James and the Giant Peach Jr.

410bc1174d6a19beb7e212476e00019b950281e5Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center presented their third junior production, James and the Giant Peach. Based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book, this production features students from grades seven through nine, along with featured dancers. It is an hour long show with no intermission.

James and the Giant Peach is about a young boy, James, whose parents were killed in a tragic accident with a rhino – leaving James to live in an orphanage. That is until his two selfish aunts are granted custody, and he is moved out to live with them and their schemes to get rich. Upon arriving, James meets the magical Ladahlord who guides him to make a potion that will bring full power to whoever digests it. But then things go wrong, and a giant peach grows from the dilapidated peach tree, leading to gigantic adventures.

Walking into the Center, still to this day, continues to take my breath away. Once you walk through the double glass doors, you are greeted by an open foyer with a high-arching ceiling. Typically, during events, refreshments will be served, a gift shop booth to purchase Center or Charter School clothing, and a small table with coloring pages and crayons for the little ones. A cute attraction outside the Main Theater is the cardboard cut-out of a peach with two face-shaped holes for anyone to take a picture with. Although I have been a student here, my excitement never dwindles each time I enter the grand building.

James and his aunts
James and his aunts

A lot of the times I could barely hear and understand the actors while they were singing and speaking. Their voices would be quiet – almost in a hushed tone – as if they were voicing out to the audience, and not into the mics attached to their foreheads. Although, after a few moments, their voices would become clear and crisp, indicating an issue with the sound that was not yet resolved before the actors went onstage.

Nicholas Vanhorenbeck, who played Grasshopper, could have been a bit more clear and concise with his speaking and singing parts. His voice was very quiet and shy, which made it difficult to hear and understand what he was saying. I am unsure if this was first night jitters, or not. But, I would have liked for him to have belted out his words more confidently. Professionals always say that you know you are doing well when you feel embarrassed – so just run with it. It is common, though, to experience nervousness when performing your first big musical.

Although, Vanhorenback’s counterparts, Hannah Post (Ladybug) and Clare Rectenwald (Spider) performed with astounding voices that were almost soothing at some points. Even though these two are one of the eldest of the cast, being ninth graders, I was taken aback by their precise singing. Each note seemed to be on key, and their voices never wavered.

Sydney Clay, who played the Matron Nurse, needed more expression for her role. During the times that she had a speaking part, she seemed she was uninterested in performing that part, within the play, or in general overall. When she did speak, she was monotonous and didn’t try to add any changes in tone or facial expressions to give the character a more three-dimensional feel. It’s always exciting to feel the actors’ excitement to be performing onstage at a young age. I’m sure with more practice and being in more plays will help her improve.

Tyler Pintea, who played Earthworm, had such an enthusiastic performance. Even though this is supposed to be about James, hence the name of the musical, Pintea stole the show with his humorous acting and confident tone. The audience was laughing until they were teary-eyed during “Plump and Juicy” where Pintea danced around the stage while he sang of being the best snack for the seagulls. Laughter always erupted when he would scream, wiggle his body, and flaunt his behind.

James (in vest) and cast members
James (in vest) and cast members

Olivia Dempsey (Spiker) and Sophia Curry (Sponge) both had these odd accents that made their parts hilarious at times. When they would sing, they still kept that strange accent within it. Once again, being very impressive for freshmen in high school. They also handled a small accidental incident when Curry dropped a can of whipped cream. Instead of panicking and making a show of it, she kept on acting as though she had never dropped it. Although, it was enjoyable how Curry kept spraying mouthfuls of whip cream into her mouth.

A really creative aspect of this play was when they demonstrated the peach growing bigger and bigger on the tree. Some actors stood underneath the cardboard branch and opened up a few umbrellas in intervals. It was a cute and unique way to express the growth of the gigantic peach.

All of the character’s costumes had a sort of 50s or 60s era spunk to them. The costumes were full of bright colors and cute little pins that adorned frilled jackets. It brought light to what would be seen as a bleak situation. Though the rhino, played by Luke Brahler and Tyler Johnston, was simply a blanket thrown over two actors, with a few pots put together to create the head. It may have been intriguing and filled-in more to have seen an all over fabric costume (like those two-person horse ones) or even a cardboard cut-out that an actor moved around.

Despite the actors all being younger, they showed a level of matureness within this junior production. They were able to work together as a team with the leaders of the Center, and were treated as though this was a true Broadway show. A strong amount of confidence and eagerness poured from the souls of these young minds as they performed in this show.

You can see James and the Giant Peach at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland, Pennsylvania from November 17-19. Tickets range from $15, $18, and $20 and can be purchased online at lincolnparkarts.org.

Photos courtesy of the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center.

Mary Poppins

21768185_1906329982717356_1116199930238048046_nMary Poppins, a family favorite for decades, came flying into Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center as the opening production to their eleventh season. This combines P.L. Travers’ book series and Walt Disney’s film into one stage musical. It includes all the most renowned musical scores from Disney’s film such as “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Chim Chim Cher-ee” along with additional scores.

This making is based around the dysfunctional Banks family – primarily the two children: Jane and Michael. After many failed nannies, one answers Jane and Michael’s call and turns the whole house upside down. But despite the abnormality of her, all of them love Mary Poppins as she fixes the family in her own charming way.

Mary Poppins is a fun-filled yet stern nanny. Amanda Gross, who played the titular character, portrayed these two sides by appearing to George (Allan Snyder) and Winifred (Erika Strasburg) Banks as a fitting nanny to the children. Although, when she is alone with the children, the audience learns that she has tricks up her sleeve that win over their hearts. Amanda Gross won over my heart as she efficiently displayed these opposing sides of her role.

untitled (510 of 712)A pleasant addition to this show was the flying effects that were a part of the technical aspects. Mary Poppins is renowned for coming into a scene from the sky with her umbrella in hand. But, it was remarkable to see it onstage! Even Bert, played by Mathew Fedorek, used the flying effects in the song “Step in Time.” Fedorek’s use of the suspensions had me holding onto the edge of my seat as he walked up the proscenium of the stage, up to the top, and back down the other side. Praise to Mathew Fedorek for executing that stunt so well.

All the actors and actresses were very well trained in being historically correct within this show. They kept up with a consistent British dialect, since this takes place during the industrial period of England, which was towards the end of the Victorian Era. It helped the audience pick out a sense of place within the show.

The most well-trained actor, though, was the precious little dog, Lily, that the Center casted as Mrs. Lark’s dog, Willoughby. Lily remained still in the arms of whoever was holding her within that moment. She made no noise or signs of struggle each time the audience saw her. Lily was the love of every young child watching.

22221981_1917670534916634_4396336125824043449_nA minor issue I had was with the musical structure itself was the first time “A Spoonful of Sugar” is sung, it takes place in the kitchen and not in the bedroom like it is in the film. The song also happens very abruptly within that kitchen setting. I feel as though it would’ve been more suiting if the writers for the musical would have kept it within the bedroom, instead of changing the scenery.

What I did enjoy about the kitchen scene, though, were the props used within it. Robertson Ay, played by Zane Gagliardi, ends up having a fainting spell before “A Spoonful of Sugar” begins and knocks over hanging pans, destroys china in a pantry, then crashes into a table, splitting it. Shortly after the song, Mary Poppins uses her magic and you see pans float up onto their racks, china and shelving restoring itself to a straight position, and table sliding back into one piece. The technicality behind the breakable but reparable props was a wonder to witness!

I was impressed by the way Gregory Buck, who played Neleus, remained rock-still as a statue during the first park scene. I did not realize he was real until he jumped down from the pedestal. He was graceful as he performed turns, leaps, and the such till he returned to his static pose. Despite all the movement, he remained still the second time around.

22384304_1923869024296785_9059847582351770289_oAs far as choreography goes, almost every song had a dance number to it. Jennifer Verba, Mary Poppins choreographer and Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School’s head of Dance, was the director for these creations. The dancers were poised, elegant, and expressed the song being performed through their feet. The more memorable choreography was during “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

At the ending of the show, Amanda Gross walked over towards the corner of the stage and became suspended once again with the ZFX flying effects and ascended over the audience. It was a fairy-tale sight, seeing her gradually flying over the rows of spectators to the balcony seats with an enormous smile on her face. She eventually was harnessed up, and lifted back down to the stage for the end acknowledgements.

You can see Mary Poppins at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland Pennsylvania from October 13-15 and 20-22. Tickets range from $15, $18, and $20 and can be purchased at lincolnparkarts.org.

Photos courtesy of Zac Cageao and the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center.

Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center Dreams Bigger

1916154_1277051875645173_4367323203200371281_nFor their 11th year of performances, Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center is introducing their 2017-2018 season – “Dream Bigger,” beginning on October 6, 2017, through June 24, 2018. This season is unlike any theatre or shows they produce. Apart from the plays and musicals, there will be two ballets performed. During the construction of the LPP Arts Center and Charter School in Midland, the town coined the “Build the Dream.” After that dream was built, and 11 years since, the Center is now expanding their dream in this season.

Justin Fortunato, the artistic director of the Center, is the creative mind behind this season. He chose each of the 8 shows that encompass the theme of “Dream Bigger.” “From a flying nanny helping a family in need to the American dream, to dreaming about one’s impact on the world, this season challenges us to push our perceptions of what is possible. Lincoln Park as an organization is also growing and developing based on the dreams that were dreamt a little over a decade ago when it was created,” Said Justin Fortunato.

A special component of the Center is that the students from the accompanying Charter School are encouraged to audition for these productions. Anyone with the passion to sing, act, and/or dance is more than welcome to audition. From students to resident artists, professionals, and even teachers – all are welcome to perform.

Mary-Poppins-iconThe season will kick off with everyone’s beloved nanny in Mary Poppins from October 6-8, 13-15, and 20-22. This production will feature spectacular flying illusions and amazing costumes. Based on the original book by P.L. Travers, featuring songs from the Walt Disney film, this is a magical and ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ way to start a bigger dream.

James-Peach-iconFrom November 10-12 and 17-19, audiences can embark on a journey traveling in and over-sized fruit in James and the Giant Peach Jr. This will be Lincoln Park’s third junior production. It will mostly feature a younger casting, with middle school students and below. Based on Roald Dahl’s novel, you can join a young boy, an insect, and their gargantuan juicy vessel.

Wonderful-Life-iconLincoln Park will begin their holiday cheer with It’s A Wonderful Life December 1-3 and 8-10. Inspired by Frank Capra’s film. Sticking with the season’s theme, the story follows a man, George Bailey, who is always chasing a dream just out of reach.  He then meets his guardian angel, who puts him in a dreamlike state, or nightmare, so that he can see what life would be like had he never been born.  This American classic has love, tragedy and plenty of laughs, and is a great way to start the winter holiday.

Nutcracker-iconThe Nutcracker concludes the holiday season from December 14-17. Performed by Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School’s own dance students, this combines Tchaikovsky’s famous melodic pieces and E.T.A Hoffman’s story. Featuring over 50 high school dancers, this performance will have the audience dreaming of sugarplums.

Great-Gatsby-iconBased on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novella, The Great Gatsby will be performed from February 16-18 and 23-25. In this haunting rendition, audiences follow Nick Carroway when he meets Jay Gatsby. Carroway eventually learns of Gatsby’s obsession with the gorgeous girl next door.

Another performance by Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School will grace the stage with Sleeping Beauty Dance Upon A Dream. This classic tale will leave anyone awake and breathless from March 16-18 and 23-25.

Big-Fish-iconRight from Broadway on April 20-22, 27-29, and May 4-6, Lincoln Park presents Big Fish. One of Lincoln Park’s most technically ambitious shows performed, this production is about family and adventure. From Daniel Wallace’s acclaimed novel and Tim Burton’s film rendition, the show focuses on Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman with extraordinary tales. But when his son, Will, is going to have a son of his own, he tries to sort out his father’s tall tales.

Ragtime-iconLincoln Park’s 2017-2018 “Dream Bigger” season ends with Ragtime the Musical. During the high-time of the melting pot that is New York, this show features three different kinds of families: an upper-class wife, a Jewish immigrant, and a Harlem musician as they face the challenges during that time. This will be performed June 15-17 and 22-24.

 

“I look forward to seeing our young aspiring artists – our students – doing what they love and all of the talent, energy, and enthusiasm they bring to each and every performance!” Said Stephen Catanzarite, who helped with the marketing and promotion of the series, about this upcoming season. Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center’s hometown of Midland waited anxiously for the dream to be built. Now that it is, they are making the theatre world, and student’s dreams bigger with this season. “I look forward to opening our season on October 6 with Mary Poppins and continuing through June 24, 2018 with Ragtime. This season is full of beautiful moments, and programming for the entire family!”

 

Peter Pan

Peter-Pan-Production-PosterComtra Theatre brings to the stage Peter Pan, fitting for both children and adults. This musical will have you soaring away with laughter as you fly to Neverland. A couple of special features in this production are the pirate band playing in a balcony above, and a casting of young actors/actresses.

Peter Pan is primarily focused around the Darling family, more specifically Wendy Darling, the eldest child. When Wendy finds an unknown boy, Peter Pan, crying in her bedroom it begins their magical adventure to a land where no one grows up. This rendition slightly combines Disney’s two movies of Peter Pan – where Wendy is a child and an adult.

Mandie Russak, who played Peter Pan, brought such a powerful voice to her character. Her singing elevated the roof of the building as her voice filled the entire room. She did a perfect job enveloping Peter Pan’s personality – spunky, childish, yet with a touch of seriousness. Russak was great with the child actors and actresses and always had a smile on her face.

An interesting part about Comtra is it is set up as a “theatre in the round,” or a stage that is surrounded by an audience. This creates a smaller stage, yet more inclusiveness between the actors and audience, thus breaking that fourth wall. It also creates the issue of occasionally having the character’s back towards you – which can be irritating at times. The actors used the whole room to their advantage – from running up the aisles, to appearing from hidden doors located in the corners of the area.

Captain Hook, played by Brady Patsy, is a fuming pirate looking for revenge on Peter Pan for cutting off his hand, leaving him to use a hook as a replacement. Patsy made Hook both a lovable and hateful character. There were funny moments where Captain Hook would get caught in a trap or mistake and Patsy would exaggerate the situation. There were also serious moments that sent shivers down your spine as Patsy sang of “killing all the children.”

The most adorable part of this musical was actually during intermission. A couple of the pirates, along with Tinkerbell, came out and interacted with the audience! The pirates did a splendid job swarming in the kids to get them playing along and taking pictures – even giving them little pirate hats. Tinkerbell, played by Lyla Rose Petrucci, was the most favored participant for pictures.

The child actors were just as precious – from the two little Darling boys – Domenic Petrucci (Michael) and Brett Barthelemy (John), to the Lost Boys – Connor Benson (Slightly), Todd Turner (Tootles), Michael Petrucci (Curly), Noelle Errafaq (Nibs, and Rylan and Reegan Corbin (1st and 2nd twin). They all did a very wonderful job delivering their lines and I was extraordinarily impressed. I give all the little ones a special applause for their courage and willingness to work hard to do this show. Although, it did seem that the Lost Boys were a bit out-of-hand at times – such as when they were all grouped together in a scene. They all did very well, but I would have liked to see a bit more discipline with them.

There were many times when I had difficulty hearing an actor or actress sing or speak. I had no issue being able to hear Russak and Patsy, since they exhorted their voices so well. But everyone else I did have to strain. It was either the band playing too loud at times, or the sound wasn’t turned up fully to pick up the voices, or they simply needed to speak up. In addition to not being able to hear some of the characters, I really wanted to be able to hear Jane’s, played by Olivia DeJeet, narration throughout the musical. Rarely could I hear a word that she spoke. It was either a technicality issue with the microphone she had, or she simply did not know how to speak through it.

A fun addition to the musical was the bands participating. They were all dressed up as pirates and pianist Nick Stamatakis, who played as Mullens, would talk to Captain Hook – such as asking him what tempo to play the music they were about to sing along with. It was even hilarious when Captain Hook accidentally shot Mullens, then Mullens threw himself down onto the piano. Captain Hook also accidentally shot the trombone player and he, too, fell to the ground. Their participation was such a delightful addition to the whole show.

Unfortunately, Peter Pan has already closed but you can see musicals each month and a comedy show at the end of every month at Comtra Theatre in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. Tickets range in price and can be purchased online at www.comtratheatre.org. The next comedy show will be MYQ Kaplan at Comtra Theatre from July 28-29 where tickets will be $25 in advance and $28 at the door.  The next musical will be Little Shop of Horrors running from August 4-19 and tickets will be $15.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

HunchbackLincoln Park Performing Arts Center’s production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a darker version than the Disney classic that will send you on a rollercoaster of emotions. The musical featured an outstanding addition of a thirty-person choir above the stage, and seventeen-piece orchestra in the pit.

This musical is the conclusion to the Center’s ten-year celebration. Justin Fortunato, a new artistic producer who has been there for two years, brought a new air of creativity to the theater. He has pushed the boundaries and brought on more risqué and adventurous musicals/plays to the stage.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is about a young bell-ringer, Quasimodo, who is a deformed hunchback that has been secluded in the bell tower of a church in Notre Dame. He longs to go outside from his sanctuary and interact with others. But when he finally gets the chance, the people were crazed at his hideousness – except a gypsy called Esmeralda. Esmeralda captures the heart of Quasimodo, along with the archdeacon of Notre Dame, Claude Frollo, and a returning soldier, Phoebus. The admiration of this girl is what drives this tragic story.

Zachary as Quasimodo
Zachary  Medola as Quasimodo

An amazing part of the final portion of the introductory number, “The Bells of Notre Dame” was LPPAC student Zachary Mendola walked out on stage in just an undershirt and pants. He smeared black paint across the side of his face and transformed into Quasimodo right before our eyes! We saw as he put on the hunch and threw a green cloak over himself, turning from an ordinary man to a hideous monster. In the song, they give the audience a riddle saying, “What makes a monster and what makes a man?” which is revisited later in the musical.

I give special kudos to Mendola in his role as Quasimodo. In the more startling fragments, such as the whipping or when Esmeralda died, Quasimodo cried. But Mendola had me believe that he himself was crying, not just the character. Quasimodo is a hard-hitting character to play. The actor must go through losing their incorruptibility in the most disturbing of ways, all-the-while having to act less-human.

Esmeralda, played by Annemarie Rosano, is the driving force in this whole story. She is what makes Frollo, Quasimodo, and Phoebus dynamic characters. Rosano did a wonderful job at displaying Esmeralda’s innocence and how she wanted to fit in, too. Her singing through Esmeralda contained the strength and independence that the character possessed.

Annamarie Rosano as Esmarelda
Annemarie Rosano as Esmeralda

Although the character of Esmeralda has some virtue, she is also a gypsy, and gypsies can tend to be seductive. The other gypsies along the side did good work with this characteristic – the swaying of the hips and pulling the men in. But, I would have liked to see Rosano go a little further. I would have liked to see her fall into the rhythm of the music and let her body sway with it.

From the start, you could see the submissive relationship Quasimodo had with his uncle/master, Dom Claude Frollo (Tim Hartman). Hartman did a splendid job with portraying Frollo’s holy yet sinful demeanor. His song, “Hellfire,” truly chilled my bones. Very clearly, you could see how Hartman made apparent the spontaneous change in Frollo’s manner, abusing his power saying that he would hunt down Esmeralda for her committing witchcraft. When Frollo asked for forgiveness of both him and Esmeralda, Hartman really expressed how Frollo can feel guilt for his actions, and that there may be some sense of a man in him. Hartman did an exceptional work at showing Frollo’s split feelings with his duties with God, and love for Esmeralda.

unnamedA moment that trapped me was when Hartman and Rosano were in the prison cell together: Frollo gave her one last chance to save herself and be with him. At a point, Frollo flung himself onto Esmeralda and screamed at her to love him. Hartman very much portrayed the desperateness Frollo felt towards Esmeralda, driving him mad.

Phoebus, played by David M. Toole, hit the classic “frat boy” appeal to this character. Regardless of Phoebus’s troubled past, he seemed more interested in playing around with the gypsies. It would have been interesting to see more of his disturbed war background affecting him. We see a moment of this during “Rest and Recreation,” but never again. It could have added an even profounder depth to this character if that past was brought through a bit more.

Midway through the first act, the song “On Top of the World” the cast cleverly used foam railings to represent the balcony of the church, and later prison doors and the streets of Paris in other songs. It was a great use of limited props to extend the imagination of the audience.

It was astounding how the actors and actresses altered into other characters by changing their costumes right on stage. Either by throwing on a cloak or taking off a small piece of garment. The gargoyles, though, could have been a bit further realistic. The actors and actresses still wore their townspeople attire but added on a light gray shawl over their shoulders. There could have more elaboration, such as horns or wings, or even make-up.

An absolute favorite part of mine was when Quasimodo carried Esmeralda and placed her on the ground. The townspeople flanked the sides of the stage and imitated the actor at the beginning when he distorted into Quasimodo: pretending to smear their face with paint then contorting their bodies. Some may have seen it as imitation, but I saw it as a sign of respect and admiration for the creature that was finally being a man.

You can see The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland, Pennsylvania from June 23-25. Tickets range from $15, $18, and $20 and can be purchased online at lincolnparkarts.org.

Special thanks to the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center for complimentary press tickets. Photos courtesy of LPPAC