VIOLET — the 1997 off-Broadway hit that became this year’s Tony-nominated revival – just closed on Broadway this past weekend.

But the tuneful and heart-rending show will continue to affect the country at large, as long as there are resourceful directors such as Marty Strohmeyer and Sarah Hairston. They collaborated on a production that was a big hit in June at the Thespian Festival in Lincoln.

Strohmeyer and Hairston are St. Louis directors; he teaches at Visitation Academy while she works at Chaminade College Preparatory School. There’s an irony here; the man teaches at an all-girls’ school and the woman at an all-boys’.

So, you’re inferring, Visitation provided the girls for the Jeanine Tesori-Brian Crawley musical and Chaminade the girls. Not at all. The two directors opened the casting to any Missouri high school that has an International Thespian Society troupe. Of the dozens upon dozens of kids who answered the call, 21 students from 15 schools made the cut. Three student musicians were engaged with four pros to play Tesori’s Southern-tinged music.

Seventeen others, from teens to adults, gave technical support, including graphics designer Thomas Hairston. He, you’ll notice, has the same last name as one of the directors. Well, has there ever been a high school production where someone’s husband or wife hasn’t been dragged in to lend some sort of help?

The directors couldn’t be accused of playing favorites. A look at the program (printed, of course, on violet paper) showed they didn’t cast any of their own in the five leads.

Courtney Fortner of Parkway South High played the title character: Violet Karl, now a twenty-something young woman who, as a child, had her face forever scarred after her father’s axe blade slipped off its handle. Violet rues “People look at me and think that’s all there is to me,” a line that Fortner reminded us was universal; like it or not, we’ve all felt at times that many people have judged us simply by the way we look.

What’s worse, VIOLET takes place in 1964, when a woman’s worth – and marriageability – was most determined by her appearance. Strohmeyer, who also designed the costumes, wisely put Violet in a high-necked long dress. No, the axe didn’t affect any other part of her body, but this ultra-conservative dress reiterated that Violet doesn’t feel attractive.

The directors splendidly had their actors offer the right expression when each saw Violet for the first time. All of them looked at her long enough to pretend that nothing was wrong, and some gave slight little smiles of “Hello.” Unfortunately, they couldn’t hold the pretense; seeing a young woman so disfigured ultimately crossed their pain threshold, and they soon darted their eyes in a different direction. Even those with stronger stomachs eventually looked away because that was the polite thing to do. The

However, the writers decided to deal with Violet’s scar the same way that playwright Bernard Pomerance treated his title character in The Elephant Man. They too decided not to show any ugliness, but let the audience imagine it. So just as Lauren Ward in 1997 and Sutton Foster this year looked beautiful, so did Fortner.

Unlike The Elephant Man, however, Tesori and Crawley would eventually give a flashback seconds after the accident, when Violet’s face had a wide gash from which blood was pouring. This is an especially smart coup de théâtre; after we’d been lulled into assuming we wouldn’t see anything particularly unsettling, we were given it.

Actually, seeing the fresh wound was far worse than a healed-but-scarred face. That we saw it on Young Violet (an excellent Abigail Isom) made the horror even greater. Thus, when you do the show, make certain that the flashback of the split face is severe enough to make The Phantom of the Opera seem like Gaston in DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

Even before the accident was revealed, Richard Langbartel of Parkview High showed Father’s anguish. He will never stop blaming himself for the accident but he tries to pretend it’s behind him. That way, his daughter might not continually think of how bad her face and fate are. As a result, Father often sends her to the movies so that she can escape into Hollywood fantasies – where the dark will cover her.

Still, Violet doesn’t want to go through life with a bifurcated face, so she’s now on a bus that will take her from her native North Carolina to Oklahoma. She believes that a preacher there will, with the help of God, make her face beautiful. How well Fortner played this hope and dream, which made our hearts break because we knew that God wouldn’t help.

Fort Zumwalt South High’s Benjamin Stanley played Preacher as secure and seemingly devout – at least until he met Violet and realized how much she was depending on him. Then he was tender in letting her see that he didn’t have the power she’d expected him to have.

And yet, the trip is hardly a waste of time and money. On the bus, Violet meets thirtysomething black sergeant Flick (the solid Ralphel Johnson of North Tech High), and Monty (the estimable Trey Hale of Forsyth High), a white corporal who’s between Violet and Flick’s ages. Both men will ignore what’s wrong with her face and will vie for her hand. They know that Violet wouldn’t win a beauty contest, but they appreciate that she’d be a strong contender in a Miss Inner Beauty Contest if such a competition were to exist. (Come to think of it, somebody should start one.)

At first, Violet is reluctant to even touch Flick’s hand; many a white in those days — be he from the North, South, East or West — felt the same way. The writers also established Flick’s lifelong burden of being insulted to his face and having no choice but to take it. Flick’s situation reminded us that for blacks in 1964, the army was one of their best career moves — even if they had to run the risk of being killed in Vietnam.

Not that a black man’s dealing with enlisted whites would be easy. True, the army had been integrated in 1952, but that didn’t mean immediate acceptance for every black soldier. Instead, he was more likely to encounter hostility from those who resented integration. Johnson showed a Flick who was prepared for the struggle.

Violet soon got a taste of Flick’s life. When they attended a dance, the white couple in charge was indignant at seeing the two together – just as in the next scene a black innkeeper was equally incensed at the thought of a white woman dating a black man. Miscegenation laws would still be in place in all Southern states for at least two more years – not that their being repealed would then immediately make day-to-day living easy for a mixed-race couple. Both Fortner and Johnson conveyed that they were strong and ready to become pioneers in the nascent civil rights movement.

Times have indeed changed, for the teen-heavy festival audience in Lincoln applauded when Violet and Flick kissed. These students rooted for two characters they liked and didn’t care that they belonged to two different races.

One last thing: Violet brought on the bus a Baltimore Catechism, a book that, from the 1880s until the late 1960s, told students in meticulous detail what the Catholic Church demanded of them. Take it from someone who once experienced 12 years of Catholic schools: Strohmeyer and/or Hairston found the actual edition that was used in the early ‘60s. Yes, both Visitation and Chaminade are Catholic schools, but there can’t be too many vintage catechisms hanging around either campus.

God isn’t just in the catechism, but also, as we know, in the details. Strohmeyer and Hairston’s getting the right book also proved another religious-tinged maxim: the Lord helps those who help themselves (and directors’ attention to detail helps audiences, too).

You may e-mail Peter at pfilichia@aol.com. Check out his weekly column each Tuesday at www.masterworksbroadway.com and each Friday at www.kritzerland.com. His new book, Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks – a Very Opinionated History of the Broadway Musicals That Did Not Win the Tony Award is now available at www.amazon.com.

 

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    Music Theatre International has secured worldwide licensing rights to one of Broadway’s biggest hits, MAMMA MIA!  With music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and written by Catherine Johnson, MAMMA MIA! is the ultimate feel-good show, taking audiences on a trip down the aisle they’ll never forget.

    “It is no surprise that this show with its wonderful score is in high demand from our customers both here in the United States and in dozens of countries around the world,” said Drew Cohen, President of MTI.  “For years, MTI’s licensing representatives have politely encouraged our customers to be patient and the demand for MAMMA MIA! continues to be intense.  We are thrilled to represent this show and to begin to plan the release of the performance rights.  Given that this iconic show has become part of the fabric of musical theater culture, it will be exciting to see how our customers design their original productions using the now-classic material at the heart of the show.”

    MAMMA MIA! is Judy Craymer’s ingenious vision of staging the story telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs with an enchanting tale of family and friendship unfolding on a Greek island paradise.  On the eve of her wedding, a daughter’s quest to discover the identity of her father brings three men from her mother’s past back to the island they had last visited 20 years ago. Benny Andersson’s and & Björn Ulvaeus’s songs including “Dancing Queen,” “The Winner Takes It All,” “Money, Money, Money” and “Take a Chance on Me” are all featured in this feel good night of fun and laughter.

    MAMMA MIA! has experienced worldwide success, having been seen by more than 54 million people in 38 productions in 14 languages in over 400 cities. Now celebrating 13 smash hit years on Broadway at its new home at The Broadhurst Theatre with over 5,000 performances, MAMMA MIA! is the ninth longest running show is Broadway history and one of only five musicals to have run for more than 10 years on the Great White Way. The original West End production, now in its fifteenth year, has celebrated over 6,000 performances in London.

    The North American Tour as well as several international productions continue to delight audiences year-round. MAMMA MIA! is produced by Judy Craymer, Richard East & Björn Ulvaeus for Littlestar in association with Universal.

    See MAMMA MIA! in Your Area:

    For more information about MAMMA MIA!, please visit www.mamma-mia.com

    Sign Up for Fast Track Notification:

    Please note that Mamma Mia! is currently restricted for licensing and not available in the general amateur market.  In the meantime, sign up for Fast Track Notification to be among the first to know when the show will be ready for licensing.

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      Saisha Wesley, Kiana Carbone, Liana Zaino, Maginnis Buckley, Aneesah Abdur-Razzaq. Photo by: RAY LITTERIO PHOTOGRAPHY

      August is the month when kids who have been enrolled in summer theater arts programs show what they have learned in June and July.

      New Jersey School of the Dramatic Arts Kids on Stage! shows its skill via HONK! JR. It’s composer George Stiles and bookwriter-lyricist Anthony Drewe’s fanciful take on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling.

      Before the show, Beth Baur, the troupe’s co-director, takes the stage to tell the parents in the audience “You have beautiful children who have enhanced our lives.” She notes that not only is the company enjoying its tenth anniversary, but that 14-year-old Soula Garcia is celebrating it, too. “She actually started with us when she was four,” says Baur, astonished at how much time has passed and so quickly.

      Garcia’s decade of practice and devotion shows. She expertly plays The Cat, who’s HONK’s villain. The role is usually assigned to a male, although there’s no reason why a girl can’t play it.

      In fact, the lead role – the “duckling” simply known as Ugly – is usually played by a man or boy, too. Here, however, Liana Zaino has the part, because this summer, at least, boys are in short supply in Bloomfield, New Jersey.

      Thus the song that Ugly’s sibling-ducklings tauntingly sing is now “Look at Her” rather than “Look at Him.” Does it matter? Only a little. While most mothers tend to offer unconditional love to their sons – as does Ida, as Shannon Bretz admirably shows — fathers tend to be more demanding of their sons and more indulgent with their daughters. So HONK! seems a teensy bit off by showing daddy Drake (the estimable James Smith) being so insensitive to a young girl. Still, when you have a talent such as Liana Zaino, you give her the lead.

      No matter which members of either sex are delivering HONK’s themes, they’re well worth hearing. Little children may become more cautious about wandering after they see Ugly panic when he becomes lost. They’ll also benefit from witnessing Ida worry about Ugly when he’s not home at the time he is expected.

      Here HONK! becomes a cautionary tale for parents as well. Mothers and fathers who make their children feel inferior will motivate the kids to take love wherever they can find it – which may mean a predator far more insidious than The Cat.

      Sad to say, even the youngest of kids has seen or even experienced the type of cruel taunting that Ugly gets. Good that Ugly speaks up and demands to know “Why are you picking on me?” It’s a fine question in this era where we’re far more conscious of bullying.

      Maginnis Buckley, Kiana Carbone, Aneesah Abdur-Razzaq. Photo by RAY LITTERIO PHOTOGRAPHY.

      A nice antidote to such strife comes in HONK’s best number, delivered by Bullfrog (the amusing Kiana Carbone), who tells Ugly “Someday someone’s gonna love you warts and all.” Kids who are just entering that awkward age may be assuaged by this. And just as Ugly could be renamed Beautiful by show’s end, remind now-gauche teens that they’ll blossom as the years pass.

      Aside from its many therapeutic values, HONK! is fun to do. Kids like pretending to be animals, for they can crawl on the floor and make funny sounds. It’s also a simple show to stage. Those ubiquitous cubes that every theater has on hand here are piled high and have eggs painted on them. The actors who play ducklings hide behind them until they’re ready to pop out quacking, or, in Ugly’s case, honking.

      Even the mere hour-long HONK! JR. contains more puns than flavors at Baskin-Robbins. (Ida accuses Drake of “ducking out of his responsibilities.”) When General Greylag Goose (the sharp Aneesah Abdur-Razzaq) tells her troops “Company fall in!” everyone falls down faster than you can say “Three Stooges.” The goose grouses “I didn’t mean it literally,” which, not-so-incidentally, gives kids a chance to learn the meaning of the word.

      HONK! comes to the conclusion that “It’s what’s inside that count,” while Ugly decides “I like being different.” Yes – kids need to hear that they aren’t condemned to lament over what others see as their limitations. Chances are that many kids in HONK! JR. have been learning to celebrate who they are.

      Nineteen miles away, The Madison Recreation Department and Playwrights Theatre are jointly presenting ONCE ON THIS ISLAND.

      Although these kids are about the same age as the Bloomfield brood, they’re going to tackle the entire show and not just the Junior version.

      The musical concerns TiMoune, a peasant girl in the French Antilles who yearns from afar of the high-born Daniel Beauxhomme. How she lusts for the man who drives recklessly past her humble abode each day.

      “Choose your dreams with care,” TiMoune is urged, but she can’t help falling more deeply in love with the man who passes each day.

      So she prays to the most powerful gods in her island religion.

      Are you there, gods? It’s her, TiMoune. “Give her what she wants,” the gods say. But they only give her a little of it. Daniel’s recklessness causes him to crash; TiMoune finds him, nurses him back to health and they fall in love. Alas, he’s been promised to another high-born since birth.

      The script calls for a single narrator, but director Brian Lang decided to share the wealth among his cast. Frankly, this is good training for kids, for it forces each kid to pay rapt attention so he’ll be ready when the time comes for him to deliver his line.

      Actually, we should say “she’ll be ready when the time comes for her to deliver her line.” Here, as in Bloomfield, there is a lamentable lack of boys, so TiMoune has two mommies.

      But should such a dearth have scuttled a production? No, of course not, for ONCE ON THIS ISLAND has valuable lessons to impart. TiMoune believes her parents know nothing, and she’ll be proved wrong. That she’s adopted is also a situation to which many kids will relate. The musical also reveals how much has changed in the world of class distinctions – and how much hasn’t.

      Everyone will have a marvelous time singing the reggae-flavored melodies of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ exceptional lyrics, including “You are part of the human heart” – a sentiment that reveals that life is bigger than all of us, and that the world doesn’t revolve around me, myself and I.

      The show is easy to mount. For the car, two kids on all fours become the seats, and four others buttress them and spin their hands around to represent wheels. You certainly won’t tax your shoe budget, for everyone goes barefoot. As with HONK, kids get to be animals (birds and frogs in this case), but there’s also a good beginner’s role for a truly young kid: The Wind. (“Just walk around and wave your arms, honey.”)

      Loren Donnelly is certainly no beginner. She hasn’t put in as much time as Soula Garcia, for she started with the theater in the fourth grade and now she’s about to enter ninth. But no wonder that Lang had to cast her as TiMoune. Donnelly has fully assimilated what seems to be the hardest lesson for kids: don’t just sing the words, but feel the words, too. She’s given thought to every syllable and sentence, and each gesture that she makes down to a finger-point is perfection.

      Because so many theaters have mounted ONCE ON THIS ISLAND in the last two decades, we can now easily say TiMoune belongs to everyone.

      Meanwhile in Manhattan, 15 eager young performers at the Ray Arias Studios are getting ready to perform. Paula Chanda, the Executive Director of The Hub Performing Arts School in Lubbock, Texas, tries to bring a bevy of kids to New York every summer to perform a mini-showcase. “We aren’t trying to develop Broadway stars — although several of our kids would be more than pleased if they were plucked out of Texas and put in a show today,” she admits with a grin. “What we want is for kids to learn about character and the hard work and dedication required for the arts. They might be future performers, or they might be tomorrow’s supporters of the arts.”

      As if Chanda doesn’t have enough to do in watching over everyone, she also books the flight, hotel and shows that kids will see. PIPPIN, Matilda, Aladdin, Wicked, If/Then and Cinderella are this year’s treats.

      Best of all was the showcase. Out came the kids, not dressed to kill, but dressed to perform. They started with RENT’S “Seasons of Love” with choreography that reminded us that “a year in the life” can be a joyous one.

      Some kids didn’t seem old enough to have experienced many 525,600-minute time spans. And yet, Kendrick Hancock already at 11 has the looks and demeanor of a star when singing OLIVER’s “Where is Love?”

      After each song, the singer emits a shy smile that acknowledges a job well done and a “Thank you” that is necessary, considering all the appreciative applause. Thirteen-year-old Berkeley Adams shows that she isn’t even afraid to tackle Sondheim and expertly does “I Know Things Now” from INTO THE WOODS. When the pianist loses her place, Adams keeps going a capella. Nothing’s going to stop her.

      Even when a rare kid does falter, he rallies. Chanda apparently has told everyone not to be flummoxed by a mistake, but to go on as if nothing bad had happened. When 13-year old Brianna Sanchez sings “Thank you for everything I know” (a line in an In the Heights song), she seems to be aiming it toward Chanda.

      They wrap up with SHREK’S eleven o’clock number that is fast becoming a theater kid’s national anthem: “Let your freak flag fly,” they sing with assurance. “Never take it down” goes David Lindsay-Abaire’s lyric. Indeed – raise it high, kids.

      At the end of the session, I’m asked to comment. “Do you know,” I ask, “what is said to be the number one fear of most people? Not snakes on a plane, but getting up in front of other people and speaking. This means that you’ve already conquered the Number One Fear – which means that you now don’t have to be afraid of any of the others.”

      As soon as the session ends, 12-year-old Matthew Miller (who did a sensational job with “Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun” from A Christmas Story) immediately rushes up and gives me his professionally-taken color headshot with a resume on the back that boasts of his credits from FIDDLER to FLAT STANLEY. Yes, they learn fast in Lubbock – especially with Paula Chanda at the helm.

      You may e-mail Peter at pfilichia@aol.com. Check out his weekly column each Tuesday at www.masterworksbroadway.com and each Friday at www.kritzerland.com. His new book, Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks – a Very Opinionated History of the Broadway Musicals That Did Not Win the Tony Award is now available at www.amazon.com.

       

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        Take a fantastic musical adventure with an out-of-this-world car that flies through the air and sails the seas! Based on the beloved 1968 film version of Ian Fleming’s children’s book, and featuring an unforgettable score by the Sherman Brothers (Mary Poppins),Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is one family-friendly blockbuster that audiences will find “Truly Scrumptious”.

        An eccentric inventor, Caractacus Potts sets about restoring an old racecar from a scrap heap with the help of his children Jeremy and Jemima. They soon discover the car has magical properties including the ability to float and take flight. Trouble occurs when the evil Baron Bomburst desires the magic car for himself. The family joins forces with Truly Scrumptious and batty Grandpa Potts to outwit the dastardly Baron and Baroness and their villainous henchman, the Child Catcher.

        Filled with amazing stage spectacle and unforgettable songs, including the Academy Award nominated title song, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is ultimately a feel-good story about the power of family and the bonds created to overcome any obstacle. The large cast and opportunities for true stage magic make this a highly rewarding show for any group looking to bring a large-scale production with great name recognition to their theatre.

        Watch Exclusive Video From Productions Around the World!

        Continue exploring Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with our high-flying video playlist featuring clips of the show from the National Tour to productions at Utah’s Hale Center and Pennsylvania’s Fulton!

        Order Your Free Perusal Copy of the Script Today!

        For a limited time only, you can read a free perusal copy of the libretto for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Log in to your My MTI account and select the show from the dropdown menu (it will appear free of charge), or call your licensing agent to order an electronic version or hard copy today!

        Offer valid through 09/08/2014.

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          Filichia Features: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN Can Indeed Succeed

          August 1, 2014

          You could, of course, do CATCH ME IF YOU CAN the way it was done on Broadway. Take Troupe 4982 from Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which brought its production to the Thespian Festival in Lincoln in June. Through a production that pretty much replicated what director Jack O’Brien, choreographer Jerry Mitchell and set [...]

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            JUNIE B. JONES THE MUSICAL – Now Available for Licensing in the U.S. and Canada!

            July 31, 2014

            Sneak a peek into the “Top-Secret Personal Beeswax Journal” of the outspoken, precocious and lovable Junie B. Jones Created by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, the team that brought you DEAR EDWINA, comes  JUNIE B. JONES THE MUSICAL – a delightful adaptation of four of Barbara Park’s best-selling books brought to life in a genuinely [...]

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              Thrilled to Death that TONY Award-Winning Best Musical A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER is Joining the MTI Family!

              July 28, 2014

              Music Theatre International is thrilled to death that A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER is joining the family!  Sign up for Fast Track Notification to get email updates and future licensing information about this uproariously funny new musical. A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER was the most-nominated show of the season, with 10 [...]

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                Filichia Features: “To Life!” to FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

                July 25, 2014

                Does the musical that toasted “To Life!” have any life left? Oh, yes. Almost 50 years to the day that FIDDLER ON THE ROOF began rehearsals at the Lyceum Theatre in New York, Edina (Minnesota) High School proved that through the production it brought to Lincoln, Nebraska during the Thespian Festival. The tears shed from [...]

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                  Filichia Features: It’s Alex Stone by a Knockout

                  July 18, 2014

                  Some of the Thespian Festival workshops on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus are held in modest classrooms. Not this one. The mammoth all-purpose room in the Westbrook Music Building will be needed today, for no less than Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman will be holding an audition coaching workshop. Some high-schoolers are itching to perform [...]

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                    Its A Big Bright Beautiful World – SHREK THE MUSICAL TYA Now Available For Licensing!

                    July 11, 2014

                    SHREK THE MUSICAL TYA Available for Licensing for Performances Beginning July 15, 2014. SHREK THE MUSICAL TYA, based on the Oscar® winning DreamWorks film that started it all, brings the hilarious story of everyone’s favorite ogre to dazzling new life on the stage in a brand new condensed Theatre for Young Audiences version. Part romance, [...]

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