High-octane Fame shines with heart at San Lorenzo Valley

The performing arts, while a skilled and difficult pursuit, are looked upon by some members of modern society as superfluous. Why would any young person dedicate their life to a career in which 11.1% of undergraduate degree holders are unemployed? Why would they work unfathomably long hours, ruin their bodies, stress their minds, and nearly shut out the outside world in the name of their craft?
Because the arts are passion incarnate.
Being in the arts is less of a choice and more of a calling, yet it takes a special kind of person to be able to dedicate themselves to the honorable craft of performance. Yes. Honorable. There is a saying in Greek culture: Artos ke theameta. Translated, it means that no matter what may befall us as a people, all we really need to survive is bread (artos) and spectacle (theameta). The necessity of the first cannot be disputed, but the latter is just as important. And those who devote their lives to the perfection of performance are in fact honorable souls who have taken it upon themselves to be a mirror for the Individual and the Society, as well as dedicating their energy to an audience’s diversion from life if only for a little while. So, it comes as no surprise that there are many musicals which focus their stories on the performers themselves. A Chorus Line, Curtains, Chicago, and 42nd Street all take a look into the lives of “gypsies”. But it is the Levy/Ferandez work of Fame which is currently bringing in the crowds at San Lorenzo Valley High School in Felton.
Under the direction of Dr. Kathie Kratochvil, the cast and crew of Fame has found an energy and passion for telling a tale which is obviously applicable in their own lives: high school performers in the throes of honing their artistic craft as they go through their awkward adolescence. Their telling of the story is fast-paced, colorful, and packed with young, talented performers who have already dedicated themselves to the honorable craft.
From the first note of the show, Nick Piazza (Louis Kruse) takes us into the lives of New York City teenagers as they train at Performing Arts High School. Kruse’s work is consistently heartfelt and honest, creating a character which serves as an anchor amidst the visually and dramatically colorful cast. Paired with impressive vocal chops (even in extended falsetto work), the role shines in the hands of this young performer. Kruse’s work was beautifully complimented by the work of Taylor Rae Vencill, playing Piazza’s love interest Serena Katz. Vencill’s vocal work is stunning and mature with a finely tuned pitch and wonderful vibrato which shows that there is still a place for a legitimate musical theatre voice in the pop-laden landscape of modern musicals. Duo scenes between the two were wonderful as they both displayed patience and focus befitting more mature performers.

FAME Specialty Dancers
Mary LoFranco, Angela Hesse, Sam Van Pykeren
Madison Loftus brings a superb sense of poise to the role of English teacher Ms. Sherman, playing the old-fashioned academic amidst the artistic chaos. Matching her passion from the other side is dance teacher Ms. Greta Bell, impressively played by London Murray. The duo works well in point/counterpoint scene work, but it is their vocal work during “These Are Our Children” which sells the heart of the production.
The depth of the cast continues with the energetic and aspiring triple-threat of Taylor Peddy as Carmen Diaz, the singer/songwriter and live piano playing Jack Lewis Olson as Schlomo, the explosive energy and impressive comedic timing of John Wasielewski as Joe Vegas, and the radio-voiced Miles Viele as Jack Zakowski, an adapted version of the Tyrone Jackson character from the original script. Also notable was the work of co-dance captain Angela Hesse who was not lost in the crowd as a specialty dancer thanks to her consistent energy and focus to every moment on stage.
Music for the production was clean and focused, if not a bit tame due to the use of electronic instruments. However, this choice is almost mandatory in the SLVHS Performing Arts Center to avoid balance issues and feedback. Music Director Arindam Krishna Das leads a tight four-piece pit under the baton of Frank Levy. Special musical kudos go to the cast for their on-stage blues performance during the band rehearsal scene in which each character played their own instruments. Never before has a triangle rocked so hard, thanks to Haley Nolan as the tom-boy drummer Lambchops.
The Musicians (L-R) Kai Harbert, Taylor Rae Vencill,
Kayla Staats, Christoph Van Wandelen, Haley Nolan,
 Jack Lewis Olson, Sophie Widman, Marika Swanberg, Cassie Stipes
While the set for the production was sparse (upstage platforms, stage cubes, and mirrors for dance-class scenes), it is used effectively aside from moments where cast members sit on the floor, creating visual disconnect for the audience. Lighting was simple but impressive thanks to Craig Wolfgang Vilbig under the technical direction of Larry Cuprys; one of many student apprentices in the production that were trained into their roles so that they can learn by doing and “take ownership of their job” as stated by Kratochvil.
This production is a wonderful realization of the spirit of the show’s book: fledgling artisans dedicated to working long hours, delving deep into their craft and perfecting it, never forgetting the passion and fun required to make their endeavor a rewarding one for themselves and for the audience. This young cast already shows strong talent which will only blossom further as they gain even more experience. But there is no need to look to the future to find great things coming from the theatre at SLVHS. Fame is there right now, and for many of these students, true fame cannot be far off.

7105 Highway 9, Felton, 95018
February 17 – March 3, 2012
Friday/Saturday 7pm
Matinee February 26, 2pm
Community night Thursday, March 1, 7pm
Tickets at the door.    
At the door - $15 adults, $10 seniors/students, $9 ASB, $9 Community night

2/21 - Awesome promotional flash mob by the cast and music director in downtown Santa Cruz. 

Del Mar dons up-do’s, finds fun in Hairspray

Boy, the 1960’s sure looked fun, at least stylistically speaking. When viewed next to the new millennial teens we are currently embroiled in, there really is no contest in fashion savvy, color, and music. Maybe I just can’t see the forest for the trees, but I personally would much rather hear the music of 1962 over 95% of what is released today. So, to be thrown face first into the bold and ostentatious world of Kennedy-era America is a real trip in the time machine. Hard to believe that is now half a century ago.

Del Mar High School has taken on the challenge of bringing this signature era to life in their production of Hairspray; the modern realization of the John Waters classic brought to fame on the big screen in 2007 with John Travolta and Nikki Blonsky. The depth of this production goes far beyond aesthetic shtick and gets into the social issues that were inexorably present at the time. Racism, body image, “red” politics as well as the musical and cultural revolution of the time take the lead and make the show relevant even fifty years after its setting.

Leading the charge out of the time vortex and into the audience’s heart is Tracy Turnblad, played by a charming Maria Griswold. Her take on the character is still as colorful, energetic, and endearing as her cinematic counterpart's. But, I feel her strength is in her grounded and relaxed take on the character which makes Tracy approachable, connectable, and more real. And of course, there is her voice. Griswold shows her experience in her vocal performance with strong pitch, great projection, and an overall sound which blew the preview-night audience away.

Equally impressive was the work of the many supporting leads, starting with Penny Lou Pingleton (played by Madelyne Forrester) who pushes the envelope with her physicality and comedic timing, winning over the audience well before the major upswing in her character’s arc truly begins. Kendall Davis-Granada is equally animated as the venomous and spiteful Amber Von Tussle who effectively earned the crowd’s disgust in record time. Jake Garcia’s work as Link Larkin had some real-life ladies swooning in the audience as he swiveled his hips with his Stratocaster during “It Takes Two”.

The cast of Del Mar's Hairspray
The cast continued to show its depth with the work of Sean Bald as Edna Turnblad; taking his turn at the cross-dressing role and making it fun, confident, and truly enjoyable. Paul Hastings also lights up the stage as Corny Collins, and Lili Aguada wails (even without a working microphone) as the over-the-top Motormouth Maybelle. Also notable was the work of college student Alex Andrews who brought some real Detroit-cool to the role of Seaweed J. Stubbs. Sidney Abel was also a stand-out as councilmember Tammy, bringing appreciated energy and commitment to the stage.

The visual aesthetic of the show was spot on, from the wonderful signage created by Jennifer Sanders to the wigs and makeup fashioned by Jimmy Servera and Jaymee Senigaglia respectively. Barb Griswold’s costumes and were also a treat as she captured the period perfectly. Choreography by Joni and Jaclyn Cronin was pure fun; high energy and didn’t skimp on the difficulty.

If the show has an Achilles heel, it is sound. 99% of the problems will more than likely be alleviated by tonight’s opening, but the preview performance was plagued with balance issues between actors with overdriven body-mics versus upstage chorus members with very few field mics to help fill the sound. Occasional issues also arose from an incompletely amplified drum-kit in the orchestra which made tempos hard to discern during moments of heavy orchestration.

Despite the prerequisite preview performance issues, the cast and crew of Hairspray has a fun one on their hands. This production emanates a spirit of community which is infectious from the moment you walk through the door. Many of the parents and volunteers involved in this production are involved in other school and community endeavors at the same time, which begs the question: How do they slow time down to be able to accomplish so much? It is truly admirable, and the students and staff of Del Mar must be over the moon to have such a dedicated corps of volunteers. So be a part of their community and get out there to see the fun while it lasts!

Del Mar High School – Hairspray
1224 Del Mar Ave, San Jose, CA 95128 (Performing Arts Center)
February 9-11, 16-18
Tickets - $15 adult/general

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