Not every great moment in an opera is commended by a diva and her arias. A good number of tracks on collections of classical music are filled by opera choruses.
For the third of its fourth 2016-17 season concerts, the Topeka Festival Singers will take its audience “To the Opera!” with a program that includes the by-audition, mixed chorus singing some of opera’s great choruses.
And the 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 6, program in White Concert Hall on the campus of Washburn University will include some diva moments with soloists drawn from the Singers’ ranks, as well as four guest vocalists: soprano Andrea Garritano, mezzo-soprano Ann Marie Snook, baritone Lee Snook and tenor Scott Wichael.
The concert will open with the Singers performing “Chorus of Enchanted Islanders,” the welcoming song to the magical isle ruled by the title character of George Frideric Handel’s “Alcina.”
Alto Bri Stewart will solo on “Dido’s Lament” and the final chorus of Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas, while soprano Clare Bryan will be featured on “Clair’s Aria” from “Clair de Lune” by Libby Larsen.
The Singers’ next number will have the audience looking for a nervous groom and a white-clad bride as the “Bridal Chorus” of Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin” has come to be known as the “Here Comes the Bride” wedding march.
Tenor Zachary Cope will solo on “Oh sleep, why dost thou leave me?” from Handel’s “”Semele,” followed by soprano Jessica Crowder taking the lead on “Mi chiamano Mimi” from “La Boheme” by Giacomo Puccini.
“Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” from Giuseppe Verdi’s “Nabucco” will close the first act of the concert.
Wichael will join the Singers as the soloist for the Act II openener, “Chorus of Wedding Guests” from Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermor,” which will be followed by Ann Marie Snook singing “Habarnera,” the entrance aria of the title character of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.”
Lee Snook will solo on “Blow Ye, the TRumpet Dan-u-el,” an aria of the Kansas-based opera “John Brown” by Kansas-born composer Kirke Mechem.
“Sous le dome epais,” also known as the “Flower Duet,” from Leo Delibes’ “Lakme” will feature Garritano and Ann Marie Snook, and Wichael will return to sing “Bon Voyage” from Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide.”
The concert will close with Garritano singing the lead of Pietro Mascagni’s “Easter Hymn” from “Cavalleria rusticana.”
Silver Lake High School spoofed show business with its spring play, “Hooray for Hollywood,” staged Feb. 18-19 in the school’s performing arts center.
Mary Larson directed the Tim Kelly comedy which featured 33 students with speaking roles.
Set in Tinsel Town, most of “Hooray for Hollywood” takes place in the Bravo Workshop of Dramatic Art — And Stuff. Ostensibly a drama school, it really is nothing more than a scam operated by fast-talking con artist Milo Bravo (Joshua Wilson).
Lured by phony scholarships and the desire to become movie stars, young Hollywood hopefuls enroll only to pay rent in the school’s dorm, staff its cafe and other side business and occasionally have Milo teach a lesson on such “vital” subjects as “How to Wear Sunglasses Properly” and “How to Avoid the Pitfall of Talent.”
Milo’s biggest fan and closes aide is his doting secretary Anita (Haley Warbritton). She takes care of him as well as some of Milo’s other less-than-reputable tenants: Ponyboy Floyd (Joshua Dallman), a small-time bookie, and his sidekick Ponyboy Lloyd (Brady Snook); the Agin’ Cajun (Ethan Schurtz), supposedly a Louisiana cooking expert; and self-proclaimed psychic to the the stars Estrella (Bailee Arnold).
The enrollment of Milo’s workshop, which includes Mary (MacKenzie Aldridge), Tommy (Logan Matzke), Gwen (Micki Moore), Rose (Santana Raub), Alan (Gideon Remer), Veronica (Anna Schuckman), Alex (Gabe TenEyck) and Gail (Lyndsey VandeVelde), increases with the arrival from Kansas of a blue gingham dress-wearing teen named Dorothy (Mackensie Haverkamp) who is sure Hollywood is the her somewhere over the rainbow.
Ready to pull back the curtain on Milo is Dorothy’s traveling companion, her older sister Fran (Nicole Gerber), who obviously has a brain, courage and heart. (Nonetheless, the Scarecrow (Ryan Wagner), Lion (Keith Nagy) and Tin Man (Nathan Ruby) make cameo appearances, too.)
Eager for Milo to launch their careers are three other new enrollees: screenwriter Matt Walker (Ryan Wagner); would-be rock star Wynonna (Leah Gustafson); and eager actress Kimberly Von Ricesnap (Aubrey Dick). Even Milo’s elderly landlady Doris Bingo (Cassie Johnston) would trade some of Milo’s delinquent rent for a part in a movie.
As if things weren’t a big carnival around the Bravo Workshop of Dramatic Art — And Stuff, a flea circus operated by Professor Slinky (Keith Nagy), his Flea Busters (Josh Boucher and Ryan Tarner) and a couple of kick boxers, Tug O’Dell (Tarner) and Thug O’Dell (Seth Evans). When the flea circus’ little big top is accidentally toppled, the search for its escaped performers have everyone scratching their heads and necks and arms and legs, etc., etc., etc.
Given Milo’s reputation, the plot demands the long arm of the law to reach into the Bravo Workshop of Dramatic Art — And Stuff. It does in the form of Los Angeles Police Detective Webb (Nathan Ruby) and two more of LAPD’s finest, Officer Ted (Josh Adee) and Officer Jeb (Drew Sharpe).
Also on Milo’s case is a state investigator, Karen Hunter (Claire Austin) takes him to court for $30,000 of unpaid taxes and hangin’ Judge Brand (Keith Nagy) gives him 24 hours to pay the taxes or go to jail.
Salvation comes when Milo’s only successful graduate, teen star Mitzi Fontaine (Megan Risetter) visits with entertainment writer Holli (Olivia English), casting director Maybelle Phelps (Miranda Graf), television producer Sybil Thorn (Erica Strausbaugh) and lawyer Sam Holden (Calen Schuckman) in tow.
Milo gets an offer that will cover his tax bill, but to claim it he has to go legit and settle down with his ever-faithful secretary Anita.
Charlotte Larson Pemberton served as assistant director and designed the program and cast T-shirt. Garrett Larson did the set design and construction.
The show’s crew included: Olivia Beach, Zack Evans, Halle Jackson, Kennedy Kats, Ethan Kortan and Ian Todd.
Multiple generations of Topeka-area jazz musicians will share a stage when Topeka Jazz Workshop Inc. and Topeka Jazz Workshop Band Inc. wrap up this season’s Topeka Youth Jazz Band program with performances by two student ensembles and the adult big band.
The concert from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, in White Concert Hall on the campus of Washburn University will feature a middle school band, an ensemble of high school players and a show-closing set by the Topeka Jazz Workshop Band. Admission is free to the concert.
The two youth ensembles have rehearsed weekly for months in preparation of the season finale.
Chris Reynolds, a Topeka Public School music teacher who directs the bands at State Street Elemenatary School, Chase Middle School and Highland Park High School and serves with the Lawrence-based 312th U.S. Army Band, oversees the middle school ensemble which includes 20 pupils from three public schools, a parochial school or are home-schooled.
During their set, they will perform “Feel the Beat, Pete!” a rock tune by Andy Clark; Paul Murtha’s arrangement of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ neo-swing tune “Zoot Suit Riot”; the Dixieland jazz tune “Basin Street Blues” arranged by Paul Jennings; and another rock song by Clark, “Dr. Rockenstein’s Laboratory.”
Craig Treinen, director of jazz studies, well-known saxophonist and veteran of the Air Force Heart of America Band, coaches the 18 members of the high school band drawn from three Shawnee Country public schools.
Their set list includes “Moanin'” by Charles Mingus; “One More Time, Chuck Corea,” a Jay Puerling Latin song arranged by Jay Bocook; and the John Coltrane jazz standard “Impressions” arranged by Mark Taylor.
Wrapping up the program will be the Topeka Jazz Workshop Band. Founded in 1961, it is the oldest, continually operated, community-based big band jazz orchestra in the nation.
Trumpet player Ryan Simpson, director of bands at Seaman Middle School, leads the band, several members of which also are current or retired music educators or current collegiate players.
The Topeka Jazz Workshop Band has in recent years kicked off the Topeka Jazz Workshop Inc.’s annual concert series, as well as performed concerts in Gage Park as part of its free summer concert shows.
Selections planned for Saturday’s show include “Easy to Love,” a Cole Porter song arranged by David Sharp; Sharp’s arrangement of the Beatles’ song “Norwegian Wood” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney; band member Darren Jenkins’ song “Caught in the Blue Eye of the Potato”; and Larry Neeck’s “Uptown Stomp,” which kicks off with a drum sequence in the style of Gene Krupa.
In addition to the music, the program will include presentations by the Topeka Jazz Workshop Inc. of $500 scholarships to middle and high school students to attend summer jazz camps. Graduating high school students later will be awarded college scholarships.
Here are the rosters of the three ensembles:
Middle school band
Clarinet: Maddison Easley, Christ the King.
Drums: nate Routsong, Jardine.
Piano: Walter Evans, Robinson; and Carter Johnston, Jardine.
Trumpet: Heath Allen, home-schooled; Adisyn Caryl, Jardine; Chloe Easley, Christ the King; Dequan Kent, Robinson; Cameron Meseke, Jardine; Emma Simpson, Seaman; and Tyson Smith, Jardine.
High school band
Saxophone section: Grace Hawkins, first alto, Washburn Rural; Tyrese Mendez, second alto, Topeka High; Sam Rissen, first tenor, Seaman; Cameron Calvin, second tenor, Washburn Rural; and Nick Brady, baritone, Seaman.
Trombone section: Jordy Rowe, first, Seaman; Bryce Teaford, second, Seaman; Kotis Atkinson and Aradia Snyder, third, both Topeka High; and Curtis Malsom, fourth, Washburn Rural.
Rhythm section: Phoebe Stottlemire, piano, Seaman; Katie Rogg, bass, Washburn Rural; Anthony Dake, drums, Washburn Rural; and Paul Fredrickson, guitar, Washburn Rural.
Topeka Jazz Workshop Band
Saxophones: Tom Hunt, assistant director of bands, Lawrence High School; Jerry Boster, retired music teacher, Topeka Public Schools; Darren Jenkins, music teacher, Olathe USD 233; Steve Funk, director, information technology, Kansas Board of Regents; and Andy Rhodes, director of bands, Silver Lake Schools.
Trumpets: Perry Hartmann, collection development specialist, Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library; Jasper Shrake, Washburn University student; Travis Mott, music teacher, Bishop Elementary School; and Don McDaniel, retired band director, Holton High School.
Trombones: Tim Owen, CPA, controller for the Chapter 13 Trustee office for Topeka; Chris Reynolds, director of bands, Highland Park High School; Paul Kirkwood, Washburn University students; and Greg Scheetz, Washburn University student.
Rhythm: Stuart O’Neil, piano, music teacher, Oskaloosa USD 341; Sawyer Treinen, gutar, Sheet Metal Workers Local Union No. 2; Forrest Evans, bass, Washburn University student; Tommy Stewart, percussion, retired Veterans Affairs aide; and Kelly White, drums, Spanish teacher, Jackson Heights USD 335.
Musically, the Topeka Symphony Orchestra will boldly go where no one has gone before when it performs music from “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “Battlestar Galactica” and other space-set, science-fiction movies and television series.
Kyle Wiley Pickett will conduct the orchestra when it performs its “Out of This World” pops concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, in White Concert Hall on the campus of Washburn University. Tickets are $35, $30 and $25 (half-price for full-time students) and on sale at the door 60 minutes before the concert or in advance by calling the TSO offices at (785) 232-2032.
The program will include a suite of music from John Williams’ score for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the 2015 movie that is the first of franchise’s three trilogies.
Pickett said he has been a fan of Williams’ music since his best friend got the soundtrack of the first “Star Wars” as a birthday gift.
“He and I wore that record out,” said Pickett, who added his two young sons also are fans of Williams’ movie music, such as the scores he wrote for “Harry Potter,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “Jurassic Park.”
Pickett said the Topeka Symphony would be the first orchestra in the area to play music from “The Force Awakens,” which he called a “brilliant addition” to Williams’ canon.
In addition to music from other sci-fi franchises, such as “Star Trek” and “Battlestar Galactica,” the concert also will feature the opening fanfare of Richard Strauss’ tone poem, “Sprach Zarathrusta,” which became universally known when Stanley Kubrick used it for his 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Other space-themed music will include selections from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.”
Pickett said the mix of such classical fare with music from well-known sci-fi franchises offer a good draw for first-time Topeka Symphony Orchestra concert-goers.
“Our pops concerts are always a ton of fun and a great time for anyone who hasn’t attended a symphony concert to come check us out,” Pickett said. “You’ll hear music you already know and it’ll be fun for everybody.”
School Day Concerts
The repertoire also drew around 2,500 schoolchildren Wednesday to the Topeka Performing Arts Center for the Topeka Symphony Orchestra’s 19th annual School Days Concerts.
Through the sponsorship of Kaw Valley State Bank, Cox Communications, Union Pacific Foundation, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Security Benefit, SE2, Westar Energy Foundation and Federal Home Loan Bank, the symphony was able to present the concerts at no charge to the schools and home-schooled children, most of whom were fifth- through eighth-graders.
Pickett said his main goal at these concerts was to make them a fun experience for the youngsters, recalling when as a youth orchestra member in high school, he was a volunteer at a concert for youngsters during which the conductor stopped the program and berated the audience for being too noisy, telling them he wouldn’t proceed until there was quiet.
Even though Pickett was in high school at the time, he remembers thinking, “We’ve just turned off thousands of kids forever” to orchestral music.
Pickett called the School Day Concerts forward-looking.
“Playing for kids is a real long-term investment in our audiences and in the future of live orchestral music,” he said. “And one of the big reasons for that is if you’ve never sat in the audience and seen an orchestra play, later on in life you’re kind of unlikely to go and make that leap into something that unfamiliar.¨
In addition to wanting young people to see that orchestral music is fun to listen to, Pickett said he also wants children to see it can be fun to play musical instruments.
Before Wednesday’s concerts, some orchestra members strolled the aisles of TPAC to give the children closeup looks at their instruments and let them see how they are played and what the sound like. From the stage, Pickett asked the youngsters to raise their hands if they played an instrument and said he hoped to see some of them on stage as future members of the Topeka Symphony Orchestra.
Young Artist Competition winner
Saturday’s concert will feature one young musician who has already demonstrated a bright future in the world of classical music.
Shwetha Ramachandran, a junior at Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park, will perform with the Topeka Symphony Orchestra as the winner of its 64th annual Young Artist Competition.
Ramachandran, the daughter of Renuka and Murali Ramachandran and student of Tatiana Ioudenitch, will perform with the orchestra he first movement of Frederic Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11, the piece she performed to win the keyboard division of the Young Artist Competition, as well as the overall title.
“We are always delighted to share the stage with our Young Artist winner,” Pickett said. “I have been consistently impressed with the level of student musicians we have been able to showcase, and I think audiences are going to be truly amazed at Shwetha’s piano virtuosity.”
A representative of Capitol Federal will present awards at Saturday’s concert to Ramachandran and the other division winners:
Peter Sandquist, a Topeka High School junior, who won the strings division. The son of Art and Carolyn Sandquist and student of Alice Joy Lewis performed the opening movement of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219.
Kolby Van Camp, a Topeka home-schooled senior and son of Tracy Van Camp, who won the vocal division. The student of Christopher Reed sang “Why do the nations so furiously rage?” from George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” and “It is enough! O Lord, now take away my life” from Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah.”
Lillian Wen, the winner of the winds/percussion division and a Washburn Rural High School senior who plays flute. The daughter of Erin Win who studies with Sara Frisof performed “A Night Piece” by Arthur Foote.
Prior to the concert, at 6:30 p.m. in the Bradbury Thompson Alumni Center, which is across the street from White Concert Hall, Pickett will present a “Concert Conversation” about the evening’s program. The talk is free to concert ticket-holders.
You can’t judge a musical by the movie that inspired it, and you can’t gauge a local production of the musical by what critics wrote about its Broadway production.
Those are gospel truths about “Leap of Faith,” the must-see production playing through Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Douglas P. Goheen Theater of Topeka West High School, 2001 S.W. Fairlawn Road.
The script’s inspiration was a 1992 movie with the same title in which Steve Martin plays it straight as Jonas Nightingale, who touts himself as a faith healer and preacher as his caravan moves from town to town for revivals during which Nightingale miraculously reveals the the flock’s closely guarded secrets as he fleeces them of their hard-earned money because it isn’t God whispering in the reverend’s ear, it’s one of his cohorts who through eavesdropping on town gossip has learned everyone’s closeted skeletons.
That’s about where comparisons end between “Leap of Faith” the movie and “Leap of Faith” the musical in which gender and relationships are mixed and matched.
In the musical, Jonas (Skyler Lindquist) and his troupe’s bus breaks down in Sweetwater, Kansas, which is experiencing a drought, meteorological, financial and spiritual. Already in a deep financial hole, Nightingale convinces his entourage that they can raise enough money to get back on the road by staging a three-night tent revival.
Enter Marla McGowen (Breana Tiffany) who introduces herself as just another townswoman but as Jonas raises her suspicions reveals she is in fact the sheriff. (Shades of Marion the librarian meeting Professor Harold Hill in “The Music Man,” and foreshadowing of its premise that event the most ardent conman can be renewed by the love of a good woman.)
Sheriff Marla gives the preacher three days to get out of town and promises she will be keeping watch on him, but it’s business as usual for Jonas, his accomplice kid sister, Sam Nightingale (Liz Freeman).
They dispatch the show’s choir, the Angels of Mercy, led by Ida Mae Sturdevant (Armanda Boxley), to collect the background and unearth the secrets of the citizens of Sweetwater so Jonas can miraculously reveal them in the revival tent.
Using a Bluetooth device through which Sam feeds information to Jonas, things go great on the first night until a boy in a wheelchair begs to be blessed. For some reason, Jonas skips him and moves to “heal” an elderly woman.
The boy, Jake (Hunter Lyden), is determined to get his miracle as he believes in them despite disbelief in them not only by Jonas but by Jake’s mother, who turns out to be Sheriff Marla, whose faith was shattered years earlier in a traffic wreck that killed her husband and crippled her son.
Marla and Jonas find themselves attracted to one another, and Jake remains undeterred on his quest for a miracle, which leads to the climax of the revival’s third night during which everyone’s faith gets tested.
There is a secondary story that deals with Ida Mae, lead singer of the Angels of Mercy, and her two children, Ornella (Sirena Saulters), who is a believer in Jonas and Isaiah (Kevin Coffman), who on break from Bible college and who trusts in a power higher than this so-called preacher.
All that said, the plot is the least significant reason for attending “Leap of Faith.” Its big draw is the music, which helped earn it Tony Award nomination for Best Musical despite it being Broadway’s biggest flop of 2010. It closed after 25 previews and 19 performances, losing investors $14 million.
However, subsequent reviews of regional and local productions of “Leap of Faith” have drawn hallelujahs from critics concerning the shows’ musical numbers by eight-time Oscar winner Alen Menken (“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Disney’s The Little Mermaid”). He described them to Playbill.com as drawing from “gospel, country and American roots music.”
The Topeka West production, directed by Ryan McCoy with musical direction by Joshua East, choreography by Sally Glassman and set design and technical direction by Michael Callaway, is sure to get the same reaction, particularly as East conducts a pit orchestra that mixes some of the Chargers’ best student musicians with some of the city’s best players.
In addition to the aforementioned actors, the cast includes:
Angels of Mercy: Zak (Braden Chaffin), Carl (Adrienne Davis), Amon (Tate Donohue), Rosa (Taylor Engel), Caesar (Shakeem Mickey), Fletcher (Jared Schooler) and Danielle Carter, Courtney Dice, Kaylee Dinwiddie, Elda Flores, Lindy Karrer, Rhiannon Kincaid, Zoey Nichols, Smantha O’Hara-Arrington, Taylor Province, Tulsa Ragnhall, Gage Scott, Jon Waggle, Marissa Wagner and Shawna Wilson
Townspeople: Susie Raylove (Kayla Beitz), Deputy (Lucas Jackson), Amanda (Claire Perry), Emma Schlarp (Zoe Tippets) and Quinn Crider, Grace Ellis, Kaylee Free, Hugo Gonzales, Ben Lopez, Elecktia McMullen, Malissa Newcome, Carla Pagan, Charles Pershall, Summer Taylor, Alora Wilder and Beth Winkelman
Orchestra members are:
Piano: Paul Priddy and Connie Roth
Bass: Johnny Belk and Forrest Evans
Guitar: Daniel McCready
Drums: Jason Degenhardt
Violin: Mahogany Green-Clanton and Donna Mealy
Viola: Hailey Zimmerman
Cello: Will Hess and Rosalyn Taylor
Woodwinds: Steve Funk
Trumpet: Nathan Jones-Walker and Stephen Patterson
Trombone: Andrew Anderson and John Martin
Other production staff members include:
Stage manager: Erin Watts
Assistant stage manager: Maria Rupp
Dance captain: Breana Tiffany
Assistant technical director: Ethan Crapser
Props: Melanie Ralston
Costumes: Liz Calloni
Instrumental coordinator: Carolyn Voth
Crew members were:
Sound: Zoe Tippets and Jon Waggle
Makeup: Reagan Rohr and Bethany Sparks
Publicity: KorieAshburn, Landyn Gentry, Hugo Gonzales and Alora Wilder
Costumes: Hannah Gaul, Madeline Lopez, Charles Pershall and Beth Winkelman
Props/grips: Emily Ellis, Lucas Jackson, John Martin, Maya Miller, Annaleeza Stenti and Taylor Wingert-Ashlock
Ushers: Alexis Gaudreau, Landyn Gentry, Lawanda Mayfield, Regan Neeley, Hadley Overstreet, Tori Payne and Cheynne Whyte
Set construction: Connor Brown, Isaac Dallen, Emily Ellis, Megan Fessman, Sierra Griffus, Luis Iracheta-Sanchez, Malachi Lewis, Chris Miller, Blake Noriega, Taylor Wingert-Ashlock and Braden Zerferjahn
None of the cast of Topeka High School’s production of Jonathan Larson’s epic rock musical “Rent” was even a zygote when it opened on Broadway and introduced a whole new generation of audiences to musical theater.
“Rent” was in 1996 what “Hamilton” is today.
The musical, inspired by Puccini’s “La Boheme,” tells the story of a year in the life of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and express themselves in New York’s Lower East Side while coping with the threat of AIDS at a time when an HIV-positive diagnosis was almost a certain death sentence.
Larson, who died suddenly at age 35 on the eve of “Rent’s” off-Broadway preview, was awarded that year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Broadway production, which ran for 5,123 performances, received 10 Tony Award nominations, winning four, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score.
Several national tours, including one that stopped in 2004 at the Topeka Performing Arts Center, followed, and the 20th anniversary tour is on the road and slated to stop in spring 2018 at Wichita’s Century II.
While local theater troupes around the world have staged “Rent,” Topeka theater-goers have had only one opportunity to see the musical other than that one-night TPAC tour stop. In 2010, Washburn University Theatre and Helen Hocker Theater collaborated on a well-received production.
So Topeka High School is the city’s first secondary school production of “Rent,” and the announcement of it on the 2016-17 season drew “this huge ovation” at the annual May thespian banquet, said theater teacher Derek Jensen, who directs “Rent.”
“Some of the seniors were disappointed they weren’t going to be in it,” said Jensen, who said the students cast have remained “super-excited” about the show.
Because it deals with the LGBT community and HIV/AIDS, attitudes about which have changed during the past two decades, “high schools don’t do this script very often,” Jensen said. However, he said Topeka High School theater-goers “are fairly progressive on that front.”
Also because of the passage of time and advancement of treatment of the HIV virus, Jensen said during rehearsals he did have to remind the cast about the disease’s impact 20 years ago and tell the high students, “When they found out they had AIDS, they knew they were going to die and that automatically put them into a whole new mindset.”
The cast also met with some local veterans of the New York theater community to told them during the height of the AIDS epidemic that “50 percent of the theater community just diappeared” as a result of the disease, said Jensen, who said that conversation “had an impact” on the teen cast.
And while some of “Rent’s” plot are situational to its setting, its messages about creating a family stand perseveres in the face of adversity remains universal.
“‘Rent’ teaches us to cherish each moment of our life as if it’s our last, and to measure that life in love,” Jensen wrote in his director’s note in the program.
The core cast of Topeka High’s “Rent” includes roommates Mark Cohen (Peter Sandquist), a struggling documentary filmmaker and the show’s narrator, and Roger Davis (Adam Cole), a once-successful-but-now-struggling musician desperate to write on last meaningful song before he succumbs to AIDS.
Simone Cruz plays the ill-fated Mimi Marquez, the club dancer and drug addict who capture’s Roger’s attention, and who like him, also has HIV.
Mark, on the other hand, is still dealing with being dumped by Maureen Johnson (Isabel Ashley), a performance artist who dropped him for Joanne Jefferson (Aja Gamble), an Ivy League-educated public interest lawyer.
Another relationship develops between Tom Collins (Brayan Ortega), an anarchist professor with AIDS, and Angel Dumott Schunard (Lea Ramos), a street percussionist who is a transgender woman/drag queen who uses both she/her and he/him pronouns. She, too, has AIDS.
Samuel Mazas plays Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III, who once shared apartment with Mark and Roger but now is their landlord as he has married into a wealthy family involved in real estate. He is thought to have traded his personal morals for power and wealth.
Playing homeless men and women, junkies, parents and and an HIV/AIDS support group are: Lexy Baird, Ann Beall, Gabriella Dominguez, Keith Forshee, Mikoda Lancaster, Meredith Loehr, India MacDonald, Taliesin Rivera, Amber Schmidt, Alex Stewart and Tom Teeter.
In addition to Jensen, “Rent’s” staff includes:
Musical director: Angela Dake
Choreographer: Shauna King
Technical director: Gregg Ratzloff
Accompanist: Elaine Wellborn
Costumes: Nancy Vega
Makeup & sound: Jeff Kaufman
Posters & photography: Josh Davis
Properties: Deanna Cowan
House manager: Kirsten Nelson
“Rent’s” crew are:
Stage manager: Elle Schell
Assistant stage manager: Wesley Rouch
Makeup artists: Z’Mariah Lee and Isabelle Smallback
Makeup crew: Taylor Fisher, Hannah Ortiz and Erica Silva
Spotlights: Elizabeth Emmert, Acacia Lowery and Will Mendez
Construction crew: Dakota Bouton, Brody Cunningham, Charles Espinoza, Marie Harrop, Raven Lanir-Cook, Jordan Large, Jonathan Lee, Acacia Lowery, Kathryn Price, Thomas Rutherford, Hannah Scott, Angel Shaw, Kee’Andre Smith and Edward Sutton
Costume crew: Alexia Hercules, Drew Hodgkinson, Nola Limon, Cassandra Ludlum, Tucker McCulloch and Arabella Smith
Props crew: Alayna Stevens, head, and Dylan Cochrane, Sydney Cook, Kianna Cornelius, Jordan Large, Venita Large, Lizzie Locke, Kara McClendon, Angelita Najera, Haley Piper, Angel Shaw, Itzel Vanessa, Katy Warden and Olivia Watson
Pit orchestra: Ethan Coleman, bass; Clinton Gaskin, guitar; Noah Penrod, drum set; and Caden Ybarra, guitar
House managers: Andrew Hodgkinson and Mazzy Martinez
If ¨location, location, location¨ is the mantra of the real estate business, then ¨timing, timing, timing¨ is the hallmark of a great farce.
¨I always call farces the ballet of the absurd,” said Shannon J. Reilly, who is directing Topeka Civic Theatre & Academy´s production of the Tom Rooney farce, ¨Flaming Idiots,¨ which opened an 11-show run Friday, Jan. 20, pays through Saturday, Feb. 11.
¨It´s absolute impeccable timing — the rhythm, the beats, everything — and all of it makes no sense,¨ Reilly continued about ¨Flaming Idiots´¨ sometimes incongruous plot. ¨You just have to be able to jump into it and make it believable because people don´t normally drop their pants in the middle of a restaurant and that´s going to happen.¨
In fact, the audiences of ¨Flaming Idiots¨ will see the underwear-clad bottoms of a third of of its nine-member cast.
As in all great farces, the pace of ¨Flaming Idiots¨ gets faster and faster as the play progresses.
¨The last scene of the the play, you can´t take a breath. They have to move, they have to move, they have to move,¨ said Reilly, snapping his fingers, ¨in the timing of going in and out of doors and bodies flying around.¨
¨It´s a ballet,¨ added the director.
One of the ¨Flaming Idiots¨ featured ballerinas is Bruce Smith, a veteran actor who has done so many farces, he has lost count.
¨I think Bruce´s whole life is a farce,¨ Reilly quipped.
Setting and keeping a farce´s frenetic pace is the key to making people laugh,¨ said Smith, who plays Louie, a 73-year-old hit man whose senior moments of forgetfulness and lapses in concentration challenge his ability to carry out a contract to ¨kill¨ a customer in a failing restaurant started by two former post office workers, Phil (Matt Briden) and Carl (Austen Hanley).
¨I´m perfectly content to play the old guy now. It hurts a whole lot less,¨ said Smith, referring to all the pratfalls and other physical comedy Briden, Hanley and other younger cast members do in the play.
The sight gags, slapstick and shtick fill some gaping plot gaps in the script that seemed to have opened during the play´s development and never got closed in the final editing.
However, Reilly said: ¨They left all the big meaty chunks of running around, dropping things and throwing people around. They left all the physical stuff alive, and that´s what rally makes this farce so demanding and also so fun to watch.¨
The story involves Phil and Carl quitting the post office and sinking all their money, plus a big chunk borrowed from a mobster loan shark, into a restaurant that immediately fails.
Desperate, they remember another restaurant got popular when a mobster was shot in it. They decide they can recreate the phenomenon at their place, but rather than really killing someone, the victim will be The Body (A.J. Dome), a corpse they borrow from an uncle´s mortuary.
Although the playwright Rooney specifically advises in the script to use a dummy instead of an actor as The Body, Reilly said he knew from the get go he wanted a live actor to play the dead man.
¨There´s just this absolute joy of watching a man having to stay so still while absolute insanity is happening around him,¨ Reilly said.
Because ¨Flaming Idiots¨ is a farce, nothing goes according to plan, especially when other characters get involved. They include:
• Officer Task (Dusty Nichols), a mounted police officer whose entrances and exits involve being thrown off or dragged away by his off-stage horse. And when the always-hungry Task is in the restaurant, he is oblivious to everything around him, including The Body with which he engages in a long, but one-sided conversation.
• Eugene (Joshua Luttrell), a waiter whose true dream is the be on the stage as an actor. He rehearses Shakespeare in the restaurant´s kitchen and mistakes The Body for a famed but reclusive director with whom he wants to work.
• Ernesto (Devan R. Garcia), who in spite of his expensive suit takes a job as a busboy to cover a money laundering scheme involving the mobster that financed the restaurant. Despite his Latino name and heavy Hispanic accent, Ernesto claims to be Norwegian, and when he sees The Body, he knows he is dead but doesn´t make a big fuss because he doesn´t want any cops around.
• Bernadette (Alisha Bolz), the chef whose inability to hear and speak doesn´t stop her from using the phone to tap out Morse Code to alert the authorities when she discovers the plot to shoot The Body.
• Jayne (Jaclyn Amber Nischbach), a reporter for the Daily Local News Dispatch Vigilant Courier, who in addition to covering the police beat also happens to be the newspaper´s restaurant critic. Jayne makes a stunning entry when she arrives at Phil´s with the hem of her dress accidentally tucked into the waistband of her panties. She later gets drunk and flirts with The Body.
Providing a good synopsis of ¨Flaming Idiots¨ is a challenge.
¨I usually say it´s ´Flaming Idiots,´ and I´m the idiot,¨ Hanley said.
Briden offered: ¨It´s a play about two idiots trying to make a restaurant work and, eventually, stuff catches on fire.¨
Reilly added: ¨The good thing about is a farce is that it´s such good mind candy, but the bad thing about a farce is you can´t describe it succinctly because there´s so many elements to it.¨
When asked about the key factor in making ¨Flaming Idiots¨ funny, the younger actors agreed with Reilly and Smith.
¨Timing is probably the most important part of a farce,¨ Briden said.
Because ¨Flaming Idiots¨ is Hanley´s first farce, he said it was a challenge ¨figuring out the farce´s timing¨ because it differs from that of the many comedies in which he has had roles.
¨It´s so fast paced and everything has to be in the moment,¨ he continued. ¨It just asks for a lot, but once you have everything down, it really gets going and it´s a lot of fun.¨
Because of all the physical comedy and the carefully choreographed entrances and exits in which one character narrowly misses seeing the other, Briden said there is that ballet aspect to play and it is physically demanding.
¨You work up a sweat every night,¨ Hanley said.
As for their roles, Hanley and Briden play polar opposite characters.
¨It´s really fun being clueless,¨ Hanley said, to which Briden replied, ´´And I enjoy being a buzzkill.¨
Director Reilly said the opportunity for TCTA audiences to see ¨Flaming Idiots¨ comes at a good time of the year.
¨After the holidays, what more do you want than just to be able to sit back, relax and have a belly laugh and forget about the credit card bills?¨ he asked.
In addition to Reilly, ¨Flaming Idiot´ś¨ creative team includes: Ted Shonka, set and lighting designer and technical director; Kate Stires, costume designer; Sara Myer, sound engineer; and Brenda Blackman, stage manager.
If you have missed my byline in The Topeka Capital-Journal, it is because I am no longer at the newspaper, which had been my employer for nearly 32 years.. My last day on the job was Jan. 3, 2017, because some staff and coverage reorganization eliminated my position as arts & entertainment editor.
While my career at The Capital Journal is over, I am not ready to completely give up covering Topeka´s vibrant arts & entertainment scene, which has been my focus for the last 21 years.
That is why I am launching this TopekaOnStage blog, as wells as doing some freelance work with Kerrice Mapes and her seveneightfive magazine. (Look for some profiles and photographs by me in the February/March edition of seveneightfive magazine, which will be their annual ¨Women Who Rock¨ issue.)
Meanwhile, as my wife Maryanne Esteban and I work to sell our house so we can downsize and reduce our monthly expenses on our way to full retirement, I am going to continue to use my photography and writing skills to cover and promote arts & entertainment in Topeka and the surrounding area. I hope to be able to do that for as long as I can.
In order to support this effort, I will be selling photographs, both images you can download for posting to Facebook, Twitter and other social media, as well as prints suitable for framing. I appreciate you taking a look at them on my photo site and consider purchasing some so I can continue to support Topeka arts & entertainment scene through TopekaOnStage. (Also, if you like this blog, donations also are welcome.)
Please tell your friends and anyone interested in local arts & entertainment about TopekaOnStage so I can build enough of a following so perhaps I can sell advertising to support this blog.
Thank you for your support and friendship all these years. I look forward to working with you and for you for some time to come.
error: You can purchase this photo at https://billblankenship.smugmug.com