PVHS drama dept. streams “Urinetown”

PVHS drama dept. streams “Urinetown”

Hayden Kharrazi as Bobby Strong. Photo by Nicole Thompson

Hayden Kharrazi as Bobby Strong. Photo by Nicole Thompson

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PV High’s “Urinetown” goes with the flow

Director (and Hermosa native) Nicole Thompson had challenges aplenty

One might have wagered that a musical called “Urinetown” would have a strike or two against it from the start, let alone little chance of reaching Broadway (and pulling in three Tony Awards). It’s a wager that would have been lost, and in fact the show has been embraced by high schools left and right. Currently it’s being tackled by the drama department of Palos Verdes High School, directed by long-time drama instructor Nicole Thompson.

This in itself would be of minimal interest in a non-plague year, except for the technical mastery involved for creating an ensemble production of 21 cast members who each performed their role separately before being edited in a manner where they all seem to be on stage together. A little more about that in a moment, but first let’s look at the work itself. Why “Urinetown,” and why is it relevant today, in 2021?

Pea soup, anyone?

“‘Urinetown’ is definitely not your traditional musical,” says director Thompson. “It’s a satire, and I love a good comedy; but it’s more important than that. Through humor, it forces us to look at ourselves and our society. Most importantly, it makes us think. That’s part of what theater is for, to get us to think.”

Urinetown The editing process. Photo by Nicole Thompson

The editing process. Photo by Nicole Thompson

The story and plot of “Urinetown” is a bit Orwellian, perhaps with a touch of “Bladerunner.” It takes place 20 years from now and there’s been a two-decade drought. This—and here, let me read part of the press release to you—“has forced corrupt city officials to come up with a unique way to conserve water: all private bathrooms are banned and the citizens must use public pay toilets regulated by a monopolistic company.” The penalty for not complying is harsh: those arrested are hauled off to Urinetown, a dubious place, clearly, since no one who goes in ever comes out. Later in the show there’s a custodian who leads a revolution. After all, you can only hold it in for so long, right?

Even so, anyone and probably everyone unfamiliar with the show will pause as soon as the title is mentioned. “People go, what is this about? Is it inappropriate with that title?” Thompson says. “And I laugh because it’s probably the cleanest show I’ve ever directed: It doesn’t have a sexual context, it doesn’t have (foul) language, it doesn’t have any drug or alcohol use. I’ve directed ‘Footloose’ a couple of times and (referring to “Grease” as well) those are way more inappropriate. And no one’s said anything about those. But really, in terms of content, it [addresses] real-life issues but not inappropriate issues.”

Thompson knows of what she speaks. “It was written in 2001, but I directed it in 2011, ten years after that—which was one of my favorite shows I’ve ever directed.”

Was that also at PV High?

“It was. Very different then because we were all on stage. So I don’t feel like I’m directing the same show. Of course every cast makes it so different, but this is as different as they can be.” She adds that her first encounter with “Urinetown” was when she saw it performed at Peninsula High, directed by Jim Bell. “I was just floored. It was so much fun and so well done, very inspiring. I said someday I’m gonna direct this show.”

“Urinetown” also pays homage to (or parodies) other musicals like “West Side Story” and “Les Misérables,” but more importantly it tips its hat to Brechtian theater of the late 1920s, early ‘30s, by breaking the fourth wall. Or, in this case, the virtual fourth wall. In other words, there’s a narrator who addresses the audience and characters who know they are actors in a play and don’t mind discussing the work with one another while they’re on stage. The idea is to make clear that theater isn’t real life (but is “real life” theater?) and we’re all participants in this performance together. Again, it’s a little less palpable in a streamed rendition, but the era of pandemic being what it is…

No mention is made of chamber pots or bushes in the park. And if there’s no water for a good flush or two then surely there’s no water for a shower before leaving home or after a workout at the gym.

“Urinetown,” Thompson continues, “uses theater to examine corporate control, corruption, environmental conservation, and the growing divide between the rich and the poor—so it has all these real issues that we’re still dealing with today,” and she names corporate greed as well as overpopulation and Thomas Malthus, who wagged his finger knowingly about all this back in 1798.

Greg Kotis, who wrote the book and co-wrote the lyrics (with Mark Hollmann, who also composed the music), probably wasn’t thinking about Malthus and the dangers of too many people on this planet when he found himself in Paris and needing to answer nature’s call—a call that was halted at a pay-to-play, or fee-to-pee, public restroom. During this 1995 trip Kotis was on a shoestring budget, and during one of his moments of extreme urgency “Urinetown” was conceived.

“It sounds so depressing,” Thompson adds, “but it’s a comedy; it’s not depressing.”

Read the full article here.

Pippin – Sold Out House

Pippin – Sold Out House

Pippin production at Palos Verdes HIgh SchoolSoCal Youth Theatre was in the audience Saturday night as a sold-out house settled in to see the Palos Verdes High School Drama Department’s production of Pippin.

As the audience took their seats, we were impressed by Pippin’s extraordinary production value. Attractively designed lighting dappled the floor-level thrust stage from interesting angles, highlighting a thin layer of mist issued by a concealed fog machine. The overture began at 7:10, plunging an excited audience into the strange and wonderful world of Pippin.

Every aspect of Pippin’s opening number, “Magic to Do,” is excellent. The ensemble demonstrates a high level of coordination in their movement and vocals, belying their high school status. The exceptional efforts of director Nicole Thompson, choreographer Niko Montelibano, and vocal director Susan Secrist sparkle throughout the show, placing the quality of PV High’s Pippin far above that of the average high school production.

Immediately drawing SoCal Youth Theatre’s attention was Abby Mohaddes, who owns the stage with her dynamic portrayal of the Leading Player. Her vocals are sharp and powerful, her movements sensual, and her timing sublime. Mohaddes’ masterful interpretation of the opening number earned an enthusiastic ovation for her and her fellow players.

The plot of Pippin is unorthodox, to put it mildly. The show is initially framed as a show-within-a-show, in which a mysterious performing troupe presents the tale of Pippin, elder son of King Charlemagne. However, as the show progresses, any semblance of a fourth wall is discarded and plotlines collide, blurring the barriers between fantasy and the reality presented onstage. Another high school cast might have struggled with Pippin’s complexity, but PV High’s talented and versatile actors make it work beautifully.

In the titular role, Joey Bacon skillfully embodies the angst of an idealistic young man in search of greater meaning. Over the course of the show, Pippin bounces from one avocation to the next, never finding a direction he feels is worthwhile. As the eldest son of King Charlemagne (Michael Ticknor), Pippin is next in line for the throne, but his mother Fastrada (Kailee Kakazu) has other ideas: she wishes to ensure that Pippin’s imbecilic younger brother Lewis (Tanner Hickson) ascends to the throne instead.

As Charlemagne, Michael Ticknor takes the opportunity to flex his comic muscles, eliciting hearty laughter from the audience for a series of clever bits shared with his onstage family. At one point, Ticknor is called upon to lead a challenging uptempo rendition of “War is a Science,” which he also performs with finesse.

Kailee Kakazu plays opposite Ticknor as Fastrada, his delightfully diabolical wife. SoCal Youth Theatre previously saw Kakazu as Snoopy in PV High’s 2016 production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, another role she excelled in.

Fastrada and Charlemagne’s dimwitted younger son Lewis is portrayed by Tanner Hickson, who hilariously relishes his goofy character, much to the delight of his audience.

The first act of Pippin features a series of powerful ensemble numbers, including “War is a Science,” in which Charlemagne and his army prepare to go to war with the newly-enlisted Pippin in tow, and “Glory,” in which Pippin’s first battle commences. In the latter, Montelibano’s choreography, as performed by Mohaddes, Nicole Rogalski, and Brooke Vanderdonck, is particularly stunning.

Upon surviving the battle, Pippin decides that the army isn’t for him. Desperate for a sympathetic ear, he seeks counsel from his acerbic grandmother Berthe (Hallie Kostrencich). As Berthe, Kostrencich exudes personality and confidence; her brilliant rendition of “No Time at All” even featured sections where the audience was encouraged to sing along with her.

Eventually, Pippin’s travels bring him to a country estate, where he meets the widowed Catherine (Brooke Vanderdonck) and her anatidaephilic son Theo. As Pippin and Catherine begin to fall in love, the Leading Player methodically disassembles the last vestiges of the fourth wall, setting the stage for the strangely stirring Finale.

In the role of Catherine, Vanderdonck shows off her lovely voice and character acting ability in her melancholic ballad, “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man,” among other touching songs. A PV High regular, Vanderdonck was most recently seen by SoCal Youth Theatre as Sally in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Catherine’s son Theo is portrayed by Julian Wain, a fifth grader hailing from Silver Spur Elementary, who more than holds his own in the role.

Under the direction of Shellie Parkinson, Pippin’s nine-piece orchestra provides uptempo accompaniment of exceptional quality. Bearing special mention in the technical realm are Matt Scarpino, Steve Giltner, and Ilana Elroi, who managed scenics, lighting, and sound, respectively. These production values were also far above average for a high school production, and contributed greatly to the show’s overall impact.

Pippin is a highly unusual show, performed by a highly unusual troupe. Its clever book and score are handled expertly by Pippin’s fantastic creative team and cast, making for one of the best youth theatre productions SoCal Youth Theatre has ever seen.

SoCal Youth Theatre believes this production should be considered PG-13 for mild language, risqué choreography and direction, a book replete with innuendos, and a stylized sex scene between Pippin and Catherine in the second act.

Reviewed by Price T. Morgan.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

PVHS Drama Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - photo: socalyouththeatre.com

PVHS Drama Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – photo: socalyouththeatre.com

So Cal Youth Theatre was in the house for Palos Verdes High School’s closing performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and our only disappointment was that the show ended. This was a fantastic show! We wanted the cast to do an encore or at least extend their run. KJ0_0058 – Version 2Joseph opened on April 15th and ran for 2 weekends in the 235 seat multi-purpose room of Palos Verdes High. Every performance was sold out, and as the Director Mrs. Nicole Thompson escorted us to our front-and-center seats, she informed us that curtain would be a bit delayed as she was trying to seat the waiting list of 15. The High School is trying to get the School District to build them a new performing arts center and we hope the powers-that-be saw this show, because this school deserves one!
Speaking of seats, when you go see a performance at Palos Verdes High, buy the Premier Seats. Not only do you get the best seats in the house, you also get a nice spread of free drinks and snacks at intermission.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a musical or operetta with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The story is based on the “coat of many colors” story of Joseph from the Bible’s Book of Genesis. This was the first Lloyd Webber and Rice musical to be performed publicly. The show has little spoken dialogue; it is completely sung-through. It is set in a frame in which a narrator is telling a story to children, encouraging them to dream. She tells the story of Joseph, another dreamer, who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, but did not give up his dreams. Being a Webber/Rice musical, this vocal score is very demanding, particularly for the Narrator as she sings in almost every number of the show. Narrator Brooke Vanderdonck was excellent. She has a big range, powerful voice and handled the intricate rhythms with ease. She also maintains a strong presence on stage without stealing focus, as she is, after all the Narrator.

The importance of dreams and a higher calling is a theme of the show. When Joseph powerfully sings “I was promised a land of my own” in the number Close Every Door To Me, lyricist Rice is speaking about all the children of Israel, not just Joseph, which made this the perfect show to see during Passover. Joey Bacon as Joseph is perfect in both singing and acting. He brings a delightful innocence and naiveté to the role. We watch him grow into the strong man who would be the Pharaoh’s number two, but not lose his core goodness as, in the end he forgives his brothers.

The entire cast is stellar. Every ensemble member sang and danced their heart out as there are so many different styles and times in this show – from country western to roaring ‘20s to the go-go boots sound of the ‘60s. Sue Secrist, the Vocal Director did an excellent job. You could hear perfect harmonies and exciting dynamics. The Children’s Choir was a delightful addition. Not every production of Joseph includes one, but this choir added to the vocal sound of the show as well as the visual.

You might think the 11 brothers would function as an ensemble, but this delightful bunch of young men, and 2 young women credibly playing men, each put their own personal spark into their character and each of the brothers had a distinct personality. Alex Gordillo got a great chance to shine as brother Reuben leading the big country western number One More Angel in Heaven. Alex Katnic, brother Simeon was delightfully mournful in the French lament Those Canaan Days. In fact, every brother got a few lines in that number and it was fun to see each different personality.

Director Nicole Thompson and Choreographer Niko Montelibano masterfully led us through different styles and eras. It was fun to see Khor Gracie play Potiphar as a gangster from the ‘20s. His heel-toe walk was a great character choice. Lexis Henderson was wickedly seductive as Mrs. Potiphar flanked by her fun flapper ensemble. A big highlight was the Elvis number, Song of the King masterfully handled by Terren Mueller as Pharaoh with lots of hip grinding and interacting with women in the audience. Ryan McGowan, as the crooning Caribbean Judah also had fun with the audience, choosing a front row Mom to play the part of poor accused Benjamin in Benjamin’s Calypso. This Mom really got into it, dancing along with the island beat. Mentioning all the different styles of this musical would not be complete without a salute to the Band and Musical Director, Shellie Parkinson. It’s not often that you get to hear a live band during a student production and this one, made up of PVHS music students, was excellent!

There was so much wonderful attention to detail in this production. Kudos to Carin Jacobs for Costume Design. While all the brothers were in some kind of robe, each was a little different reflecting their personality. For each number, the costumes fit the period or style perfectly. Whether it was full flapper dress and gangster suits, or gold lamé pants and cat glasses from the 50’s or just the addition of a cowboy or fruit hat, the costumes really set the stage. The set itself was minimal, and that was perfect. Matt Scarpino designed a big platform with some steps and a few moving set pieces– just what was needed for big production numbers. Lighting becomes part of the set in a musical on a big stage, and Lighting Designer Steve Giltner beautifully set the mood of each scene, from the dark sale of Joseph into slavery to the bright glittery Elvis production number. Our hats also go off to stage crew. The scene changes were choreographed perfectly. Only someone who has done musical theatre might notice this, but as the brothers moved downstage, away from their cabaret tables, in the number Those Canaan Days, they put their chairs on top of each other, so they would be easier for the crew to move. Props don’t often get mentioned in a review, but Robyn Bockrath and Dana Dixon’s stuffed lamb that was slaughtered to make Jacob think Joseph was dead, got a huge laugh as it came apart.

Every moment of this production was exciting and fun, poignant and often funny. It was interesting to note the Director’s choice to play with different times and periods. For example, the Narrator first appears in a modern casual blazer over her simple tunic dress with the suggestion of an ancient symbol. The children are dressed in modern school uniforms. It is a UPS man in brown who delivers Joseph’s coat to Father Jacob. The Narrator takes a picture of the brothers with a Polaroid camera. In the midst of the number Joseph’s Coat, with all the family in ancient garb, the children suddenly appear in modern colorful clothes. That mixture of old and modern helped the audience keep in mind that we are telling a story, and a timeless story at that. It was Director Thompson’s strong vision and attention to that kind of detail that brought this strong cast together with an excellent creative team and crew to make a production of Joseph that kept us engaged and thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

It would be wonderful to tell you to run to see this production, but alas, this was the last show. Given the quality of the performances at Palos Verdes High School, under the direction of Mrs. Thompson and the Performing Arts Program staff, you might want to plan to see all their productions – hopefully in a brand new theatre!

~~~Reviewed by Kathy Gordon, So Cal Reviewer Team

“…I literally could not stop laughing” Noises Off

“…I literally could not stop laughing” Noises Off

Noises Off - Palos Verdes High School Drama - pvhsdrama.com

PVHS Drama presents Noises Off

“This is farce at its best, and Director Nicole Thompson has choreographed the physical comedy, pantomime and stage whispers so brilliantly, I literally could not stop laughing. Not one actor missed a beat. Their pace was fast, funny and everyone’s timing was spot on!”

~~~Kathy Gordon, SoCal Youth Theatre Reviewer