Because I Knew You, I Have Been Changed For Good

Friends, let me tell you a story. In the past, I’ve written about how teachers have influenced me in my life. Tonight, I’m writing about how two teachers, Jean Martellaro and Fanny Arana, are influencing over 85 kids for good.

Tonight, I just got back from the second performance of “The Wizard of Oz and Then Some” at Nobel Middle School in Northridge, California (Note: there are two more performances of this show on Saturday: 2 PM and 6:30 PM). Wow! What these teachers have guided this group of over 85 remarkable young adults to do. I can guarantee that these two teachers are influencing these kids lives in a way that will benefit them positively for the rest of their lives. And that’s a good thing.

The play is an amalgam of the Harold Arlen “The Wizard of Oz”, with a few songs from Charlie Small’s “The Wiz” and Stephen Schwartz’ “Wicked” thrown in… and a few more surprises. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the basic story, so I won’t repeat it here. The kids did it wonderfully. As there were 85 kids in the production, I’m not going to list them all (nor am I listing last names), but I do need to note some particular standouts in the cast. Starring as Dorothy was Shelby W., who along with Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Savannah L.), and Talulah the Good Witch of the South (Joy T.), were remarkable singers and young actors. Also as standouts in the cast were Nolan M. as Toto (who stole every scene he was in) and Melanie T. as Elphaba (who stole every scene she was an… and projected quite well). I was also impressed with Kenny C. as Biff the Narrator, who had a great speaking voice; the other narrators were John A., Hessica S. and Danielle W.. Rounding out the principles in the cast were Trevor C. as the Scarecrow, Nora F. as the Tinsman, Bobby L. as the Cowardly Lion, and Giovanni F. as the Wizard of Oz. Of these, I was particularly impressed with Nora F., who had a good singing voice and a delightful smile. Bobby L., as the Lion, had the right comic chops, but (perhaps intentionally) couldn’t quite do the songs. Amanda C. as Ozwina also did a good job. A special mention goes to our own nsshere, who played Olive Green as well as being the head costume mistress and wrangler for the entire cast. This was a big job, and she has received incredible complements on her work. The rest of the cast members all did great jobs, but didn’t have specific performances to highlight.

Big kudos, however, go to the teachers behind all of this. They revitalized the drama program at this school. From nothing they arranged a first production, and now this… which was better than many local and community theatre productions I’ve seen. The skills these kids learn here: from public speaking to time management to teamwork…. will serve these kids well the rest of their lives in whatever career they are in. Additionally, I know it will instill a love of live theatre, which is a great thing.

Could things be improved? Yes. Some of the kids need to focus a bit more on projection, so you could hear them more clearly. That will come with time. On some of the songs, the breaths need to be timed a bit better — again, that’s a practice issue, and we’re dealing with 7th and 8th grade non-professionals here, so it didn’t bother me that much. The facility needs a better sound system and raked seating — but this is a public school, so we need bond funds to fix that :-). There were a few cases where I noted some miscues, but I’m sure that will be fixed in tomorrow’s performances. For what they had, they did great! [Updated 6/2 to add: The sound was better at the Saturday 2pm performance, and everyone could be heard great.]

What’s next for us. Well, we’ll be back at the 2 PM performance tomorrow :-). Alas, we’ll miss the last performance of this, as we’ll be at “The Constant Wife” at The Pasadena Playhouse. Following that is “Side Show” at UCLA Theatre Arts on 6/9 @ 8pm; “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” through Broadway/LA on 6/16 @ 2pm. We’re on vacation the end of June in Nashville, and when we return, it is “Jersey Boys” at the Ahmanson Theatre on 7/15 @ 7:30pm; “Can-Can” at The Pasadena Playhouse on 7/28 at 8:00pm; “Beauty and the Beast” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 8/4 @ 2:00pm, and the DCI 2007 World Championship Finals in Pasadena on 8/11 @ 5:00pm . I’ve also ordered season tickets for the Ahmanson, as discussed here, and there’s likely to be a Hollywood Bowl show in there somewhere.