Often I am asked, where do all the brilliant actors in Chicago come from? Many audiences are amazed at the quality of performance they find in the smaller store-fronts as well as the major theaters. A lot of these young and talented people come through the park districts and community theater groups that are all over the city. Many also come from local colleges after moving to Chicago for their “big break”. Going back in history, when I was involved in theater from an acting and directing standpoint, many youngster came on to the scene. I recall with great fondness when Max Quinlan (this is Jeff Award winning Max Quinlan, who has gone on to Broadway road shows) as a member of the Buffalo Grove Park District, took over for a young actor whose mother withdrew him from a major role a week or so before the opening. Max wowed us and the rest is history.
The other night, I reviewed “Hair” presented by Winnetka Park districts’, Big Noise Theater Company. These are older kids who are moving up the ladder and again, may be on the larger stages in due time! Now, let’s go to the “nitty gritty”, the real programs designed to bring the kids into the whole concept of performing. My 7 years old grand-daughter, Sarah, who has been in dance and gymnastics for some time, expressed interest in taking an acting class in The Northbrook program called Kidstage Productions, Inc. Each of the kids had to sign an agreement to follow the basic rules of theater etiquette as part of the package and rehearsals are not something that can be shrugged off.
Several casts are assembled for the same show and this year the Spring show is “Disney’s Cinderella-Kids”. The music and lyrics by Mack Davis, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston with a book adapted by Marcy Heisler is based on the animated film by Ken Anderson and Homer Brightman. This is not just a small production, but in fact almost two hours of pure theater with young kids showing their talent to sing and dance as well as to do a bit of ad-libbing when the need arises.
Directed by Sharyl Friedlander, laurel Reinhart, Brett Friedman, Leah Darany and Julie Walsh with choreography by Friedlander and Walsh and musical direction by Julie Crossen, this is two hours of sheer delight where the kids are kings and show how hard work truly pays off. Everyone knows “Cinderella” in one way or another and while the story is fairly basic, the use of the mice in this particular version is outstanding. The cat Embers, (Jordan Melam, I think tonight) is well-played and the only thing I would like to see this company do is add a sheet for the specific date performance indicating who is playing what part. There are four or five casts, so it is difficult to know who is who.
Cinderella is played to perfection by Lilly Welch and her step-mother, Samantha Gregerman, who with her two daughters plays “evil to the hilt”- Rylin Roy and Anna Lappin. The Fairy Godmother is deftly handled by Jamie Cole and the prince Kyle Mac Donald , who is a little short, but I think that it is difficult to get boys to try out at this age, is adorable, in spite of being a head shorter than his queen to be.
I guess the way that this works is that the older kids, who have “paid their dues”, so to speak get the bigger roles and the first and second graders, the ensemble parts. In this one, the mice, which are the tiniest of roles, are first and second graders who truly get their scenes.. The cute high voices were never forced (this is how they really sound) and their stage presence was very professional-
I hope I get them all right, as they deserve it:Brooke Cohen, Sarah Shaw, Ella Phillips, Eden Guon, Taylor Golding, Riley Greenfiled, Lyla Hinchey, and Meni Zachary Cotter. If I made a mistake, and I am corrected, I will fix this. I also have to tell you about the court jester, Heckles, the amazing Isabelle Seiler, who truly owns the stage when she is upon it. Bravo. Remember this name, because one day, in a theater near you, she will be taking the stage for an award winning performance.
Special gratitude to tech people: Tommy Rifkin, Kurt Ottinger (lighting), Jeanne Seffren (costumes) and the wardrobe person who helped make some of the changes, Sandy Mendoza. While this is a kids show with kids performing, it is still important to follow good theater ethics- NO CELL PHONES! No pictures, no game playing, no texting, no yelling during the show. After each song, applaud, Actors love that! When something said is funny, laugh- actors love that! But most important, have a good time and let those who are in the production have as much fun as you are having!
The production is done at Northbrook Leisure Center, located at 3323 West Walters Avenue (just west of Landwehr Road). To purchase tickets call 847-814-2464 or visit www.kidstage.org
photo by Susan Ryan Kalina (mother of Abner the mouse)