Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Theatre Droppings: Children Will Listen

I had no business taking a vacation last week; my puritan work ethic argued I had not worked enough to deserve a rest. Naturally, I ignored those logical feelings, and embarked on a second vacation.

I've returned to the scene of so many of my previous crimes, Los Angeles, for more R&R. The trip has been highlighted by the two high school theatre productions I attended. The first, directed by my long-time soulmate Judy, represents the first time I have seen her directorial work since moving from LA in 1993. In fact, the last show of hers I saw, I was in:

Judy has developed the drama department at Notre Dame High School into one of the leading programs in the city. She presents three mainstage shows each year, the last of which I saw last weekend. Its cast was comprised of the advanced acting students in her third year class, who pulled off a little-known romantic comedy called Vacancy in Paradise. I had never seen nor heard of this piece, but the kids did a fine job, even in the face of a last minute replacement actor joining the cast (and by "last minute," I mean 24 hours before Opening). The original student was removed for disciplinary reasons, and was replaced by a junior who was smooth as silk.

The next day, I attended a youth theatre production of the musical Into the Woods. This was produced by an organization which gathers middle and high school students from all over the San Fernando Valley (and beyond), and puts them onstage in a large-scale, fully produced musical (last year, they did Les Miserables!!). I have to admit I walked in expecting to be bored, or horrified, or both (the play was performed in a church sanctuary), but I was very surprised. For a bunch of kids, they did a better-than swell job, with a couple of performers showing real professional promise, in my humble opinion. This group, the Youth Musical Theatre of Woodland Hills Community Church, seems to attract some of the top-notch teen talent in the area. In particular, the gals playing Cinderella and the Witch, and the two gents playing the two princes, had poise and charisma.

I didn't just stumble upon the production; the kid playing Jack is the youngest son of two of my old performing pals, Judi and Stephen Stewart. The three of us played together years ago, in a variety of shows, including a couple of original Robin Hood musicals, and some original Christmas projects as well. The Stewarts have produced a couple of offspring who retained their love of, and talent for, performing. Into the Woods was lucky to have young Daniel Stewart playing the sweetly dull lad whose kleptomania creates major conflict.

Seeing these two shows, with casts filled with young, energized kids sure of their talent and ready to tackle the world, reminds me of my high school days, and those feelings of anxious enthusiasm which accompanied every performance, every rehearsal, every interaction. I've already learned that nostalgia seems an unavoidable (and not unpleasant) side effect of my trips to LA.