of all ages, and grown-ups as well, engaged and entertained. For tickets and more info, visit www.edmt.info or www.harriscenter.net. EDMT’s next show will be West Side Story, one of their audition-only “Encore” productions, beginning on April 26.
Ken Kiunke 3/2/2019
Originally published in GoldCountryMarketing.com. Reprintable with attribution to Gold Country Marketing and Ken Kiunke
Izzy Weaver as Ariel, Lindsey Hunter as Jetsam, and Jocelyn Haney as Ursula under the sea.
SpyQuest…An Agent 006½ Musical Comedy is an original show being brought to life by El Dorado Musical Theatre (EDMT) at Folsom’s Harris Center for the Performing Arts, after its original premier in 2007. It’s a show you will see nowhere else, as, unlike most of the productions EDMT and other theatre companies do, it is not a known Broadway show, but an original musical, with the book and lyrics by EDMT’s CEO, Rick Wilson, and music provided by longtime EDMT participant and former vocal director, Lynne Cimorelli, with help from her daughter Christina. Cimorelli also provided the instrumental music played for the show.
EDMT is the leading local youth theatre company, and produces several large-scale productions each year, featuring high-quality sets, costumes, and production values, with large casts of talented young performers. This show is one of their “Rising Stars” productions, featuring kids aged 6–14. Many of the performers have been in several EDMT shows before, usually in supporting roles, but this production allows them to take more prominent parts, and prepare to be the stars in upcoming productions. Several of the older EDMT performers have taken behind-the-scenes roles supporting the cast and production, including Justin Harvey as vocal director, Zach Wilson as production designer, and Anjie Rose Wilson doing makeup design. It’s nice to see these veterans supporting their younger stage brethren in their chance to shine. The play features two separate casts in alternating shows—the “Recon” cast and the “Stealth” cast. I saw the Recon cast, so my comments will be about those performers, though, typically, both casts are of equal quality.
The show is a spoof on spy movies, such as the James Bond series, but with a modern/futuristic look to the costuming and set design. Alexandra Gunn, played by Emily Hobbs, and Max Radley, played by Ty Rhoades, are experienced government “SIA” spies who are called in for a special assignment. (Nina Lopes and Brayden Bambino play the roles in the Stealth cast.) Both Hobbs and Rhoades have been great in past shows; Emily was Violet Beauregard and Ty was Wonka in last year’s Willie Wonka, but this show gives them both the chance to take a real leading role, and they make the most of it. The best parts of the show are their duets, especially in “For No Apparent Reason” in act one, and “I Can Count on You” in act two. Whether trading solo singing, or in harmony together, they sound great, and exhibit a real confidence and stage presence in their performances.
Their “evil nemesis,” Dr. Viktor Malaprop, is played by Cameron Renstrom, who has his own brand of stage presence. He leads his crew of crazy-dressed villains in a couple of song-and-dance numbers, and has a good voice and some nice moves, especially in the act-two opener “Come Get Your Coffee.” (Coffee plays a big part in the nefarious plot of Dr. Malaprop.) Jeel, Malaprop’s second in command, is played by Seth Marchek, and does a great job himself leading the crew in “The Torture Song” (it’s not as dark as it sounds, it is torture by polka and accordion.) Lanna Moore plays Major Suesei, and she’s a good actor in that part, along with being a lead dancer in the several big stage numbers. Miranda Garver does a fine job as well in the part of Smithson, the administrator of the SIA.
The big stage numbers featuring the entire crew are visually stimulating, with the colorful costumes by designer Karen McConnell, and interesting sets by Zach Wilson, and with a touch of the cuteness factor, courtesy of the handful of six to eight-year-olds in the cast. There’s a nice tap-dancing segment included as well, led by Emily Hobbs, who is as good a dancer as she is a singer. Choreographer Kat Bahry has done well to coordinate the moves of the large cast, and made them all look great, both young and not-so-young. The opening scene, in which a briefcase with the secret plans gets passed from one agent to the next, amid crowds of bystanders moving through the scene, is very well done and sets a nice tone for the show.
SpyQuest…An Agent 006½ Musical Comedy is a fun show, especially for families with younger kids, who will enjoy the story, but not get too restless, as the show is under two hours, including the intermission. The tunes by Wilson and Cimorelli are catchy and engaging, and may leave you humming a few after the show. Director Debbie Wilson and her stellar team of volunteers put as much effort and energy into these Rising Stars shows as they do their other productions, and it shows in the final result. The show opened July 6 and runs Thursdays through Sundays until July 15. EDMT will start their new season of shows with the return of an old favorite, Peter Pan, on November 9. For tickets and more info, visit www.edmt.info or www.harriscenter.net.
Ken Kiunke 7/7/2018
Originally published in GoldCountryMarketing.com. Reprintable with attribution to Gold Country Marketing and Ken Kiunke
Emily Hobbs and Ty Rhoades as secret agents
El Dorado Musical Theater is presenting a new production of the Broadway hit 42nd Street in an “Encore Production,” a once-a-year presentation featuring their top performers in an audition-only cast. This is the third time EDMT has presented 42nd Street, and it’s no wonder, since the show features great songs and plenty of tap dancing, which this company is especially good at. The musical first opened in 1980 on Broadway, but was based on the 1933 movie, with music by Harry Warren, and lyrics by Al Durbin and Johnny Mercer.
42nd Street is the story of an aging and fading stage star, whose only route into a new show is her relationship with her rich Texan “sugar daddy” who’s paying for the whole thing. Meanwhile, a young, naive girl from Allentown, with loads of talent and plenty of hopefulness, just wants a chance to be in the show. Set in New York during the depression, the story is really about these two women, the fading star Dorothy Brock, played by Kyra Schneider, and the new girl Peggy Sawyer, played by Emily Fritz. Though the part of Dorothy is not supposed to be sympathetic—she spends a lot of time complaining and pushing everyone around—she also dominates the musical numbers in the first act, and Schneider does a great job in the songs “Shadow Waltz,” which features some cool shadow effects on the stage, and “I Know Now,” which shows her vulnerability. And Peggy just wants to be noticed, and she and Ann Reilly, played by Nittany Biggs, show off their tap dancing skills in the number “Go Into Your Dance.”
One of the leading men is Billy Lawlor, the star of the production, who falls for Peggy when she shows up looking for a part. Connor Rickets plays Lawlor, and shares a nice duet with Fritz in the song “Young and Healthy.” He also leads the company in several big dance numbers, like the iconic “We’re In the Money” and the “Act I Finale,” showing off his great tap dancing skills, along with some acrobatic dance moves. That, and the spectacular “Forty-Second Street Ballet” in Act II are two of the many highlights that feature the entire company in large-scale song and dance numbers, expertly choreographed by Director/Choreographer Debbie Wilson and Associate Choreographer Anjie Rose Wilson.
The other leading man is Zach Wilson, playing Julian Marsh, the director of the “Pretty Lady” production. EDMT veteran Wilson naturally commands the stage as the man in charge, as he puts Dorothy Brock in her place, while also coaxing her to perform, and her rich boyfriend to keep paying the bills. Wilson doesn’t have a song in the first half, but he reminds you of his great voice when he starts “Lullaby of Broadway” in Act II, which becomes another great stage production with the entire company. He also closes the show fittingly with the “Forty Second Street (Reprise).”
Emily Fritz and Connor Rickets star in 42nd Street
Also standing out in the cast is Jocelyn Haney, who plays Maggie Jones, the songwriter and sort of guardian angel to the young ladies in the cast. Haney always attracts your attention, and shows of her singing talent in several numbers, especially in “Shadow Waltz” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.” Liam Roberts teams up with Nittany Biggs to open that comical song as a newlywed couple on a train, and do a great job with the clever but corny lyrics. Ty Rhoades plays Andy Lee, the choreographer who recognizes Peggy’s talents, and can’t help dancing with her, showing off his own skills as well. Justin Harvey plays Abner Dillon, the rich “sugar daddy” for great comic effect. And many of the cast get a chance at a solo in the optimistic song “There’s a Sunny Side to Every Situation” opening Act II, and they all do a great job.
Though Peggy’s part through most of the first act involves her showing her talent and then clumsily messing things up, in the second act she is dubbed the star, and Emily Fritz shines most brightly in the “Forty Second Street Ballet,” as she leads the company in the big finishing number, in both singing and dancing the part of the girl who had to live up to Marsh’s hopes when he says “You're going out there a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!”
As usual for an EDMT production, the set designs and projected effects are terrific, and the costumes by Karen McConnell are amazing, with up to ten changes per cast member throughout the show. 42nd Street opened February 16th and runs Thursdays through Sundays until February 25th. For tickets and more info, visit www.edmt.info or www.harriscenter.net. Due to some “salty” language, the show is best for pre-teens and older, and will delight all ages, especially fans of good “old fashioned” musicals. The opening night crowd showed their appreciation with a standing ovation for the hard-working and talented cast.
Ken Kiunke 2/17/2018
Jocelyn Haney (center) as Maggie Jones dishes it up to the girls