By now, you’ve figured out we go to a lot of theatre, of all shapes and sizes. Our range runs from intimate shows to Broadway houses, and from middle-school to professional productions. We’ve seen professional groups do amateur jobs, and we’ve seen amateurs do top-notch works. One of the groups we’ve seen grow over time is the Theatre Arts Department at Nobel Charter Middle School (FB) here in Northridge. We were there when they started back up — our daughter was in their inaugural production back in 2006. Back then, they were a group with lots of energy but little resources — sound was three stand up microphones; lights were on a tree on the side with a shared extension cord, and costumes were rummaged from here and there. Eight years later, they have full professional lighting and a lighting board, a full sound board and wireless mics, professional quality sets and costumes (made by parents, not rented), and still lots and lots of energy. This is all paid for by voluntary contributions, not LAUSD. At its heart are the two same great teachers: Fanny Araña and Jean Martellaro.
All this means is that when Nobel announces a production, we do our best to stop on by and see it. So last night, we were in a standing-room-only middle school auditorium (700+ people were in attendance) watching a large group of kids perform their hearts out doing “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” musical (technically, the Jr. version, best as I can figure out). You know what? They did pretty good.
I could attempt to summarize the story of “The Little Mermaid” to you, but it’s long and complex, and I’m dealing with the TL;DR generation. Suffice it to say that the musical version is slightly different from the animated cartoon, and you can find a good summary of the musical version on Wikipedia. Differences include changes in sequences, addition of a number of new songs by Alan Menkin and Glenn Slater (in addition to the original songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menkin), and some simplification for the stage. Most of the book by Doug Wright remains. The Jr. version shortens the production a bit more, and cuts a number of songs (both from the original movie, such as “I Want The Good Times Back”, as well as new songs such as “Positoovity”); the song cuts are how I identified this as the Jr. version. I’ll note that I’ve never actually seen the animated movie in its entirety, although I’ve heard the score. By the time my daughter was the age she was watching Disney animated movies, this had just gone back into the vault. So I’m really only familiar with the property from the stage musical.
With a production this large, it is hard to single out everyone from the cast. Further, understanding this is middle-school production, there are the expected flaws — these are neither trained singers nor actors, just kids putting on a show. The occasional flats, changing voices, and inaudible lines are more than made up by the enthusiasm and joy on the faces of these children as they learn skills and confidence that will serve them well all their life. But there are a few performances I want to single out in various ways, before I list everyone. Note that I’m not going to try to link to all the kids.
As I just said, there were a few performances deserving special note: Leanne Langston (Ariel) had a remarkably strong voice, and was a spectacular dancer (demonstrated in the “One Step Closer” number, with her equally strong partner, Ryan Wynott, as Prince Eric). Another strong singer and performer was Alishia Maghreiva as Ursula, who did a great job of projecting malevolence. On the comic side, Harry Harutyunyun was strong as Sebastian — although he kept having microphone problems, you could tell this young man could sing and move well. Also strong comically were Jasmine Moore as Scuttle and Andrzej Krassner-Cybulski as Flounder. Also extremely strong as a choral group in the “Daughters of Triton” number were the mersisters: Alana Gardette-Dupre (Aquata), Rebecca Radvinsky (Andrina), Claire Frankland (Arista), Emily Alexander (Atina), Morgan Knight (Adella), and Allana (Lexi Gardner). I was also impressed with Janelle Miller as Chef Louis in the “Les Poissons” number, and the comic antics of Frency Wane as Dim-Sum. Lastly, I want to highlight Rachel Khoury as the seagull Gullible — not as much for her performance on stage, but watching her entertain pre-show and during intermission, staying in character and just having fun with the audience.
Rounding out the large cast were: Grimsby – Brett Jariabek; Ship’s Pilots – Matthew Bacon, Jason Foster; Sailors – Janelle Miller, Nancy Turmell, Rose Meyers, Charlotte Doolittle, Marie Verdin, Leila Musleh, Jacob Lipman, Jennifer Sarkisian, Gigi Mkchyan, Fernanda Lopez; King Triton – Braden Harness; Seahorses – Eli Leyberman (Seabiscuit), Emily Borses (Flicka); Seagulls – Jake Dalton (Awkward), David Gomez (Gulliver), Max Chester (Awkdorable), Rachel Khoury (Gullible), Sammy Wane (Awksome); Eels – Justin Tuell (Flotsam), Aaminah Babatunde-Bey (Jetsam), Anthony Sottile (Gruesome), Michelle Villalobos (Ransom), Frenchy Wane (Dim-Sum); Carlotta – Gigi Mkchyan, Babette – Jennifer Sarkisian; Yvette – Fernanda Lopez; Chefs – Nancy Turmell, Rose Meyers, Charlotte Doolittle, Leila Musleh, Jacob Lipman, Taylor Carlson; Princesses – Claire Frankland, Emily Alexander, Rebecca Radvinsky, Alana Gardette DuPre, Lexi Gardner, Morgan Knight; Lagoon Leads – Matthew Bacon, Jason Foster; Water Wizards – Emilio “Bongo” Godinez, Shawn Wadhwani; Water Faries – Fernanda Lopez, Taylor “Cookie” Carlson, Kennaya Ndu, Talia Ballew; Water Reeds – Willow Islas, Kamryn Siler, Hannah Protiva; Sea Creatures/Lagoon Animals – Jesse Pacheco, Devina Moore, Brendon Harrington, Spencer Goldman, Brandon Moser, Robert Cerda, Emma Casella, Troy Richman, Juliana Barba, Marena Wisa-Wasef, Kennaya Ndu, Marie Verdin, Leila Musleh, Jennifer Sarkisian, Janelle Miller, Nancy Turmell, Gigi Mkchyan, Talia Ballew, and Renee Rubanowitz. Whew! Large cast!
Technically, every NCMS production is a step beyond the last. We’ve seen this program go from few resources to lots, and along the way, these younguns’ are gaining technical training — and they come back and help the program. In particular, the lighting for this program (designed by Noelle Sammour, assisted by Artur Cybulski as lighting consultant) was very good (and the technical team had no missed lighting cues that I saw). The sound, designed by sound consultant Isaijah Johnson (9th grade) had a good design and cues were executed well, but it was sabotaged by the sound-swallowing characteristics of the Nobel Auditorium (alas, not much can be done about that), and the fact that the actors were not used to microphones (causing them to sometimes work, and sometimes have static) (and that takes time and experience to address). The set was remarkable, especially when you consider it was built by students. The set design was by Benjamin Tiber (9th grade), and was constructed under Huan “Papa” Chu and Barry Borses. The costumes, designed by Larissa Kazantsev, were clever and worked well.
Rounding out this team was the tech crew: Stage Manager – Gio Roberto, Set Manager – Dana Rubanowitz, Set Crew – Ranveer Dhillon, Luca Goldenberg, Brandon Huetter, Eunice Kim, Alexandra Kopatsis, Tam Le, Aaron Nguyen, Estrella Palacios, Isabelle Saligumba, Andrienne Santiago, Tal Sisso, and Karla Vasquez; Prop Crew – Justin Borses, Casey Donchez, Kara Glaser, Jacqueline Harris; Costume Crew – Adi Ankori, Tal Ankori, Sarah Khorsandi, Hailey Matthew, David Manolo, Lilly Eaves, Christopher Sarkissian; Sound Crew – Jacob Zonis, Alyssa Crocker, Michael McNabb, Stephen Rabin; Light Crew – Aaron Nguyen, Andrew Petrak, Zarah Shahinian, Skyler Won, Nicolaus Carlson (9th grade); Spot Operator – Neema Zahedi.
Direction was provided by Jean Martellaro, assisted by Harry Harutyunyun (8th grade). Choreography (which was very good for a middle-school production) was developed by Jenna Beth Stockman and Madison Tilner (9th grade). Daniel Bellusci (12th grade) and Iona Della Torre were the music directors, and Dennis Kull was the technical director.
There are two more performances of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” (Jr.), both today: 2pm and 630pm. If you live in the area, go on out and support these kids and this great program. Noble Charter Middle School is at 9950 Tampa Avenue in Northridge, at the intersection of Tampa and Lassen. The auditorium is 1 block N, off Merridy Street.
[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.]
Upcoming Theatre and Concerts: Tomorrow I leave for New Orleans and the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). When I return we have an interesting play, “Sherlock Through the Looking Glass“, at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December, as currently scheduled for theatre, concludes with “Peter and the Starcatcher” at The Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Of course, there will be the traditional movie and Chinese Food on Christmas Day — right now, the two movie possibilities are “Saving Mr. Banks” opening December 13 (meaning we can use group discount tickets), or “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” opening December 25. I’m also interested in “Inside Llewyn Davis” for both its soundtrack and its story (based off the live of Dave Van Ronk). None of the other December releases look worth the money (I’d rather see “August: Osage County” on the stage, thankyouverymuch). Looking into January: The first scheduled show is on January 18: “Mom’s Gift” at The Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre (FB) in North Hollywood. The following weekend, January 25, brings the first show of the REP East (FB) 10th season: “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change“ (which we last saw at REP in 2006). February 8 will bring “Forever Plaid” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The following weekend, February 15, is being held for Lysistrata Jones at The Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. The last weekend of February, February 22, is currently being held for Sutton Foster at the Broad Stage (FB) in Santa Monica (if I can find discount tickets). March brings “Sex and Education” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on March 8, and “Biloxi Blues” at REP East (FB) on March 29. It may also bring “Harmony” at The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on March 22. The end of the month (actually April 5) bring “In The Heights” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.