Tag Archives: San Diego Junior Theatre

The A.C.T. Young Conservatory: Homefront


Growing up, I often went to see friends perform in musicals put on by San Diego Junior Theatre. JT is the oldest continuous children’s theatre program in the United States. I joined JT in high school, mostly working on stage crews because I can’t sing or dance. I got the role of the housekeeper in The Sound of Music only because she doesn’t have to do either. Living in San Francisco now, I miss seeing the kids perform, especially after attending  JT’s 60th anniversary celebration in 2008. Fortunately, there are talented young people performing here in the Bay Area.

Last night, I took a friend to see the A.C.T. Young Conservatory production of Homefront at the Strand Theater. The Young Conservatory is a professional training program for performers age 8 to 19.  This was the first time we’ve seen one of their productions, and it was also our first time at the Strand. It was a wonderful evening.

Homefront is a musical set during WWI. The three Kolemeir children are sent from Germany to stay with relatives in Vienna, Illinois, just before the United States joins the war in 1917. In Vienna, Curt Jensen has already enlisted in the US army and impatiently waits to turn 18. His sister Kathleen longs for Red Brady, whose twisted knee makes him unfit to serve. Instead, Red embraces the anti-German campaign at home, led by the former boyfriend of school teacher Gretchen Parker. The war may be far away in Europe, but it will change the lives of everyone in Vienna.

The A.C.T. Young Conservatory has many talented performers, so the lead female roles in Homefront are double cast. We attended the second performance, which meant six of the girls were doing the show for the first time with an audience. Everyone was great. Caroline Pernick (Emma Kolemeir) has a sweet face and an even sweeter voice. Kathryn Hasson is fierce as Else Kolemeir. Young Alex Cook (Horst Kolemeir) is vulnerable and affecting, and we were genuinely concerned for him in the second act. I have to confess, both Casey Schryer and Cole Sisser stole my heart as the Jensen siblings. We enjoyed all of the performances, and I’d like to go again to see the other cast.

I also enjoyed chatting with the mother of one of the cast members during the intermission. After the performance, there was a ‘second opening night’ reception in the foyer with cake and drinks. Everyone was invited, so I congratulated some of the cast while my friend enjoyed the refreshments. At JT we always got our programs autographed by the cast, and I was wishing they did the same here. (Yes, I really would get autographs if others were doing it. Even at my age!)

The German accents in Homefront brought back memories of my star turn as Frau Schmidt in The Sound of Music. I tortured my friend on the way home with my favorite line. Just try saying “He never used to whistle for us when his wife was alive” with a German accent. It’s a tongue-twister!

Go see Homefront if you can. It runs through August 19th.

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Remembering Jack Tygett

Earlier this week, Jack Tygett passed away.  In San Diego where I grew up, he was a popular teacher, director and choreographer.  He danced in movies like Mary Poppins and Oklahoma.  He also had roles in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1965) and The Wild Wild West (The Night of the Puppeteer, season 1, 1966).

The news of Jack Tygett’s death brings back memories of the spring and summer of 1981.  I was a senior in high school and member of San Diego Junior Theatre.  I got a call from a friend offering me the job of rehearsal secretary for Starlight’s production of Flower Drum Song.  Starlight (San Diego Civic Light Opera) is a summer theatre company that performs musicals in a large outdoor amphitheater in Balboa Park.  Lots of kids from the Junior Theatre program go on to do Starlight, and I was already planning to submit a resume with the company that summer.   I was thrilled to be offered a position.  Jack Tygett and his wife Marge were the director and choreographer of Flower Drum Song, and I met them the next day.  Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

April 17, 1981     Casa Del Prado, Room 207
Jenny Woo, Jimmy Saba, Beverly Davis, Lori Hood, Lara Tepper, Jill Brow, Audrey Pritchard, Tori Purdom, Steve Moramarco, Eileen Bowman
All these people from [San Diego] Junior Theatre auditioned today for Flower Drum Song and The Wizard of Oz.  I came to the first audition totally unprepared for what I’d meet.  The first person I met is my director, Mr. Jack Tygett.  He reminds me of Red Buttons.  Mrs. Tygett is okay, too.  I was sooo hungry.  They had food from McDonald’s, but it was Good Friday so Mom wouldn’t let me eat any.  I felt like a baby running over to her to see if I could eat.  We narrowed it down to a few kids.  I kept losing my audition sheets.  After the auditions, I went and got my driver’s license (!!!).

Yeah, the things that are worth writing down at age 18 make me cringe now!  Once I ditched my mother by getting my driver’s license, it felt like I spent every waking moment working (or playing) on Flower Drum Song.   We held fifty rehearsals, but there were also lots of parties and post-rehearsal meals, and even a road trip to Magic Mountain.  I spent many hours at the Tygetts’ home with the cast, and I also got to know daughter Nan Tygett.  Even when I screwed up, the Tygetts always treated me with warmth and patience.  They accepted me as a member of their big extended theatre family.

Flower Drum Song requires a large cast to play Chinese and Chinese-American characters.  The Tygetts cast the best dancers and performers who auditioned, many of them students who’d worked with the Tygetts before.  We had some Japanese performers, many Filipinos,  a lot of dark haired Caucasians, and even a pale blonde or two.  I learned a lot that summer about different Asian cultures, and I also ate my first lumpia and sushi.

I lost touch with the Tygetts after that summer.  Four years later, I was working at the La Jolla Playhouse on Merrily We Roll Along with some students from USIU, where the Tygetts taught.  I asked one of them about Jack and Marge.  This was when I learned that Marge had passed away.  I was saddened by the news.  Now that Jack has joined her, I’m sure there’s a lot more dancing in heaven!


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Tony Awards 2011

First of all, I must point out that I’m reviewing the Tony Awards broadcast without having seen any of the plays or musicals that were nominated.   I also have a special interest in The Book of Mormon, because co-director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw was in my theatre group as a teenager.   Living in San Francisco means the broadcast I saw was the taped version.  These are my own impressions, because I haven’t yet read any of the other reviews.

If this year’s Tony Awards broadcast was trying to be a three hour long advertisement for Broadway musicals, it may have succeeded.  If it was supposed to honor the talented folks working both onstage and behind the scenes, it was a disappointing failure.  Most of the broadcast was devoted to showcasing song and dance numbers from not just the nominated new musicals and revivals, but also from Spiderman (long delayed but now supposedly opening this month), Memphis (last year’s winner), Company (don’t know why), and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (seriously don’t know why).   All the technical awards, the two Lifetime Achievement Awards, the award for humanitarian efforts, the Regional Theatre Award, and the Special Award (for the horse puppets in War Horse) were given offscreen.  Little snippets were shown from acceptance speeches when they returned from ad breaks.  This just left the acting, directing, and best play/musical/revival awards.  It was really strange that the best musical score was given offscreen, but the best musical book was given onscreen.   There was no logic to it.  I was especially disappointed that the best choreography award was presented offscreen, even though Casey Nicholaw didn’t win for The Book of Mormon.  It was also puzzling when they presented the awards for best play and best revival of a play before they presented the best actor awards.

Host Neil Patrick Harris was awesome as usual, although I do wonder about  middle America’s reaction to lyrics like “No sodomy required” in the opening number.   Later, Harris had some fun with former host Hugh Jackman, who was heavily featured in audience reaction shots.  My favorite Harris moment was when he rode out on a War Horse puppet.   His end-of-the-show rap was great, but the last half hour of the show was rushed because of too many musical numbers and superfluous “broadway moments.”

The Book of Mormon and War Horse posters

I’m not going to list all the award winners.  It’s enough to say that The Book of Mormon (best musical), War Horse (best play), The Normal Heart (best revival of a play), and Anything Goes (best revival of a musical) were the big winners of the night.   I was thrilled when Casey Nicholaw won his first Tony Award for co-directing Mormon with Trey Parker.  He was so happy, and he thanked ‘everyone he’s ever known’ so I couldn’t help feeling included.  That’s definitely a Tony first for me!   I was also pleased that Sutton Foster won for Anything Goes, because I love her.  I’ve only seen her perform at various Tony Awards, but that’s all it takes for her to win your heart.   It was strange watching John Larroquette win for How to Succeed in Business, because just an hour before the broadcast began, I was watching him on Retro TV in Black Sheep Squadron (circa 1977).

I loved seeing Robert Morse (the original 1961 Finch) and Matthew Broderick (Finch in the 1995 revival)  introduce the nominated musical revival How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.  Morse is looking great at 80!  Both these actors won Tonys for playing Finch, but Daniel Radcliffe wasn’t even nominated.  Radcliffe really is shockingly short, especially standing next to Larroquette, but compared to the rest of the cast as well.   I have to give a shout out to Ellen Harvey, who was easy to spot because she was the only female in the number they performed.  Harvey was another member of San Diego Junior Theatre. and we worked together on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

John Larroquette, Daniel Radcliffe, Ellen Harvey and the How To Succeed cast

John Larroquette, Daniel Radcliffe, Ellen Harvey and the How To Succeed cast

Whoopi Goldberg and Frances McDormand wore the strangest outfits of the evening.  Goldberg had a hat that distracted me from her introduction of Sister Act, and McDormand (best actress for Good People) wore a denim jacket over her formal length dress.  McDormand looked angry leaving the stage, and I wonder if it’s because everyone was under orders to shorten their acceptance speeches.  Mark Rylance (best actor for Jerusalem) gave the quirkiest speech, describing the best kind of walls and fences you can walk through.  (I learned later that he was quoting poet Louis Jenkins.)  He didn’t thank anyone, but by that point, it was kind of refreshing.   Brooke Shields was having a rough night; first she forgot her lyrics in the opening number, and then the first part of her presentation speech was bleeped out for language.  (Sorry, I couldn’t lip read what she said, but I’m sure I’ll read it online later.)  Bono and The Edge were surprisingly funny introducing a ballad from Spiderman, and the most awkward introduction was given by Christie Brinkley.

The In Memoriam tributes made me cry like they always do.  This year we lost Elizabeth Taylor, of course, but there were so many other great people.  I was surprised when one of the faces was so young, so I had to look her up.  Eleven year old Shannon Tavarez from The Lion King died on November 1, 2010, of acute myeloid leukemia.

Overall, I am happy for the Tony Award winners and disappointed in the broadcast.  Last year, I complained that there were too many Hollywood actors and not enough Broadway actors among the presenters, the audience, and the award winners.  I enjoy seeing performers at the Tonys that I’ve never heard of before, because it’s my one chance during the year to discover them and learn about their work.  This year, I tried my best not to categorize the actors as stage or film types, especially since I loved seeing Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory).   He’s just joined the cast of The Normal Heart.  

Update:  I understand that the Tonys were held at the Beacon Theatre this year, which has half the number of seats as the usual venue.  This meant that many folks couldn’t attend, and lots of people associated with nominated shows were seated in the upper levels.  Now it makes a little more sense why so many awards weren’t shown, since the logistics of finding the nominees in the audience with cameras and getting them onstage quickly to accept their awards must have been a real issue.  I feel sorry for all the folks who couldn’t attend, and for the friends and families of nominees watching at home who weren’t shown their loved ones being honored.  I hope that next year, things will be different.  (Didn’t I say that last year?)


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Today’s Tony Award Nominations

Last year I reported my impressions of the Tony Awards, complaining about the overabundance of movie stars when I wanted to see Broadway performers.  I wrote then that hopefully at the next Tony Awards we’d get to see Sutton and Hunter Foster, Christian Hoff and Casey Nicholaw.  Well, today the Tony nominations were announced.  Sutton Foster has been nominated for Anything Goes, and Casey Nicholaw has two nominations, for co-directing The Book of Mormon with Trey Parker, and for his choreography of this new hit musical.  I’m so happy!  I’m happy for them and for myself, because this means we’ll be treated to a better Tony broadcast.  Hopefully.

Casey Nicholaw with The Book of Mormon creators

Casey Nicholaw (second from L) with The Book of Mormon creators

Now, I haven’t seen The Book of Mormon, about two young missionaries sent to Uganda.  I’ve read that it’s a wickedly funny parody of organized religion, and that the characters are not simply caricatures.   It’s written by Matt Stone and Trey Parker (South Park) with Robert Lopez.  Casey Nicholaw, the co-director and choreographer, was a member of San Diego Junior Theatre, and my family started attending his performances when I was in sixth grade.  My father and Casey’s father were work associates, and later I also joined Junior Theatre.  The first show I crewed was How To Succeed in Business Without Trying, and Casey was our Finch.   Casey has been nominated twice before for the Tony Award, for his choreography for Spamalot and for The Drowsy Chaperone.  I’m rooting for him, of course, but to me he’s already a winner.  He’s working on Broadway, along with fellow JT alum Christian Hoff (Jersey Boys), living the dream we all had as kids.  I’m looking forward to seeing him and all my other favorites during the  June 12th Tony Awards broadcast.  Congratulations, Casey!

Casey Nicholaw JT reunion 2008

Casey Nicholaw at the San Diego Junior Theatre reunion, 2008

PS  I love going to The Book of Mormon official website to move my mouse over the doorbell in the logo.  I don’t know why it amuses me so much!

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My Les Mis

Last night was the PBS broadcast of the 25th Anniversary Les Misérables concert.  Watching it brought back lots of memories, since it’s my favorite musical.

I saw Les Misérables for the first time in London on October 2, 1986.   It was still the original cast, with the exception of Patti LuPone as Fantine, who had already moved on.  I decided to go see the musical because everyone was talking about it, but I was skeptical.  I wasn’t at all familiar with the story.  I had no idea what to expect.  It was during the very first scene, when the prisoners trudge out singing “look down,” that I fell in love with the show.  I suppose it’s because of the epic story with a large cast of characters and all that melodrama.  The music is great too, of course.  I love how it goes from a single person on an empty stage pouring his or her heart out, to the big crowd scenes.  Oddly enough, I was pleased that there was almost no dancing.  The London production had strong dramatic lighting combined with dark corners you couldn’t quite make out.   It was a perfect remedy to all the cheerful, fluffy, dance-filled musicals I’d seen up to that point.  I was completely taken with Michael Ball as Marius, and I also loved Frances Ruffelle (Éponine) and Colm Wilkinson (Valjean).

Alfie Boe, Colm Wilkinson & Ramin Karimloo, in the Les Miserables concert

Alfie Boe, Colm Wilkinson & Ramin Karimloo, in the Les Miserables concert

I liked Les Mis so much, I went back and saw it again the same week.  I probably would have continued going back, but my trip ended.  I did my best to meet the cast, standing at the stage door between a matinee and an evening performance.  I mostly wanted to meet Michael Ball, but he never came out.  Frances Ruffelle was the only person I remember meeting, and she was lovely.  I just told her she was great as she walked by, but she turned back and gave me a big smile and a thank you.  There was a small circle of other fans gathered by the stage door, and I hung back in the alley, watching who was going in as well as who was coming out.  Andrew Lloyd Webber and a woman who I believe was Sarah Brightman walked past me and went in.  I felt no desire to ask Lloyd Webber for an autograph, because I was young and arrogant enough to be unimpressed by him.   I flew home with a suitcase filled with souvenirs, including the cast CD (my very first CD ever!), a sweatshirt, and the unabridged Penguin edition of the book.  On the plane, I was seated next to a man who sat in the same row at the same performance of Les Mis, and we talked for the entire flight about our new obsession.

I was determined to read the entire 1000 page Les Misérables, so I set myself a goal of a hundred pages of day.  It worked, and I finished it on the tenth day.  The problem with reading an epic length novel is that nothing else satisfies after you’re done.   It feels like losing a best friend, and you go through a period of mourning.   Anyway, what I got from reading the book is that Les Mis is essentially a story about the Old Testament versus the New.  Javert’s philosophy is “an eye for an eye,” and his God doesn’t forgive.  He is too busy smiting his enemies.  Valjean undergoes a conversion after his encounter with the bishop, and his God is about love and grace and sacrifice for others.  Thénardier represents an existence without God or morals.  Javert destroys himself when his faith in his rigid concept of God is shaken by Valjean, and Valjean finds salvation and redemption.   One of the reasons I love the musical version is that it doesn’t secularize the story by removing the references to God.

My love affair with Les Mis continued over the years.  I was working as a tour guide at Sea World in the mid-80s, and one of the places we had to staff for hour-long stretches never got much traffic.  I would sing Les Mis songs to pass the time.  I needed a secluded spot well away from others, with my singing voice!  One year, two different friends gave me Les Mis beach towels. I saw the musical a total of five times in London at the Palace Theatre, usually in the same restricted-view box seat.   I liked to take my binoculars and find the microphones hidden on the actors.  I was delighted to discover that Javert’s microphone was disguised as the scar on his cheek.  One of the times I saw the show, I could clearly see that the actor playing Valjean and the little girl playing Cosette loathed each other.  When he picked her up and swung her around, she looked disgusted and he practically threw her down.  One of my biggest regrets was missing Mario Frangoulis play Marius by only a month.  He’s now one of my favorite singers.   A couple of summers ago, I finally saw a production of Les Mis here in the US, performed by the San Diego Junior Theatre.  Damn, those were some talented kids!  I was so impressed.

Ramin Karimloo and Robert Madge, Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert

Ramin Karimloo and Robert Madge

So, 25 years later, we have the anniversary concert.  I particularly enjoyed Lea Salonga (Fantine), Matt Lucas (Thénardier), Ramin Karimloo (Enjolras), Hadley Fraser (Grantaire), and Robert Madge (Gavroche).  It was a shame that Gavroche’s dying scene was cut from the concert, because I would love to see Madge perform it.   I don’t automatically like the boys playing Gavroche, because they can be obnoxious, but Robert Madge had just the right amount of cheekiness.  Alfie Boe (Valjean) has a lovely voice, especially singing Bring Him Home.  I’m not sure so many extreme close-ups benefited him, because his voice is so much more expressive than his face.¹  The close-ups certainly didn’t help Nick Jonas (Marius).  I’m quite fond of the Jonas brothers, and I really wanted Nick to be a good Marius.  He seemed to be struggling with the vocal range, and his facial expressions often made him look constipated.  The song A Little Fall of Rain didn’t quite work with the actors standing up at microphones, instead of Éponine collapsing to die in Marius’s arms.  Still, I found the whole concert very moving, and it was so fun to see many of the original cast members come out at the end.  (Once again, Patti LuPone was missing!)   This concert confirms that Les Mis is still my favorite musical.

Robert Madge as Gavroche, Les Miserables 25th anniversary concert

Robert Madge as Gavroche

If you want to check out more of Robert Madge, watch this video from Oliver! where he plays The Artful Dodger.

¹Note: My opinion of Alfie Boe’s expressiveness has altered since seeing videos of him singing with Matt Lucas and joking around in Lucas’ kitchen [recently removed from YouTube, unfortunately].   Maybe it was the beard.

Related posts:  Gavroche   Please Sir, I Want Some More   To the Barricade!   Ramin Karimloo   Grantaire   Enjolras & Grantaire   Thénardier Waltz   Gavroche: Liar!   Bring Him Home   Enjolras   Les Mis: The Originals   24601    Fantine   Cosette & Madame Thénardier   Les Mis: The Streets of Paris   First Look: Hadley Fraser’s Javert


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“This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath…”

I recently wrote about the horrors of adolescence. Last night I was telling a friend this story, which reminded me that not everything about being a teenager was terrible.

The summer I was 15, I joined San Diego Junior Theatre, a wonderful program for kids 8 to 18, then based solely at the Casa del Prado in Balboa Park. We got to put on big musicals in a large, well-equipped theatre with a great staff of adults. That summer (1979) we did How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I built sets, painted flats, and during the actual performances I was both house manager and a grip. (As one of the least athletic kids, it amazes me how often I got the jobs that required the most strength.)  I also took acting and stumbled my way through a dance class. Later that year, my dance instructor left for New York, where he joined the cast of A Chorus Line and then Cats. Our lead in How to Succeed… was Casey Nicholaw, and he’s recently been nominated for two Tony Awards for his choreography. In other words, I was working with some really special, talented people.

My family lived 15 miles from Balboa Park, and for a teen without a driver’s license, that was really far away. I spent a lot of time on the number 7 bus. One day, I was riding to a rehearsal when I noticed this really cute older guy.  He reminded me of Luke Skywalker. He got off at my stop in the park, and we both walked the same way, until I came to my theatre and he kept going. My curiosity (and early stalker tendencies?) got the best of me, so I followed him. When he reached the Old Globe Theatre, he went into the outdoor Festival Stage. I asked somebody what was happening there. I was told it was a rehearsal for Julius Caesar. Not only was this guy cute, he was an actor!

The San Diego Old Globe Theatre has a Shakespeare Festival every summer. In 1978, the main theatre was destroyed in an arson fire. While it was being redesigned and built, performances continued at the newly constructed Festival Stage. The plays that year were Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and The Comedy of Errors. I was determined to get involved, so I formed my own group of volunteer ushers and signed up for a bunch of dates. Ushering is a great way to see plays for free, especially if you want to see the same plays over and over. Once I got a festival program, I finally learned my actor’s name and a little bit about him. As a college student and an acting intern, his roles included servant, messenger, and—best of all—a soldier dashing back and forth across the stage carrying a colorful banner. It was difficult to tell whether he had talent beyond banner-dashing, but I wasn’t there to judge. (Here’s a photo of him in the background next to a banner. At least, I think it’s him!)

The first time I ushered, I left my actor a note and yellow roses at the stage door as soon as we arrived. Before the house opened, he came out to meet me while I was standing at my assigned ushering spot. He was smiling, and I was flustered and blushing and so very thrilled. Each time I went back, I would see him at the stage door, or I’d stick my head into the green room, where he was usually passing the time playing backgammon with fellow interns. He was always friendly, and if he was laughing at me and my schoolgirl crush, he never made me feel anything but happy. As the summer progressed, he allowed me and my best friend to take him out to lunch for Mexican food in Old Town. I took up water-coloring that summer, so I spent several afternoons painting the Old Globe Theatre buildings, a tricky business due to the big empty space where the main theatre used to be. The actors would walk by, stop to check out my progress, and say hello. I kept seeing the plays as often as I could, and I never got tired of them.

All good things come to an end. When the summer was over, there was a special talent show at the Festival Stage. The company actors did magic, they sang and danced, and they performed comedy sketches spoofing the plays. I laughed and cheered and went onstage as a volunteer for a magic trick. After the show, I bid farewell to my actor and gave him my Old Globe watercolor. He gave me a quick kiss, which was one of my first, and it was perfectly innocent and perfectly wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer.

After I told my friend this story, we both decided I was very lucky. My actor could have taken advantage of my age and innocence. Instead, he played along, keeping it relaxed and fun, and I hope he enjoyed having a fan. We decided to google him, and I was happy to discover that he is still working as an actor. He’s been busy both off and on Broadway. He’s also had roles in some films and TV shows. It looks like he’s still a really nice person, too. Maybe I’ll send him a card to say hello, to thank him for the memories, and to tell him he still has a loyal fan.

Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?As You Like It

The illustrations are paintings by Edmund Leighton. Idealized romance and chivalry won out over my motley collection of newspaper clippings from that summer. The Festival photos linked here are from the SDSU Archive Collection, which has more photos from the festival. It’s disappointing that there are none from The Comedy of Errors, because it was a fantastic production.


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