KPBS AIRDATE: August 12, 2005
Summertime is a great time to check out some fresh new names and faces on local stages. Right now, you have two golden opportunities. One is the Fritz Blitz of New Plays by California Playwrights. And the other is the recently-formed California Youth Conservatory Theatre. The CYC—a little confusing, since we already have a CCT and a CYT – offers training to young San Diegans and puts them in full-scale productions that include seasoned adult actors, directors and choreographers. This month, they’re presenting the first-ever youth production of the heartbreaking Broadway smash-hit musical, “Ragtime.”
Based on the best-selling 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, the story follows both fictional and real-life characters through a seminal period in American history … the advent of groundbreaking ragtime music, set against a backdrop of immigration and integration. The focus is on three groups on the brink of change: poor Eastern European Jews, middle class Harlem blacks and wealthy New Rochelle WASPs. Their lives intertwine with such early 20th century luminaries as Booker T. Washington, Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini and Henry Ford. Nominated for 12 Tony Awards in 1998, “Ragtime” walked away with four, including Best Score, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and Best Book, by Terrence McNally.
It’s a complex, large-scale and musically challenging show. Kudos to director/star Shaun T. Evans for embarking on such a huge undertaking with a cast of 37, several of whom are as young as 9 years old. The singing, under the musical direction of Linda Kernohan, is wonderful, and the costumes, by Patie Rogers, are picture-perfect. Most of the lead performers are strong, though all the kids could use work on diction. But there are some knockout performances, including Evans himself as the indomitable Coalhouse Walker, Jr., college freshman Amanda Kramer, who gives Mother a glorious voice and palpable inner strength; and 6th grader D.J. Rez as Edgar, Mother’s young son. Brandon Pohl, Luke Marinkovich, Alex Wiesel and Jennifer Harrell show great promise. Look for their names and faces at a theater near you.
And while you’re watching for the Next Big Thing, check out the Fritz Blitz, with three more programs over the next three weekends. In this 12th annual Blitz, seven of the ten writers are San Diegans. Especially intriguing in the first week were “Torn Woman” by Jamie Garff and “Don’t Be Afraid Cuz Brian’s Just Fine” by Jason Connors. The acting and directing were first-rate, though the endings were unsatisfying. Coming up this weekend, “The Smatchet,” by San Diegan Staci Truskosky, directed by Blitz producer and Fritz artistic director Duane Daniels. Some of these premieres have gone on to have full-fledged productions on local stages and beyond. So, get in on the ground floor – spend the waning days of summer as a theatrical talent scout.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.