Reviews and Testimonials

Bitten by the showbiz bug


Unbeknownst to almost everyone except thespians, there is a pestiferous little bug that invades your system and makes you virtually unable to avoid the temptation of auditioning for yet another show. The bug is not at all harmful, but it is often every bit as potent and powerful as the kind of cold bugs that do make you sick. It is called the acting/theater bug and is particularly effective on younger people, although I've heard that older folks can get it as well.

I know the bug well because I used to be an actor myself once, and even though I've long since crossed over the threshold of middle age, I know that bug is inside me still, dormant and quiet, but it will never quite leave my system. So when I saw "Oklahoma!" performed so very well by the Highland Stage Youth Troupe on Saturday night at Vernon High, two things happened to me: 1) I totally loved the performance put on by the young men and women, who are uniquely talented in acting, song and dance; and 2) a flood of memories came roaring back to me.

Whenever you are in a show of any kind, especially a summer show, you know that while the actual performers are the real deal, there are so many people behind the scenes who handle all the technical aspects, including, but not limited to, lighting, sound, stage managing and publicity. But in community theater, very few of these people — save for the director and choreographer, maybe — ever see any kind of payment. They simply love the theater so much that every summer they just can't wait to come home from college or joyously walk home from the last day of high school, and get ready for auditions for the show the local community theater is producing. And yes, older adults not so very far from my age often give up part of their summers as well, either to perform onstage or take part in company business of making the show successful and keeping the company solvent.

You work hard and then harder to meet the approaching deadline of opening night, and when everyone is at performance level and the show finally begins, there is a tremendous sense of happiness at doing what you really love, which is having fun and making others happy at the same time.

Absolutely, that's exactly what I saw when I went to see "Oklahoma!," one of my favorite shows that I remember so well from the classic 1955 movie starring Gordon McCrae as Curly and Shirley Jones as Laurey. It reminded me of a lot of things that are good, and afterward, when I interviewed and met some of the performers, I saw the same joyous glow on their faces I once had myself. I was very proud of them for their terrific performances, and yes, while there are lead roles and supporting parts, everyone who sets foot on stage is a star.

This time, it was dedicated young people such as Kyle Pitts (Curly), Kayla Jardine (Laurey), Viktoria-Leigh Wagner (Aunt Eller), Matt Chastain (Will Parker) and Josh Ernst (Jud Frye) who were shining onstage, but there were so many others — including director Heather Burns, a fabulous manager who got the very best efforts her cast was capable of. And she did all this, despite having given birth to twins just 11 weeks ago. Talk about dedication!

Then there's choreographer Renee Ziegler, stage manager Kristen Pulksternia and scene/set painters Cindy Gallagher and Karen Dowd, who created a scene so vivid it brought back memories of the days when I lived in Kansas. You see, I'm really not much more than a country boy myself.

Now the really good news is that the show still has four more performances remaining before it closes Saturday night. You could go to tonight's show at 7 p.m., tomorrow's night performance at 8  p.m. or either of Saturday's day-night doubleheader at 2 and 8 p.m.

After that, the tears among many will come, especially from so many of the performers who will soon pack up and go off to college or back to high school. But, many of these fine young people will be back performing again and again, I hope.

However, the most important thing is all the friendships that have been made and the great memories they'll always have, for these folks can always say they were onstage together winning over hearts, just like professional sports teams who played together on championship teams.

Yes, that's all part of that show bug, too, for which there is no known cure. In fact, they can't even alleviate the symptoms! Well done, my good friends, well done. Be proud of yourselves and never forget all the tremendous good you have done this summer.

I can absolutely assure you that you're now even better people because of it.

Stage struck students

Enthusiasm, spirit and joyful cast make 'Oklahoma!' a fun show for all

Beauty and The Beast 2007

Beauty and The Beast Review

Straus News August 2007

'Beast' comes out in Franklin
By Tom Hoffman


FRANKLIN   When I met a few weeks ago with Heather Burns, producer of The Highland Stage Youth Troupe and cast members of "Beauty and The Beast," the group was rehearsing at Holy Counselor Lutheran Church on Sand Hill Rd. in Vernon, since it lacks a home stage of its own.
Pews had to be moved to create room for a makeshift stage. And although teen actors such as Emily Sireno ('Belle') and Jason Heimrich ('Gaston') were firmly in-character that evening, it was still difficult to picture how the production would materialize as the actors rehearsed in street clothes before an altar.

All such questions were answered on Fri., Aug. 10 when the Vernon-based, not-for-profit theater group delivered a stirring rendition of the Disney adaptation before a receptive crowd of 200-plus at Franklin Elementary School.
Sireno gave a virtuous performance as Belle, a bookish girl who unwittingly undergoes a journey of self-discovery as she searches for her inventor father (David Rolando as 'Maurice') who is imprisoned by 'The Beast' for trespassing onto the grounds of his woodland estate.

The 'Beast', portrayed by Nick Wolf, is actually a young prince who had been changed into a monster years ago by a witch disguised as a beggar woman, after he spurned her request for help.
With a strong vocal range and an elegant stage presence, Sireno was well-cast for the role of Belle, as was Heimrich, who was delightfully detestable as the arrogant, muscle-bound Gaston (aided by a bit of padding) who fails in his haughty attempts to win Belle's heart.
Indeed, shrewd casting was evident throughout the production. While 'Beauty' was solidified by the acting of Sireno, Heimrich and an intemperate Wolf, it was the performances of Matt Tiberi ('Lumiere'), Rich Albertini ('Cogsworth') and Ashley Kraus as Mrs. Potts. which truly made the production sparkle. The well-timed, comical banter between Tiberi's Lumiere and Albertini's Cogsworth kept the audience in stitches throughout.
In delivering the title number with timbre and conviction, Kraus demonstrated why she was selected to portray the magically-transformed teapot.
The amorous volleys between Tiberi's Lumiere and a sultry Kristin Tarczynski as Babette were sharp. Garrett Geary was splendid as Gaston's quivering sidekick, LeFou.
Amy Easton's operatic exchanges as Madame De La Grande Bouche further strengthened the production, as did Rebecca Krieger's charming turn as Chip the teacup.
Despite having just over a month of rehearsals under its belt, the ensemble demonstrated that it was ready for the opening curtain. The strongest numbers were those put on by the entire company, most notably 'Be Our Guest'. The ensemble pieces were tightly-choreographed by Renee Ziegler while the sets, though simple, provided a quaint atmosphere for this timeless classic.

The 20-person orchestra, under the direction of Conductor Jon Hartlage, provided the company with unspectacular but solid support. Clarinetist Kevin Boehm and Flutist Allison Boehm were particularly strong.
'Beauty', which gave its final performance on Aug. 11, demonstrated that there is a place for community theatre in Sussex County…wherever that might be.

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