Sunday, March 11, 2018

With "The Little Mermaid," Pottstown Schools Keeps Putting the 'Community' in Community Theater

I've never been much of a musicals guy, at least not at the movies.

It's strange, because of how much music is a part of my life, but I always considered them kind of goofy. I mean who spontaneously breaks out in song?

To which anyone could turn to me and ask, rightly, "Oh yeah? And how many people swing from building to building on a web, or save the galaxy in a starship?"

Fair point.

But I confess I do have a soft spot for live productions.

When I was in high school, I was onstage for one play (we only did a musical every other year). But after dropping an entire section of dialog without realizing it, I decided the audience would appreciate my talents more as a member of the lighting crew.

In Pottstown, King Triton has seven lovely
(and diverse) daughters.
So I have fond memories of, and an appreciation for, school productions. I was thrilled when Pottstown revived the tradition and have watched with increasing admiration as the productions keep getting better and better.

Truth be told, and this coming from a guy with an antipathy for treacly Disney fare, this year's production of "The Little Mermaid" was astounding.

I mean I am no theater hound, but I've seen professional productions on Broadway (and far inferior college productions more recently) and this was certainly in the neighborhood.

The show reached new heights of excellence on an order of magnitude above the district's already high standard.
There was nothing "halfway" about

Ursula's costume design.

Certainly, the nearly full high school auditorium Saturday afternoon spoke volumes about how the quality of the performances and the production has spread by word of mouth, the most effective kind of advertising and carried out these days on Twitter and Facebook.

The singing was truly impressive on all counts. (There were some very high notes in there repeatedly reached without apparent strain.)

The sets were innovative and evocative of the scenes they were meant to convey, and the changing of those sets was flawless; the costumes equally so, flush with bright colors  and the music both precise and well-coordinated with the timing on-stage.

(One of my favorite moments was when I noticed the orchestra had donned "sea creature hats" for Donny Marte's (Sebastian the Crab) performance of "Under the Sea." Nice lobster hat Mr. Vought!)

Pottstown is developing a reputation for its productions, deservedly so, and particularly, as director Christopher Sperat noted in his poignant comments at the end of the show's run, because of "the farm team," being built among the younger students.
Matt Zipay, Gianna Kimmell and Alexandria Olvera,

Eric, Ariel and Ursula.

A pre-K teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, he proudly points out his former
students whenever he gets the chance.

The two leads, the extraordinary Matt Zipay as Prince Eric and the effusive Gianna Kimmell as Ariel, have been in all four musicals.

But that talent-in-training reaches much deeper than the freshman class.

In case you don't know, every other year Pottstown's musicals involve the entire district, with kids from elementary school on up and this was one of those years. The last one was the wildly popular production of  "The Wiz."
Remember this guy?  

(Word has it, Emanuel Wilkerson recently reprised his role as the Cowardly Lion," albeit it briefly, during a visit to an elementary classroom for Read Across America Day. A role he quite obviously relished, I suspect he was not hard to convince....)

And ultimately, this is the best part about Pottstown's theatrical efforts. The kids we saw wearing fish hats and tentacles swarming across the stage are literally being "schooled" not only on what musical theater is, but also in what it takes to be part of something larger than themselves and the rewards those efforts bestow.

Consider: Matt Zipay wants a career in theater and Julian Weber (King Triton) said Saturday he wants to become a director.

It seems inevitable that seven or eight years from now, one of those little fishes will be the Prince Eric or Ariel of that year's musical.
Pottstown's present and future stars.

Being in a musical is no different than being on an athletic team, there are just more people. And like athletics, it also helps to build the kind of confidence it takes to perform in front of a large group of people (hopefully without dropping dialog!).

Certainly, athletes perform. But theater teaches kids they don't need to be athletes to perform, or to be part of a team. That other talents matter too, whether its singing or dancing or, like Cole Rulli, the ability to run an entire show from back stage.
I think "fish hats" are going to be the new fashion trend.

Consider that among the people necessary and being recognized for their part in the effort were older students who were providing child care for the youngest performers. I mean talk about "it takes a village ..."

And of course, these things are not mutually exclusive.

The formidable Reilly Owens, who has lived next door to me her entire life and hilariously played Chef Louise, is anything but a one-trick pony.
Chef Louise and Scuttle (Tori Steger)
meet their fans after the performance.

In addition to her evident gift for comedy, she plays field hockey, basketball, lacrosse, the clarinet in concert and marching band and sings in the show and a capella choirs.

All in all, there were more than 150 people involved in this production.

And, like fans rooting for the home team in the stands, these district-wide musicals really seem to bring the town together.

Sebastian the Crab keeps good company.
It truly is a community experience. Saturday's audience was packed with little children. The three little girls sitting in front of Karen and I knew all the songs, they were bouncing in their seats and waving to the characters.

The mom in charge apologized to us, but there was no need. That's what should happen. They should be excited.

And the people going to the performance hopefully all know there will be kids crying and talking during the show. There will be ill-timed bathroom breaks and shout-outs to their favorite characters. That's what makes it community theater folks. It's the WHOLE community.

By the time the entire cast and crew of 'The Little Mermaid' was on stage to take their bows after the final performance Saturday night, it seemed like half of Pottstown was on stage. That's a good thing.

Speaking of which, that is another aspect of Pottstown's district-wide musical I find so appealing -- how it showcases our diversity. Students and adults of all stripes and abilities, all working together.
Andrew Green was a great "Flounder."

(I mean let's consider the fact that the doughty producer for all this theater, Bob Decker, is the same guy who teaches AP calculus. Talk about diversity!)

That this reputation for theatrical excellence is being developed amid Pottstown's diversity, and not in some of the wealthier districts that too often pat themselves on the back for the great job they're doing with kids who start the game halfway to the finish line, makes the achievement all the more significant.

Pottstown can use all the successes it can get its hands on these days. Recent losses -- think Thanksgiving football and YMCA -- can feel like a town that keeps trying to get back onto its feet keeps taking body blows.

Anything that gives us cause to hold up our heads and, to use John Armato's favorite phrase, makes us "Proud to be from Pottstown" deserves all the kudos and support we can provide.

It is harder to build up than to break down. (Hey, just because it sounds trite doesn't mean it's not true).

And Pottstown schools are building something with this program that is not only making a difference in the lives of those directly involved, but creating something we can all be proud of -- as a community.

No comments:

Post a Comment