Redding’s Talent Unmasked

Well, I could just say “Redding’s got talent” and there you have it, end of story. And not all of it comes by way of a tour bus. Like the amazing k. d. lang. Transcendent talent. I hope you were one of the fortunate 1,000 who saw her Friday night at the Cascade. Just incredible, yes? But I want to write about the talent that lives right here in River City and a showcase of that talent presented by Westside Performing Arts at the McLaughlin Auditorium on Saturday.

“Masquerade” was the result of Westside Performing Arts’ summer workshop, a forge of sorts for shaping talent. It was a showcase as opposed to a show, without connecting theme or storyline. I asked Trish Harris, Westside’s artistic director, how she goes about structuring such a program. “I pick my musicals and then tailor the song selection to the cast I end up with. I choose shows to fit each age group.” She then continues to shape the program as creative ideas pop up.

Here is how this summer showcase ran: the younger kids opened with a “Muppet Medley” from the many creations of Jim Henson. Then teens tackled the ‘60s Broadway show, “Bye Bye Birdie,” familiar to most folks by now. The adults presented selections from famous “Phantom of the Opera” to finish Act I. The second act featured a strong mix of teens and adults in condensed versions of “Little Shop of Horrors” and a recent Broadway musical, “Memphis.”

The show was wide in scope and packed with talented people, more than 50 by my estimate. I’m no expert judge of costumes, but it all looked right to me. No visible wardrobe malfunctions. But I must register my amazement at the sheer number of costumes produced, as each performer had multiple costume changes across all five musicals. How costumer Chris Yost gets it all done is beyond me. And no details left out either. The Muppet costumes were great, colorful fun to see. Another great thing to see are performers you’ve seen in past shows that come back showing expanded talents, stronger voices, and abilities you didn’t suspect they had in them. While we’re on the Muppets, I’ll mention that my little friend Cameryn Tyler is one of them. She took a solo turn as Kermit the Frog, singing his famous “Bein’ Green” and delivered it with character, confidence, and a voice that reflected her growth and training.

There are a billion other standout moments (really, I counted) and I can’t get them all in, but I want to mention a few glimmers that caught my eyes and ears. Again in the Muppet medley, it was an inspired idea to place the grumpy old men, Statler and Waldorf, at stage left in their “opera box.” Played by Bob Castner and Bob Koroluck, they mocked and sniped after each song in a spotlight, just as in the classic TV show, providing a fill while the kids set up the next number. Besides the scripted one-liners they delivered, they added a lot of improvisation and one young boy in the back row was just slayed by their humor.

“Little Shop of Horrors itself” was a highlight. The selected songs and scenes from that musical resulted in a sort of Reader’s Digest version of the story with beginning, middle and end. Jason Day made for a perfect Seymour, the shop nerd who discovers the weird plant he names after his love, Audrey. Schyler Rice was well cast as innocent and ditzy Audrey. She was another that surprised me with a range of talent I didn’t know she possessed. Her Bronx accent was hilariously spot-on. Jason and Schyler’s duet, “Suddenly Seymour” was as good as can be.

Daily words of wisdom: People are smart — things are dumb. Wireless mics are great technology when they work, but all it takes is a loose battery or a bad switch and a performer is robbed and the audience is cheated out of a potentially great moment. It wasn’t a huge problem, but those pesky little mics did act finicky in several spots, cutting off singers who rehearsed so hard for this big show. Things!

More shining moments – Glori Belknap singing a solo as Christine in the “Phantom” (“Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”) really sold it with great feeling. She’s also an accomplished dancer. Steven Kline played it big as the over-the-top nitrous oxide-snorting, sadistic dentist in “Little Shop,” Victoria Graham belted out a soulful number in Memphis and slayed the audience with her funny ending. Unlike the other represented musicals, all the selections from Memphis were played live by an 8-member band, which sounded awesome, by the way, and provided a big rockin’ finale to the whole showcase.

In short, everybody sparkled, many got their turn in the spotlight and those who didn’t might have the chance next time if they stick with the Westside Summer Academy. They have a way of bringing out hidden talents that the performers themselves might not even realize they have.

An actor, director, and artist, Dean Williams has appeared on Shasta County stages for over 25 years in nearly 100 different roles. He has collaborated with many theater groups and is co-founder of The Root Theatre Company. He has also voiced characters for Sega and Playstation video games, acted for a number of radio, televison and independent film projects, and now also serves as A News Cafe’s editor of Stage Manager listings. Reach him at cafestagemanager@gmail.com.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

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An actor, director, and artist, Dean Williams has appeared on Shasta County stages for over 25 years in nearly 100 different roles. He has collaborated with many theatre groups and is co-founder of The Root Theatre Company. He has also voiced characters for Sega and Playstation video games, and acted for a number of radio, televison and independent film projects. Ever since the first stories were acted out around ancient fires, theatre has held the power to move audiences like no other art form. It remains Williams's focus because live theatre has the potential to tell us every human story, intimately and impactfully. It becomes a magic mirror in which we see our own stories.
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1 Response

  1. Avatar Adrienne jacoby says:

    Dean, thanks. again, for an insightful review. . . (and knowing of your own prodigious talent, I tend to trust your opinion!). Almost makes me wish I had attended instead of spending the week on a houseboat .. . . ALMOST!!! And again, you underscore what a fortunate, talented community we have. Is it just me, or are we above average in talent??

    Nah . . . . don't answer that. I'll stick to my opinion of reality, thank you!!