StarStruck takes on ambitious 'Tommy' for three shows at Lyric
|Palm City resident headed to appear in Tony Award-winning musical on Broadway
PALM CITY — Alicia Tomasko is Broadway bound.
The Palm City resident is the newest cast member in the four-time Tony Award-winning musical “In the Heights.” Her first day of rehearsals is Tuesday at the Richard Rogers Theatre.
“This has been my passion, my dream,” she said. “Theater has been a big part of my life. I went to school, worked since I was 14 to pay for college, and Broadway called me. I can’t believe those words are coming out of my mouth.”
Tomasko, 21, is a slight brunette with a radiant smile, big brown eyes and electrifying energy. She is also determined.
“The only thing I have to do is find a place to live,” she said before she left for New York on Sunday. “I have a four-week contract and if they keep me, then they will find me a place to live. Friends are now asking friends to help me. All I need is a couch and a bathroom. I am very low maintenance.”
Originally from Bedford, Ohio, Tomasko has been on the Treasure Coast since she was 10 years old. She started taking dance, vocal and acting classes at StarStruck Performing Arts Center in Stuart before going on to Martin County High School where she continued her work in the theater.
“She got the Broadway part because she is super-talented,” said Jennifer Jones, StarStruck’s co-owner. “People in this business look for a triple threat (who can sing, dance and act), but they also want to see character, a positive attitude, a smiling face and someone who works very hard. I think she is going to go really far. This is only the beginning for her.”
It was Jones who told Tomasko about the “In the Heights” audition in Fort Lauderdale and urged her to try out.
“I don’t think there is any other kid on the Treasure Coast who has gone straight to Broadway,” Jones said.
Tomasko has been hired as part of the ensemble cast, as well as understudy for the lead role of Vanessa.
After high school she went to college at Indian River State College working multiple jobs to cover her tuition. She also had to cope with her father, Gregg Tomasko’s stage four lung cancer, which he is still undergoing treatment for.
“When I enrolled at IRSC people made fun of me — going to IRSC fortheater, ha ha,” she said. “So I am happy for the school, too. I learned so much there, so much from (IRSC’s Director of the Theater Department) David Moberg. It proves it doesn’t matter where you go. If you work hard there will be a place for you.”
“In the Heights” is the story of a Dominican-American Washington Heights neighborhood on the upper west side of New York. It is a heavy dance show similar to the Broadway mega-hit “Rent.”
When Tomasko auditioned she was weak in the hip-hop/salsa dance area and was labeled a singer/actress with dance experience. When she danced for the creator of the show Lin-Manuel Miranda and director Thomas Kail, they told her she needed to work on her dancing and suggested she take a few classes in Miami to learn the moves.
Tomasko didn’t have the money to take a class, so she asked friends and friends of friends to teach her dance steps and in one case traded voice lessons for instruction in hip-hop.
She was offered the job Thursday but had to delay her departure because she was starring in an IRSC show.
“It was so spontaneous,” Tomasko said of her job on Broadway. “Dreams do come true. I never thought this would happen.”
StarStruck to perform middle-school musical '13'
STUART - The StarStruck Performing Arts Center will present "13," a musical about middle school angst, at The Lyric Theatre at 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
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Get StarStruck at Hobe Sound school
HOBE SOUND — Jennifer Jones, co-owner and executive director of StarStruck Performing Arts Center, will teach a course at The Pine School in Hobe Sound starting in the fall.
She said the course, tentatively titled “Introduction to Performance,” will introduce various aspects of performance in a creative, educational and fun setting, including how to stand on stage, theater terminology, how to project one’s voice, working on monologues, and getting into and defining a character.
Jones graduated with honors from Simmons College and has a master’s degree in education from New York’s Queens College.
|Martin County students past and present celebrate 30 years with 'Ron Corbin's Opus'
MARTIN COUNTY — Former members of OPUS, Martin County High School’s award-winning high school choir, certainly remember the perfect scores they earned at competitions.
But the real treasure they took from their high school years was the wisdom and guidance they received from their Choral Director Ronald Corbin.
Past and present students gathered Monday night at the Lyric Theatre to celebrate his 30-year career with “Ron Corbin’s Opus,” a show of more than 20 songs highlighting his love of music and his heart for young people.
The program, sponsored by StarStruck Performing Arts Center and the Stuart Arts Council, ranged from ‘80s classics (“Don’t Stop Believing”) to spirituals (“Glory Hallelujah”) to Broadway favorites (“One Day More”).
The show was produced by StarStruck Musical Director Peter Jones, directed by his wife, Jennifer, and featured a surprise appearance by Corbin’s daughter Candice, who flew in from New York City for the occasion.
Peter Jones performed with OPUS in the late ‘80s and remembers Corbin’s generosity to students inside and outside of the classroom.
“He encouraged us to be serious about the music, but he was also a lot of fun to be around,” he said. “He was a role model and father figure to a lot of kids.”
One of those kids, Troy Warner, grew up to become a pastor in Wellsville, Ohio. Warner braved traveling through 40 inches of snow to honor his former teacher Monday night.
“Mr. Corbin is like a dad to me,” he said. “Nothing was going to keep me from being here.”
Warner’s own father committed suicide when he was still in high school, and he credits Corbin with helping him get through that dark time.
“He was always there for me and encouraged me,” he said. “The love he had for me, and the values he taught me—I’ll carry those with me forever.”
In fact, he often quotes Corbin to his congregation.
A favorite: “Excuses are tools of incompetence which build monuments into nothing, and those who specialize in them are seldom good at anything else.”
Right before the show started, Corbin stood outside the theater and greeted a stream of well-wishers.
“I don’t know what to expect,” he said about the show. “I’ve been ordered to stay away from the rehearsals.”
He remembers the day in 1980 when his aunt talked him into applying for a job in Martin County. Three decades and a host of awards later, he’s often approached by colleges to take over their musical programs, but Martin County High School is home.
“It’s still a joy to be around young people and see what I can get out of them,” he said.
|'Gypsy' is classy classic at Stuart's Lyric Theatre
STUART — Everything came up roses for Stuart’s StarStruck company when it cast Jean Ferreira as Mama Rose in its current stage production, “Gypsy.”
Sure, the 1959 musical collaboration of Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents is named for Gypsy Rose Lee, but the main character is actually the pushy stage mother who bullies her to stardom. Mama Rose is one of the great female roles in musical theater as Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly and Patti LuPone — Tony Award winners all in the part — can attest.
The character dominates the show with her fierce determination and drive, as well as a barely hidden impulse to be a performer in her own right. Without a larger-than-life Mama Rose, “Gypsy” can be an empty exercise. Fortunately Ferriera, a fourth-grade teacher at Parker Elementary School by day, has a large lung capacity who can also act her way through a song.
She is captivating, from her initial statement of resolve (“Some People”) to an anthem of brute optimism (“Everything’s Coming Up Roses”) to her final wrenching aria and near mental breakdown over what might have been (“Rose’s Turn”). Ferreira is a force of nature, giving a performance theater fans will regret if they miss it.
The downside of such stunning work, though, is that the production at the Lyric Theatre through Sunday (Feb. 28) is a lot less interesting when Ferreira is offstage. That does not happen often, but such sequences as chorus boy Tulsa’s (Robert Johnston) flashy dance solo to “All I Need Is The Girl” and Gypsy’s (Nori Tecosky) pivotal strip montage are not as effective as they should be.
Still, “Gypsy” is one of the most dramatically tough and musically satisfying shows in the musical library. It is a virtual crash course in 20th century show business history, focusing on the death of vaudeville, featuring some acts that may have single-handedly killed it, giving way to the rise of burlesque in all its tawdry glory.
The StarStruck production boasts a cast of over two dozen area performers, with some real assets in the supporting roles. Jonathan Cummings is quite musical as Herbie, the nice guy who becomes Mama Rose’s lover and doormat. The part is usually a thankless one, but someone apparently forgot to tell Cummings that. An almost certain 11th-hour showstopper is the trio of second-rate strippers who introduce Gypsy to the finer points of the job (“You Gotta Get a Gimmick”). Sharon Owens, Trinna Mariano and Patty Carreau-Souza handle the comic bumps and grinds with aplomb.
The show consists of numerous scenes in disparate locations as it moves across the country, and director Jennifer Jones keeps the action from flagging. As usual, Peter Jones accompanies the show on piano and leads a swinging four-piece onstage band.
Like the previous StarStruck show, “West Side Story,” “Gypsy” is a classic of the musical theater and the production at the Lyric Theatre demonstrates why.
Mr Corbin's OPUS celebrates Martin County High School teacher
STUART — This school year marks Ronald Corbin's 30th year as a Martin County High School teacher and chorale director.
In celebration of this milestone, StarStruck Performing Arts Center and the Stuart Arts Council is sponsoring the special event, "Mr. Corbin's Opus" to pay homage to one of Martin County's best loved and most eminent teachers.
This evening of music and celebration will be held at the Lyric Theater on Feb. 22 at 8pm and will include performances by past and current OPUS choir members as well as featured numbers with Peter Jones.
A native of Tallahassee, Florida, Corbin earned his Bachelor of Science Degree from Florida A&M University. After graduation, he taught at Bethune Cookman College and directed choirs in Bartow, Florida and in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1980, he decided to join his aunt, Thelma Herbert, then assistant principal, at Martin County High School. Mrs. Herbert was one of Martin County's first African American teachers. Upon his arrival, Mr. Corbin assumed leadership of the high school's choir and named it OPUS: "Outstanding People United to Sing."
Over the past 30 years, OPUS has won numerous awards at state, national and even international levels. It is widely recognized as one of the top high school choirs in the world. This past year at the Heritage Festival in San Francisco, OPUS was awarded unanimous perfect scores from the adjudicators. In the entire history of the Heritage Festival, only four other choirs have earned this distinction.
Corbin teaches students much more than vocal technique and performance. He encourages them to become the best people that they can be. OPUS members are a highly disciplined group who adhere to a rigorous rehearsal schedule throughout the entire year, including the summer months. The choir rehearses for 100 minutes during each school day and also holds weekly after school rehearsals. Students must also maintain a high GPA to remain a part of the prestigious group.
Certainly, Corbin's emphasis on discipline, dedication and sheer hard work has had much to do with the success of OPUS, but it is also clear that he is a man with a gift. Stephanie Hensen, MCHS class of 1997 and OPUS alumna says that more than a decade after graduation, Corbin remains in her mind on a regular basis. She is now a resident of London, England and a member of the world renowned Bach Choir. "Mr. Corbin has a way of extracting the most amazing sound out of a bunch of teenage voices, that I'm realizing not only beats out most high school choirs in the country, but also the best adult choirs in the world."
Peter Jones, another OPUS alumni and the executive director of StarStruck Performing Arts Center in Stuart is thrilled to be a part of the upcoming show. "The effect that Mr. Corbin has had on me and hundreds of other OPUS students is immeasurable. From his strict musicianship to his outrageous personality, he is a role model that everyone in the community admires. It is a privilege for me to honor this special man and his 30 years of dedication to OPUS and the entire community."
StarStruck directors enthusiastic about 'Gypsy' at Lyric Theatre
From 'castmates' to 'soulmates'
STUART — As Werner Erhard famously said, "You don't have to go looking for love when it's where you come from." For local couple Brittany Johns and Travis Engebretsen, love was waiting for them on the stage of StarStruck Performing Arts Center. Johns and Engebretsen met at the tender age of 11 while both were voice and musical theatre students at the Stuart school. The couple were married this past Saturday.
After graduating from high school, the pair attended Florida State University. The bride will be awarded a Bachelor's of Education degree in May. The groom is currently working toward a Masters in Finance. Brittany Johns is the daughter of Frank and Marilou Johns who reside in Medford, N.J. Travis Engebretsen is the son of Dr. Shawn and Becky Engebretsen of Stuart.
"It was a joy to watch Brittney and Travis grow as people and as performers." Says Jennifer Jones, executive director of StarStruck. "When I heard that they were engaged, I was just thrilled. It's always inspiring when two people make a connection through their love of the arts. I am so excited for them, our first married couple to meet at StarStruck." Jones met her husband and co-director, Peter Jones while performing in "Pippin" at the Barn Theater in 1997. Jennifer, Peter and the staff of StarStruck PAC wish to extend their heartiest congratulations to the couple and their families on the recent nuptials.
StarStruck to tackle 'West Side Story'
by Hap Erstein
STUART — Having presented such musicals as “Sweeney Todd,” “Rent” and “The Producers” in recent seasons, StarStruck Performing Arts Center is not known for shrinking from a challenge.
Still, co-owners Peter and Jennifer Jones concede that they may be tackling their most demanding show in “West Side Story,” opening Friday and playing through the weekend at The Lyric Theatre.
The show, an updating of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” set on New York’s gang-controlled streets, was a groundbreaking collaboration among such musical theater giants as composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim making his Broadway debut and director-choreographer Jerome Robbins.
“Musically, it’s very challenging. Not only to play on a piano, but vocally,” said Peter Jones, musical director and pianist. “It’s very demanding to sing, especially for the leads.”
Jennifer Jones directs the production. “From my perspective, I think that the most challenging aspect would be the dancing,” she said. Choreographer Jennifer Lauritano mixes some of Robbins’ iconic steps with her own dance ideas.
“I don’t think it’s fair to do the work and depart too much from what originally made it so brilliant,” Jennifer Jones said. “For example, the classic finger snapping on the side in the dance at the gym when Tony,” the Romeo character, “first meets Maria,” the show’s Juliet. “How could you do ‘West Side Story’ and not have that in there?”
In addition, the acting is a challenge, simply because the antagonism between gangs is so alien to StarStruck’s high school cast members.
“It’s a challenge to get these normally happy kids to embody anger. As much as we have issues in our society in the world today, our kids here in Martin County are really taught tolerance, from a very young age,” Jennifer Jones said.
“So here I am with a show with all this hatred and I think my kids are having fun doing something outside of who they really are.”
The Joneses rank “West Side Story” in the top three musicals of all time. They had done the show nine years ago, in the early days of StarStruck, when the Lyric stage was much smaller. “We did it before the Lyric had broken through their back wall,” Peter Jones said. “So then the stage was like 18 feet deep. It was a cramped ‘West Side Story,’ to say the least.”
Jennifer Jones said every cast brings different nuances to a show. We have some very, very strong kids in this,” she said. In a cast of 40, Kelsey Moore and Sam Haas are featured as Maria and Tony, with Philippe Arroyo (Bernardo), Katrina Colletti (Anita) and Cory Jeacoma (Riff) in support.
“They’re up to the challenge, as we have proved in the past,” she said. “The music is gorgeous, the story is timeless and the quality of the show is the best in Martin County.”
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Classic musical has timeless themes
By Shelley Koppel
STUART - You would have to look far and wide to find a show with a finer pedigree than "West Side Story."
With lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, music by Leonard Bernstein, book by Arthur Laurents and direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins, the musical based on "Romeo and Juliet" is still fresh, more than 50 years after its Broadway opening.
Jennifer Jones, who is directing the production, spoke about why the showing is timeless.
"It was done by the masters of American musical theater," she said. "It deals with a basic human emotion, loving someone you're not supposed to love. How do you stop yourself from feeling? That's why 'Romeo and Juliet' lasts.
"Our society is still dealing with fighting and war and immigration," she said. "It's so current. The problems still exist and prejudice still runs rampant in our society."
Ms. Jones finds a special poignancy in watching young people, 13 to 18 years old, grapple with the story of young love and lives cut short.
"It adds a bittersweet touch to watch these young people cry as they see the plot unfold," she said. "The pain in the young peoples' eyes says everything about why prejudice should stop."
While the play deals with serious subjects and, ultimately, tragedy, it has humor and hope, as well.
"The beauty of the show lies in the fact that although it has serious undertones, the music is bright and there are many comic moments," Ms. Jones said. "The characters are a lot of fun. The audiences identify with the energy of the Jets and the sexy, playful nature of Anita.
"Young girls identify with the naiveté of Maria, and the beauty of Tony's character is that he embodies hope. When he sings 'Something's Coming,' the audience will sit on the edge of their seats. He says that there is something better around the corner."
As always, Peter Jones is the musical director of the production and they will use a combination of Jerome Robbins' original choreography and the choreography of StarStruck's Jennifer Lauritano. The costumer is Mary Ann Howald.
The cast includes Kelsey Moore and Sam Haas as Maria and Tony, the star-crossed lovers; Katrina Colletti as Anita; Cory Jeacoma as Riff; Christopher Mash as Chino and Philippe Arroyo as Bernardo.
StarStruck Performing Arts Center presents "West Side Story" on Nov. 13-15 at the Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart. Performances are Nov. 13-14 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 15 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $23 and $20. Call the box office at (772) 286-7827 or order online at www.lyrictheatre.com.
Famed composer in Stuart for premiere
By Shelley Koppel
A theatrical dream team came to the Lyric Theatre on July 16 for the dress rehearsal of the musical "Geppetto and Son," a re-telling of the Pinocchio tale from the point of view of his father, Geppetto.
Stephen Schwartz, the composer, David Stern, the book's author, and Freddie Gershon, head of Music Theatre International, the world-wide theatrical licensing agency, were here for StarStruck Performing Arts Center's world premier of the student edition of the play.
The three men sat down before the rehearsal to talk about the project.
Mr. Schwartz, who wrote the Broadway hits "Pippin" and "Wicked" and the movies "Pocahontas" and "Prince of Egypt," has always been fascinated by folklore and tales.
"I just think they're good stories," he said. "There's a reason they're in our collective consciousness. I always liked taking a familiar event and spinning it. The audience brings knowledge and expectations and has them undermined and illuminated. It heightens the story."
Mr. Stern came to Mr. Schwartz with the idea of doing something about a father.
"It was David's clever notion that we all have illusions about what it takes to be a parent and then we find out what it takes," he said.
"When Pinocchio runs away, we stay with the dad. During the course of the show, we come to a much greater understanding of what being a dad is."
Mr. Stern's interest in the role of the father stems from his own experience.
"I had a complicated relationship with my father. He died when I was in my 20s. I wondered what the responsibilities of a father were. My dad was a workaholic and I said, 'that can't be it.' As we reversed the Pinocchio story, we opened up the exploration. There are so many issues."
Mr. Gershon, whose agency licenses shows to be used by school and community theaters, was responsible for involving Jennifer and Peter Jones of StarStruck in the project.
"We wouldn't be here if we didn't love working with them," he said. "They are remarkable. We deal with groups all over the United States and we have a good sense of who get it. They shape the students. Year in and year out, at our festivals, they are dazzling. This past year, they stole the show.
"We decided to let them have a go at 'Geppetto' and not tell them what to do. You can't just entrust something new to anyone. Most people know how to copy. To be original is difficult. We were very pleased," said Mr. Gershon.
Emily Larsen, 15, of Stuart, a student at Jensen Beach High School, has several parts in the show. What does she think of performing in front of these Broadway luminaries?
"It's like the opportunity of a lifetime," she said. "I'm a little nervous. I don't think any of us will ever forget it. It's a big deal."
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By Shelley Koppel
When watching a show with talented older teens at StarStruck Performing Arts Center, it's easy to forget they are teens.
A show such as "The Producers," which is funny and bawdy and rude, could easily seem awkward in the hands of kids. The recent production of the show demonstrated again that we have a wealth of talent in this area.
As Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, Kevin Connor and Philippe Arroyo bounced off each other and the walls as they planned Broadway's worst show.
Amanda Paul was a naughty Ulla and Cory Jeacoma, as Roger DeBris, nearly stole the show. Roman Cagliano as Carmen Ghia, and the rest of DeBris' entourage gave the show the degree of tastelessness Mel Brooks intended.
Several of these performers are in "Geppetto and Son," opening tonight with composer Stephen Schwartz in attendance.
They have mastered two shows at the same time and are performing in front of Broadway royalty. They are to be commended.
Disney's fabled 'Geppetto & Son' creator elated his work will 'live on stage'
STUART - Broadway royalty arrived Thursday.
Disney's Geppetto & Son
|No strings attached
By HAP ERSTEIN Correspondent
STUART — StarStruck Performing Arts Center, a Stuart-based training school and entertainment showcase for students of all ages, has gained a reputation for devising abbreviated versions of Broadway shows for young performers.
Founders Peter and Jennifer Jones have developed and premiered so-called “Junior Editions” of such musicals as “Rent” and “Sweeney Todd,” which New York’s Music Theatre International then licenses to schools and youth troupes around the world.
For three performances this weekend at the Lyric Theatre, they unveil their latest Junior — “Disney’s Geppetto & Son, Jr.” a continuation of the classic fable “Pinocchio,” as seen from the puppet-maker father’s point of view. What made this project special for the Joneses was the opportunity to work with one of their favorite composers, Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote the scores for “Wicked,” “Pippin” and “Godspell.”
“We were excited and nervous to meet him, but from the moment we met, he was the coolest, most laid-back guy,” said Jennifer Jones, who directs the StarStruck production. “Incredibly nice, very collaborative, very open to our ideas and opinions.”
But it was the Joneses’ job to edit Schwartz’s show down to an hour’s running time. “And I’m thinking, ‘How am I going to tell the guy that wrote ‘Wicked’ that I think this line should be cut?’” she said.
“Geppetto and Son, Jr.” began as a television special in 2000. Then, in a two-act version with adult performers, it was first performed onstage two years ago.
The show begins after The Blue Fairy has transformed Pinocchio into “a real boy,” but Geppetto is not sure he is ready for the responsibilities of fatherhood. “There are flashbacks that really teach Geppetto what it means to be a parent,” said Peter Jones, who accompanies the show on piano.
In earlier production notes, Schwartz calls the show “entertaining, while at the same time dealing with such important themes as individuality, self-esteem and the relation of parents and children.”
In addition to Schwartz’s original score, the stage show includes two popular songs from the 1940 animated movie —- “I’ve Got No Strings” and “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
“It’s a new work that the kids never heard of before,” said Jennifer Jones. “They were shown the music in late April, devoured it and now they’re making it their own.” Schwartz and his librettist David Stern will be at Friday’s performance and will field audience questions afterward. “I think he’s going to be blown away by the talent he sees performing it. And excited that this show has a life as a junior edition.”
Creating the junior version of “Disney’s Geppetto & Son” is another feather in the cap of StarStruck, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this month. The Joneses are not complaining, but they are not paid by MTI to develop the edited script.
“No,” said Peter Jones, “it’s total prestige.”
What: “Disney’s Geppetto & Son, Jr.”
When: July 17-18
Where: Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart
World premiere in Stuart
By Shelley Koppel
STUART - It doesn't get much more exciting than this.
Peter and Jennifer Jones of StarStruck Performing Arts Center were asked to work with legendary composer Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the Broadway shows "Pippin, "Godspell" and "Wicked" and movie hits "Pocahontas" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
The project was to turn Mr. Schwartz's show, "Geppetto and Son," based on the Pinocchio legend, into a junior version for kids to stage. The Joneses traveled back and forth to New York and Mr. Schwartz will return the favor, coming to Stuart on July 16 for the final rehearsal and July 17, for opening night.
Ms. Jones spoke recently about what the project means to everyone involved.
"Ten years ago, when Peter and I did our first show, we were simply doing a show because we loved children and the theater. It was a combination of our passion and our degrees, teaching and theater.
"We never dreamed we'd have the amazing support of this wonderful town and that we'd be collaborating with one of the top composers of the Broadway stage."
The cast includes Kevin Connor as Geppetto, Philippe Arroyo as Stromboli, Nathanael Bean as Pinocchio and Katrina Colletti as the Blue Fairy.
Mr. Connor and Mr. Arroyo were rehearsing lead roles in "The Producers" at the same time as they prepared for "Geppetto and Son," and the director is astonished by them.
"I am so proud of them," she said. "I'm excited for them to show the range of their acting abilities."
She also has praise for Keith Lawson, a character actor, who plays multiple roles in both shows.
"Here is a young man, 15, who's embracing so many different characters," she said. "He's to be lauded, just like the protagonists."
The show, which runs about an hour, is suitable for all ages. It tells the Pinocchio story from the viewpoint of his father, Geppetto.
"The show is funny," Ms. Jones said. "Everyone knows that Pinocchio learns about lying, but the show is about Geppetto's journey as a father. That's what makes this show and story unique."
Katie Rodgers, a 12-year-old member of the ensemble from Palm City, paused during a rehearsal with choreographer Elizabeth Casalini to talk about what a thrill the venture is.
"I'm very excited," she said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It's never happened in Stuart. It's nerve-wracking because they'll be important people from New York, but it's really fun.
"In the ensemble, you get to do different dances and see different things behind-the-scenes," she said,
For Ms. Jones, it's a special opportunity, as well.
"The ideas we've worked on will be forever stamped onto the life of the show," she said. "It's a work-in-progress. Everything is brand-new."
StarStruck Performing Arts Center presents "Geppetto and Son" at the Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart, on July 17- 18 at 7 p.m. and July 18 at 2 p.m. Mr. Schwartz will answer questions following the July 17 show. Tickets are $23. Call the box office at (772) 286-7827 or order online at www.lyrictheatre.com.
Two StarStruck students head to the Big Apple
YourHub - 7/9/2009
StarStruck Performing Arts Center students Kevin Paul,13, and Landry Bearden, 10, headed off to New York City to film an instructional dance DVD. The students were chosen by iTheatric's resident choreographer, Steven Kennedy, to appear in the DVD.
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StarStruck celebrates 10 years
Jennifer and Peter Jones find performing plays together helps them stay together
By Marilyn Bauer
STUART — Peter and Jennifer Jones love the same things — theater, traveling, eating. They live together, work together and dream together. They also have spent the past decade creating the Stuart institution that has become known as StarStruck.
On July 1, they will celebrate this milestone with — what else — a show.
StarStruck’s 10th Anniversary Show will feature some of the greatest songs from the best musicals performed by students and school graduates in a Broadway revue format. You’ll hear selections from “Rent,” “Grease” and “Sweeney Todd” and simple songs sung solo on stage to Peter’s piano.
“We are so excited,” Jennifer Jones said. “It is totally student-generated. Six or eight months ago we got e-mails and calls saying, ‘You guys are celebrating your 10th anniversary, We have to do a show.’”
It was exactly 10 summers ago that Jennifer and Peter Jones, founders of StarStruck, put on “Guys and Dolls Junior.”
“We put an ad in the paper — ‘Come do a show’ — and we had all ages and talent levels show up,” said Jennifer Jones, who would marry her husband two years later. The couple now have two children, Amanda, 16, and Kevin, 13.
“We did a four-week program and then the parents wanted to know, what’s next. They didn’t want to wait until next summer.”
So in 2000 they produced and directed a revue series called “Broadway Kids,” which would go on for four years.
“Things began steamrolling,” said Jennifer Jones, who at the time was the director of education for Temple Beit HaYam. “The kids were having fun, but we wanted them to get better and better. We started singing classes, voice classes and a Fosse-style dance class.”
As classes continued to build and the curriculum expanded, the couple changed their name from Peter Jones Entertainment to StarStruck and moved to the TheatreLoft building on Monterey Road.
“It was very backstage, Off-Broadway looking,” Jennifer Jones said. “We were blown away by how the community came to love it. Kids were there every day after school.
“After two years we had to turn kids away because we didn’t have the room to accommodate them. We didn’t want the classes to get too big. That’s when we found our home in downtown Stuart.”
The contemporary, sunlit building contains spacious rehearsal space, studios and practice rooms.
StarStruck began to win multiple awards. Ultimately the Joneses were approached by Music Theatre International, with whom they now work closely, premiering “junior” shows and most recently helping to write the book for “Geppetto & Son.”
“Friends often ask how we make it work, living together and working together,” Peter Jones said. “Our jobs are 24 hours a day, and if we didn’t work together we would never see each other. We absolutely love what we do.”
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|StarStruck to perform outrageous 'Producers' at Lyric
By Marilyn Bauer
STUART — “Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden” sounds like an impossible failure. But when down-on-his-luck producer Max Bialystock and his accountant Leo Bloom decide to produce this musical extravaganza with tap-dancing storm troopers and a homosexual Hitler, it becomes an overnight success.
Too bad for Bialystock & Bloom Theatrical Productions. The ruse, to make more money with a flop than a hit, hits the fan. The two are arrested and sent to Sing Sing and not until they try their hands at producing behind bars (“Prisoner of Love”) are they pardoned and go on to live happily ever after.
Sound hysterical? It is. Eye-watering, stomach-jiggling, laugh-so-hard-you-start-to-cough funny. But then, it is Mel Brooks.
StarStruck is staging its interpretation of the 2001 musical, which won a record 12 Tony Awards, Friday through July 5 at the Lyric Theatre in downtown Stuart.
“Hands down it is the funniest show we have done in the last 10 years,” said Jennifer Jones, who with husband Peter is StarStruck’s owner.
“Mel Brooks doesn’t give you a moment to come up for air,” Peter Jones said. “The only thing that makes you stop laughing is fear you’ll miss the next line. It’s an outrageous musical.”
The StarStruck cast is made up of 28 teenagers including Kevin Connor, 16, of Stuart who reprises the role of Bialystock made famous by Nathan Lane. Philipp Arroyo, 15 of Palm City plays Leo Bloom; Cory Jeacoma, 15 of Palm City is flamboyant director Roger De Bris; and Amanda Paul, 16, of Palm City plays Bloom’s assistant Ulla.
“This is the first show where there are more guys in the cast than girls,” Jennifer Jones said. “It’s the show for husbands who don’t normally go to the theater — the ones who have to be dragged. It’s funny, off-color and an in-your-face comedy.”
Add lots of inside Hollywood jokes, a happy ending and the StarStruck actors.
What could be bad?
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Famed composer coming to Stuart
by Shelley Koppel
Composer Stephen Schwartz, responsible for such Broadway hits as "Wicked," "Pippin" and "Godspell," and movie musicals including "Pocahontas," is coming to Stuart for the world premiere of the junior version of his musical "Geppetto and Son."
The show, based on the story of Pinocchio, will be presented by StarStruck Performing Arts Center at the Lyric Theatre on July 17-18. Mr. Schwartz will remain after the opening performance for questions from the audience.
Jennifer Jones of StarStruck and her husband, Peter, went to New York in April to work with the composer.
"Peter and I were asked to 'juniorize' the show," Ms. Jones said. "The music is phenomenal and the lyrics nothing short of extraordinary. Peter played the piano and Stephen and I went though the show from beginning to end, taking it from two acts to one and making it more conducive to children."
Mr. Schwartz was open to suggestions," Ms. Jones said.
"When we 'juniorize' a show, we create more opportunities for kids to have parts than in the adult shows. There's a blue fairy and I suggested four fairies-in-training. He loved the idea and we came up with lines they could say. He was so nice to work with, so professional and so much fun. I loved how much he cared about the project."
StarStruck youths to perform for composer
By Marilyn Bauer
Thursday, May 21, 2009
When Academy, Grammy and Drama Desk Award-winner Stephen Schwartz comes to Stuart this summer, his first stop will be StarStruck's Performing Arts Center. Renowned for writing the music and lyrics for such blockbuster entertainment as "Wicked," "Godspell," "Pippin," and Disney's "Pocahontas" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," Schwartz will watch a StarStruck performance of his "Geppetto & Son," a new take on the old story of Pinocchio.
Schwartz wrote the music for the made-for-TV remake of the classic fairy tale starring Drew Carey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Aired in 2000, the story is told through the eyes of the Italian toymaker. "Geppetto & Son" is a rewriting of that show into a format that works for youngsters.
"The head of Musical Theatre International, Freddie Gershon, approached us at an Atlanta festival when we took 40 kids up there and did 'Annie Junior' and one of Schwartz's shows, 'Captain Louie,'" explained Jennifer Jones, who with her husband runs the StarStruck school.
Gershon developed the Broadway Junior program for MTI, working with the authors of the great musicals to turn them into 70-minute shows that can be performed by youths. His hope was to create a new generation of theatergoer weaned away from video games, Facebook and tweets.
Gershon asked for a tape of the StarStruck youngsters performing "Captain Louie." When Schwartz saw it, he loved it and asked the couple to work with him on the adaptation.
"We were so excited to work with him because he is an incredibly famous composer but also because we met doing 'Pippin' at the Barn Theatre," Jones said. "A week later we got a "thanks for your stunning work" - that's what he called it, stunning - and here's the script. A week later we flew to New York to meet with him."
Those few weeks were a flurry of excitement and work for the Joneses and their students. They had to test changes, look at the keys the songs were written in, eliminate curse words and shorten the play from two acts to one.
"One of our goals was to take a solo role and see how we could include other kids in it. We had a preliminary sing through and read through. - 13 students came in on a Sunday. We got a feeling how children would react to the script. We asked some of the girls how they would like to be fairies in training (FITS) to the female lead, the Blue Fairy. They loved that and we were able to add four roles. It was the first idea we presented to Mr. Schwarz and he loved it."
"He was super nice, laid-back, very professional and a warm person," Jones said. "We sat and stood around the piano for four hours and went from Page 1 to the end of the script. It was an awesome collaboration."
Jones is nursing a bad wrist, but hopes it will be better by the time Schwartz gets here on July 17.
"We know he loves tennis," she said. "And we love tennis.
Her excitement is infectious. We know when the Disney suits get here - they are also flying in to see if the show is saleable - they will be excited, too.
And all this right here in River City.
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|Good For You: mARTies Awards
The Arts Council serving Stuart and Martin County is pleased to announce the mARTies awards winners. The awards were announced at the mARTies Awards luncheon celebration at Hutchinson Island Marriott Resort on April 23. Attendees included artists, business supporters, arts-related organizations, volunteers, young artists and performers, parents, teachers, and other arts lovers.
“The Arts Council is proud to present the mARTies Awards, so we can celebrate the arts and what they mean to each of us,” stated Arts Council chairwoman Jeanette Mueller. “The mARTies celebration is just a mere moment in time, compared to the lifetime many of those we are honoring have invested in the arts; however, is a very special and meaningful time of appreciation and celebration!”
The nominees in the seven categories were judged in three areas: artistic excellence, civic responsibility and leadership in improving the quality of life in our community. (Among) those receiving the mARTies awards:
Outstanding Student Performing Artist: Ryan Weiss
Weiss has appeared in at least 15 shows in high school and StarStruck, winning almost a dozen awards for the performances. He participates in the carillon choir and drama club. He is a member of the National Honor Society, has held office in student government at South Fork High School and is in the International Baccalaureate program. He co-founded a musical theater program for middle school students at Dr. David Anderson Middle School, and also volunteers with ARC and various other nonprofits.
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StarStruck youths bring 'Bye Bye Birdie' to Lyric
From the Stuart News
It’s a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical set in 1958, inspired by Elvis Presley’s draft notice into the Army.
Now, “Bye Bye Birdie,” featuring a cast of actors ages 7 to 18, is coming to the Lyric Theatre for a four-show run Friday through Sunday.
Jennifer Jones, executive director of StarStruck Performing Arts Center, said watching the young cast research their roles and come together on stage was as entertaining as the show itself.
“It’s the best, working with these kids,” Jones said. “They’ve become such an incredible team. They do an unbelievable job working together. This is a comedy, first and foremost.
“The character of Conrad Birdie is, of course, a spoof of Elvis Presley. With an all-children cast, we have a 13-year-old kid on stage gyrating his hips like Elvis and it’s absolutely hilarious.”
The young actors had to learn to handle roles from a musical that is set in 1958.
“Being an actor always takes a certain amount of research,” Jones said. “Today, with YouTube and the Internet, you just do a search on Elvis and you can get every song he ever sang. Part of learning is copying or mimicking what you see, then taking that and making it your own. It’s a beautiful thing when that happens.”
Jones said the production has been tailored toward entertaining the entire family, with children performing a classic Broadway musical that parents can appreciate.
The performance is being done in one act with no intermission, running about 1 hour and 10 minutes, she said.
“It’s a great show for families with young children,” Jones said.
'The Sound of Music' fills Lyric
From the Hometown News
I had the pleasure of seeing StarStruck Performing Arts Center's production of "The Sound of Music" at the Lyric Theatre recently.
The show, under the direction of Jennifer Jones and the musical direction of Peter Jones, starred Colleen Phillips, a music teacher at Port Salerno Elementary School, as Maria, and Josh Rhett Noble, a New York actor seen in last season's "Company," as Baron von Trapp. Both were in fine voice, as was Jean Ferreira, a teacher at the J.D. Parker School, who played the Mother Abbess.
The sets were lovely, but the real scene-stealers were the von Trapp kids, played by Madison Bailey, Nathanael Bean, Katrina Colletti, Kimberly Dodt, Kevin Paul, Sydney Sabol and Hannah Williams. They were terrific.
StarStruck takes on 'Sound of Music' at Lyric
The theater is alive with 'Sound of Music'
The musical is StarStruck Productions' next show at the Lyric
STUART — During these tough times, Jennifer Jones believes live theater is just what the doctor ordered.
Jones, who with her husband, Peter, owns StarStruck Performing Arts Center in Stuart, will test that theory with “Sound of Music” at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart.
“This is a production about people who make the most out of hard times,” Jones said. “It’s a show that exemplifies hope. We’re living in tough times and I think there’s nothing like live theater. I think people are going to leave tapping their toes and humming a song. I think people are going to leave the theater with the feeling that as human beings we always come together and everything is going to be OK.”
More than 60 people auditioned for the 23-person cast, which included seven roles for children. The production features actors from New York City as well as 19 local actors.
“There must have been 30 children auditioning for the seven roles,” Jones said. “Starting in October, we posted auditions on various Web sites and held auditions at our studio in Stuart.”
Peter Jones will serve as the show’s musical director and will accompany the show on piano.
“It’s all live music,” Jennifer Jones said. “No canned music on CD.”
Two shows will allow audience members to interact with the cast.
At the 2 p.m. show Saturday, the audience will receive booklets with the lyrics and be asked to sing along with the cast during the performance.
People who attend the Wednesday performance will be able to stay after for a question-and-answer session with the cast and crew.
Starstruck students take Atlanta fest like troupers
The Palm Beach Post
STUART — Alyssa Beckman discovered her love for performing in the third grade.
Now 16, she dances, sings and acts, often performing in more than one show at a time.
"I never did anything else," she said. "It's become my passion."
Beckman is one of about 37 students from Stuart's Starstruck Performing Arts Center who attended an international theater festival last week in Atlanta. The Junior Theater Festival, which has been held for about six years, encourages youth to participate in musical theater, bringing together thousands of students, teachers and Broadway professionals from throughout the world to perform, be judged and learn.
This was the second time Starstruck students participated in the festival. About 74 people, including parents and production members, attended.
"We're elated," said Colleen Bearden, whose daughter Landry, 10, attended. "I think it's a memory of a lifetime for her. She'll always remember this weekend."
Starstruck, a private academy on Southeast Dixie Highway, offers classes for students interested in entertainment and the performing arts. Students ages 7 to 17 participate in the productions, said Jennifer Jones, who owns Starstruck with her husband, Peter.
The range in ages gives the center a familial feel, Jennifer Jones said, because the younger students look up to the older ones and the older ones in turn take on parental roles.
"It's just like a family," she said.
Students regularly participate in shows at the Lyric Theatre in downtown Stuart - including this year's The Sound of Music and Bye Bye Birdie - and their performances have been well-received by the community. Attendance at an international festival, though, allows students to see other people their age perform as well as receive feedback from Broadway professionals, she said.
"They get the exposure of performing outside Stuart, Florida. They get to see hundreds of kids from all over the world who do what they do," she said. "...That's very unifying for them."
Beckman said she enjoys festivals because she can see what other school-age groups are doing and she likes to get critiqued by the judges.
"It's nice to hear their opinions," she said.
Kevin Paul, 13, said he isn't afraid to perform in front of such a large audience, but is mindful of the judges.
"Important people are watching it, that's what makes me nervous," he said.
Starstruck students have done well at the festival. Two years ago, students earned awards for Outstanding Production and Outstanding Achievement in Technical Theatre. After the performance, Starstruck also was asked to become a pilot school for iTheatrics, a New York-based company that adapts Broadway shows for school productions.
ITheatrics' school adaptations have included Beauty and the Beast, Rent and Sweeney Todd. Pilot schools have the opportunity to test those shows before they are released.
At the festival, each school group performs a 15-minute version of a show. As a pilot school, Starstruck was asked this year to perform not only part of the selection of its choice, Annie Junior, but part of Captain Louie Jr. as well - a request that was both flattering and nervewracking, Jones said.
Students, who rehearse together just once a week, had to prepare for two performances instead of the typical one show.
"It's been incredibly exciting, but there's definitely a certain amount of pressure for my cast," she said.
Kevin said he didn't mind having to learn an extra piece.
"It's like an honor to do it," he said.
Erin Carolan, 9, said she, too, hadn't been daunted.
"It's my favorite thing," she said.
Home Grown Talent
Kelsey Moore, Philippe Arroyo and Lexi Savarese, all of Martin County, sing about the prospects of ‘Easy Street’ during the StarStruck Productions ‘presentation of ‘Annie Jr. ‘last weekend at the Lyric Theatre. The show featured a cast of 47 performers.
Take it from the Top
The Stuart News
STUART - Kelsey Moore, 16, left, performs an impromptu routine about duct tape as dance instructor Wade Foster and Broadway star of Legally Blonde, Laura Bell Bundy, enjoy her interpretation during a workshop that the two conducted at StarStruck Performing Arts Center in downtown Stuart recently. The educational outreach program called "Take It From the Top" is designed to educate children who have aspirations in the performing arts, said Peter Jones, StarStruck musical director and co-owner. About 70 local students participated in learning the craft of musical theatre in the interactive environment.
The Hometown News
Heidi Stevens, 12, of Stuart, Hannah Dibona, 11, of Orlando and Jennifer Bruhn, 12, of Port St. Lucie, act out a scene with Laura Bell Bundy during a workshop at StarStruck Studios in Stuart Sunday, Oct. 19. Ms. Bundy was nominated for a Tony award in 2007 for her portrayal of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde – The Musical.
Rock Star School teaches cooperative playing to create sweet sounds
BY TERRI ANN PALUMBO, Correspondent
STUART — Young musicians looking to rev up their riffs and put some lightning in their licks are learning how to be successful in a rock ’n’ roll band at StarStruck’s new Rock Star School in Stuart.
Local musician Pat Channing (of “The Jukebox Band” and “Pat and Gigi”) teaches the course Tuesday evenings for youngsters who already know how to play an instrument.
“Cooperative playing is that you don’t play louder than the other people, you play softer,” he said. “Then when somebody’s featured, they play louder. Everybody gets a spot, everybody gets a turn, nobody feels like they’re out of the loop.”
As a recent class began, cacophony reigned as four guitarists, a keyboard player and a sax player all played at the same time, at the same decibel level.
Within a half-hour, the group was starting to sound like a band, complete with lead singer, 15-year-old Anna Wnukowski, who took over the microphone as she played her guitar, rocking out to “Chain of Fools.”
Channing’s mission is to guide the future rock ’n’ rollers toward teamwork to create a cohesive sound. He said that at first, “everybody wants to play full chords all the time. And when you’re playing a group situation, that doesn’t work — it’s like putting dirt and water together; it just makes mud. My plan is to teach them how to make a band sound.”
Wnukowski, who has performed in StarStruck’s “Cabaret” and “A Chorus Line,” decided to take the class because, she said, “When you’re on stage, you have to able to work with every single person, you have to be able to interact with them, know what’s going on, and that’s what I’m trying to get out of this.”
StarStruck’s co-owner, Jennifer Paul Jones, said she plans to include the Rock Star School band in the company’s semiannual showcase performance in December.
Meanwhile, Pat Channing said everyone is welcome, even if it means more guitarists, “and we’re hoping to have a drummer join the class soon.”
What: Rock Star School
When: 6:45-8 p.m. Tuesdays through
Where: StarStruck Performing Arts Center, 500 S.E. Dixie Highway, Suite 3, Stuart
Cost: $20 per class (First class free)
Contact: (772) 283-2313 or
StarStruck's youngest do the Disney thing
By Bill DeYoung
You've seen the teens this year ("A Chorus Line", "Cabaret") and the adult company ("I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change", "Company"). On Saturday, Stuart's StarrStruck Performing Arts Center draws up the curtain on its youngest entertainers, with a double-header at the Lyric Theatre.
Act I, "Royal Revue", features the MiniStars (grades 1 thru 3) performing songs and dance numbers from beloved Disney movies and shows, including "The Lion King", "The Little Mermaid" and "Pocahontas".
It's followed in the second act by "Beauty and the Beast Jr.", from StarStruck's RisingStars (grades 3 through 9). This is another "pilot" show for the organization, meaning they're the first group in the country authorized to perform it.
Should the good folks at Disney like what they see, this scaled-down version of "Beauty and the Beast" will be made available to school groups all over the country.
As always, Jennifer Jones directs, with musical direction by Peter Jones. Shows are at 3 and 7 p.m., and tickets are $19 at lyrictheatre.com, and at the box office.
Theater review: 'Cabaret'
By Bill DeYoung
STUART — It’s 7 o’clock; do you know where your children are?
If they’re the most talented teens on the Treasure Coast, they’re at the Lyric Theatre with Starstruck Performing Arts Center, where “Cabaret” is onstage Saturday and Sunday.
There’s so much to recommend about this production, it’s hard to know where to start. It’s 15-year-old Philippe Arroyo, lithe, comical and made up androgynously as the Emcee; it’s Brittany Weir, all of 18, who inhabits the character of Sally Bowles as if Liza Minnelli were inside her somewhere; it’s the lingerie-clad chorus line of strutting young ladies, their faces painted garishly, whose choreography is brilliant, bizarre and appropriately decadent.
This Kander/Ebb musical has been part of the American lexicon for so long, with show-stopping Minnelli and her songs (“Cabaret,” “Maybe This Time,” “Mein Herr”) stamped into collective memory, the plot has become almost secondary.
Starstruck’s production brings it all back like a runaway train. It’s Berlin in the late 1930s; Sally is a performer at the Kit Kat Club, one of those naughty, narcotic, slightly sleazy joints where men come to drink in the dark, throw punches, and attract the amorous attention of the ladies onstage.
Enter American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Ryan Weiss), who begins an affair with the flighty bohemian Sally. All looks rosy until a sense of dread rises like bile: The Nazis are coming to power. Suddenly Sally, Cliff, the Kit Kat girls and kind old landlady Fraulein Schneider (Alyssa Beckman) are second-guessing everyone’s intentions.
The rising level of fear erupts near the end of Act I, with a sudden, chilling performance of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” from characters who are revealed as Nazi sympathizers (Sam Haas and Amanda Paul).
There’s a sweet sub-plot about Fraulein Schneider and a Jewish grocer (Kevin Connor), and lots of back-and-forth banter about politics, culture and the price of security.
But the genius of “Cabaret” is the way the songs are woven within the story — you really have to check out Arroyo and the girls, choreographed by Elizabeth Casalini — as the threat around everyone grows bigger and bigger.
Director Jennifer Jones and her crew seem to have a sixth sense (or is it a seventh?) for nurturing young talent — this is Starstruck’s third consecutive home run (after 2007’s astonishing “Rent” and “Sweeney Todd”).
You might have seen “Cabaret,” but you’ve probably never seen it done by such a talented group of performers. What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play.
Where: Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart
When: 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, July 5; 2 p.m. Sunday, July 6
"Cabaret" comes to life
By Shelley Koppel
Philippe Arroyo is only 15, but the Martin County High School student has already tackled some of the most complex roles in musical theater.
He played Angel, the gay man dying of AIDS in "Rent," and Tobias Ragg, the gentle soul driven mad in "Sweeney Todd." Now, as he prepares to play the Emcee in StarStruck Performing Arts Center's production of "Cabaret," at the Lyric Theatre from July 4-6, he has to create a character whom, in many ways, is the personification of the evil that was Nazi Germany.
He talked about why he seeks out such demanding roles.
"I like playing different characters," he said. "With Angel, before I tried out, I saw the movie. It was depressing and no one was happy, but Angel made everything better. That's who I wanted to be. It was a challenge. Tobias in "Sweeney Todd," was so nice, so innocent, but then there's a quick change. It's amazing how he turns into a monster at the end. The ending was my favorite part. The Emcee is one of my hardest roles, because the accent is difficult. Also, the character progressively gets more depressed, but he must keep connecting with the audience. He breaks the Fourth Wall rule of the theater; that the performer doesn't talk to the audience. It's fun. I've been working on the part on my own since December when I found out we'd be doing the show. I did research on German accents."
In addition to Philippe as the Emcee, the cast includes Ryan Weiss as the American writer, Cliff Bradshaw; Brittany Weir as Sally Bowles; Alyssa Beckman as Fraulein Schneider; Kevin Connor as Herr Schultz; Amanda Paul as Fraulein Kost and Sam Haas as Ernst Ludwig.
Rounding out the cast as Kit Kat Girls and Boys are Brittany Bigelow, Ashley Brooks, Olivia Carelli, Katy Channing, Katrina Coletti, Stephanie Duncan, Emily Larson, Lara Lough, Chelsea Mart, Christopher Mash, Christian Martek, Mason Platock and Anna Wnukowski.
For Jennifer Jones, the show's director, and Peter Jones, the musical director, staging "Cabaret" is returning to an old friend.
"Peter and I did 'Cabaret' as our first professional show at the Lyric in 2000," she said. "I was Sally Bowles and Peter played the Emcee. It's extra fun to know the show like the back of my hand. It allows me as a director to dig even deeper and find things I didn't see as an actor."
The show deals with a serious subject, the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s, and Ms. Jones knows what a challenge it is for her young cast.
"It's an intense show," she said. 'The characters are multi-layered and the students will have to dig deep to bring the characters to life. It's very dramatic and the ending is disturbing, but the show-within-the-show is the Cabaret at the Kit Kat Klub, and that's sexy and fun with amazing, difficult dancing. The music, with songs like 'Cabaret,' 'Willkomen,' 'The Money Song,' and 'Maybe This Time," is famous and uplifting and the audience will be tapping their toes."
For Ms. Jones, the essence of the show is found in a line from the song "Cabaret," in which Sally Bowles says, "from cradle to grave isn't that long a stay."
"We don't have a lot of time on earth," the director said. "Make the most of it. I told the actors to take that line to heart, and embrace they sentiment and do every single show like it's their last. I know they will."
StarStruck Performing Arts Center's production of 'Cabaret' will be presented at the Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart, from July 4-6. Performances are at 7 p.m. on July 4-5 and at 2 p.m. on July 5-6. Tickets are $23; call the box office at (772) 287-7827 or order online at www.lyrictheatre.com.
StarStruck's 'A Chorus Line', Lyric Theatre
Reader Review, May 5, 2008
STUART -- On Friday evening we went to see "A Chorus Line" which was produced by Peter and Jennifer Jones' StarStruck Performing Arts Center.
Before moving to the Stuart area we had the pleasure of seeing this wonderful show four times on Broadway. The show is filled with humor, sadness, spirited dancing and wonderful music.
We enthusiastically applaud the young and energetic cast of "A Chorus Line" for their stirring performance. Without being emotional, we must say we enjoyed the StarStruck performance of this hugely successful Broadway show every bit as much as the professional performances we saw in New York.
As the beautiful and gifted Jennifer Jones wrote, "They (the cast) can meet any member of any 'A Chorus Line' cast anywhere in the world and do all the same steps." We could not agree more.
Jennifer and her highly talented husband Peter Jones are to be applauded for bringing together a group of local junior high and high school students, and molding them into an almost professional troupe.
Along with choreographer Rita Jenkins-Gaynes, the Jonses are a precious asset to the culture of our area and particularly to our young men and women. Thank you for all your good work.
Gerry and Marge Tache, Stuart
StarStruck teens assemble 'A Chorus Line' in Stuart
By Bill DeYoung
STUART — After the 2007 double-knockout of “Rent” and “Sweeney Todd,” StarStruck Performing Arts director Jennifer Jones wanted to give her musical theater teens an even bigger challenge.
Opening Friday at the Lyric Theatre, “A Chorus Line” finds the young performers taking on one of Broadway’s longest-running — and most difficult — productions.
“My teen students have definitely been challenged vocally and as actors, and the way that they have not been challenged to this level has been as dancers,” Jones said.
“I have a real mix in the cast — they’re not necessarily my dancers at the studio. I have some kids that did ‘Rent,’ some that did ‘Sweeney,’ and then some that have never done this level of a show with me before.”
Unlike those Broadway blockbusters, this isn’t a slightly edited “school edition” of “A Chorus Line.” The students are tackling the Broadway version head on — a stubborn director auditions and rehearses dancers for the chorus line of a new show; the process includes revealing private things about themselves and their lives.
Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban’s songs, Nicholas Dante and James Kirkwood’s book, and Michael Bennett’s dizzying choreography are all intact.
“They are doing the original choreography,” Jones said. “It’s mind-blowing to see kids who did not think of themselves as dancers executing this choreography at the level that they are.”
Choreographer Rita Jenkins-Gaynes said “A Chorus Line” wouldn’t be the same without the Bennett touch.
“Like Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett has a very particular style that fit his body,” she said. “He was a small guy, and he was a very fast dancer. That original choreography is very intricate, fast work. A very recognizable style.”
With more than 40 minutes of fairly complex footwork, it’s a “dance-ical,” she said.
“I have known, from watching these kids work, how much they can rise to the occasion. Acting and singing, that’s their comfort zone. There weren’t that many of them that were quote-unquote dancers. There are now.
“And I refused to dumb it down. I refused to make this simple, pivot-step choreography, because I knew that they could do it.”
Jones found an interesting parallel between her teens and the success-hungry characters in “A Chorus Line.”
“I love that the show is about human beings that are reaching for a goal, and trying to get what they want,” she said. “It transcends just wanting to get into the chorus of a show. I thought, what better story for teenagers to tell?”
What: “A Chorus Line”
Where: Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart
When: 7 p.m. May 2 and 3, 2 p.m. May 3 and 4
Contact: (772) 286-7827
'A Chorus Line' promises 'one singular sensation'
By Shelley Koppel, entertainment writer - The Hometown News
The original Broadway run of "A Chorus Line" stretched from 1975-1990.
Its 6,137 performances held the record for some time as the longest-running musical in Broadway history. Conceived by choreographer Michael Bennett, the show won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical; Marvin Hamlisch won a Tony for his musical score.
From May 2-4, the young performers at StarStruck Performing Arts Center bring the show about dancers auditioning for the chance to perform in a Broadway show to the Lyric Theatre.
Jennifer Jones, the show's director, spoke about the show and the cast of talented high school students with whom she's working with.
"It's the quintessential show about dancers in the theater," she said. "It's truly about the ensemble, about the people in the show."
The cast includes James Channing, in what may well be his farewell performance on the Treasure Coast before going off to school, as the director, Zach.
Also starring are students in StarStruck's high school program, including Alyssa Beckman, Jordan Bean, Stephanie Duncan, Emily Larsen, Kelsey Moore, Chloe McAlpin, Amanda Paul, Mason Platlock, Lexi Savarese, Dallas Schindler, Dani Steinberg, Ryan Weiss, Maryna Wakeman, Anna Wnukowski, Hannah Williams, Morgan Meislohn, Katrina Colletti, Zack Toriello, Sam Hass and Bobby Johnston.
Ms. Jones has particular praise for James Channing.
"What he's doing is very exciting," she said. "He's such a fabulous student. He came to us for 'Once on the Island,' and went with us to Atlanta. He was brilliant. He was spectacular in 'Rent' and as Sweeney Todd. He's also been with us in two professional shows, 'I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change,' and 'Company.' He's proven that he can work not only with his own age group by with professionals. He's doing a remarkable job growing as an actor and using his wonderful voice. He has a passion and a drive and I'm thrilled to have worked with him.
"As Zach, the director, he's on and off stage, talking to the actors. It's a commanding role and he has that strong presence. It's a complex role. He has to encourage the actors to speak about their lives and he's auditioning them at the same time. He must be gentle enough to make them open up."
While Zach is the show's center, each of the cast members has a story to tell.
"All of the actors are on stage at the same time," Ms. Jones said. "All of them have their moment to shine as they tell their life story in song, dance or brilliant monologues. Bobby Johnston has a monologue that's three pages. It takes enormous focus and discipline to memorize."
Ms. Jones is particularly excited that chorographer Rita Jenkins-Gaynes is using the original Michael Bennett choreography.
"A lot of these kids have done musical theater, but not all of them have been dancing for that long," she said. "They are amazing doing the original choreography and we're so proud of them."
While the original show on Broadway had performers ages 19-24, with a few older than that, the StarStruck performers are younger than the Broadway cast. Still, Ms. Jones believes the show speaks to them.
"They're talking about themselves, their relationships with their parents, their huge, overwhelming sense of insecurity," she said. "They feel they're never good enough. It's exactly how teenagers feel all the time; will some one love me, like me, accept me? It's great that they get to tap into these feelings."
"A Chorus Line" will be presented by StarStruck Performing Arts Center at the Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Avenue, Stuart, from May 2-4. Performances are at 7 p.m. on May 2-3 and at 2 p.m. on May 3-4. Tickets are $23; call the box office at (772) 286-7827 or order online at www.lyrictheatre.com.
Stage-struck: High-schooler wows Lyric Theatre audience
By SHARON WERNLUND
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 21, 2008
STUART — Moments before opening for American political satirist Mark Russell and his musical parodies, 15-year-old Kelsey Moore waited quietly behind a curtain on the Lyric Theatre's dark stage.
As soon as the spotlight illuminated her 90-pound frame, the singer and actress erupted into a petite powerhouse with a big voice, rocking the packed audience with three Broadway tunes.
This was a major milestone for Moore, who before March 19 had never opened for anyone.
Yet the high school sophomore was unfazed by the bow-tie comedian and more nervous about her real-life role as a philanthropist.
Two days later, she braved a beauty salon's shears to donate 10 inches of her tresses to Locks of Love, a charity that provides free wigs to children who suffer hair loss from medical conditions.
"The haircut is a really big change," said Moore, the daughter of Dr. Don and Sabine Moore of Sewall's Point. "Being on stage really isn't anything new to me. It's what I do."
As soon as Russell went on, Moore rushed off to rehearsal for A Chorus Line at the StarStruck Performing Arts Center in Stuart. She has one of the leading roles as Cassie in the musical, which runs May 2-4 at the Lyric.
While learning lines and choreography for that role, she is also memorizing her script for the sadistic tyrant Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for shows May 21-22 at the StarStruck studio.
The parts come on the heels of Moore's starring role in February as Kim in Martin County High School's production of Miss Saigon. Her character's doomed romance with an American soldier during the Vietnam war ends in suicide.
And if this sounds a bit mature for a 15-year-old, think again.
Last July, Moore proved her versatility as an actress in the role of Mimi Marquez, a stripper and heroine junkie in the school edition of the award-winning Broadway rock musical Rent.
StarStruck, with Musical Theatre International, presented the PG-13 version of the gritty show at the Lyric with middle and high school students.
As a wiggling pole dancer at the Cat Scratch strip club, Moore in leather and boots stole the show with Mimi's raucous solo, Out Tonight.
"It's not hard for me," Moore said of crawling into the personalities of characters so different from her own. "I think about if I was that person, why would I do these things, what would be the motivation."
Moore's other talents shine at Martin County High. The straight-A student sings in the OPUS chorus, which recently won top honors at the Heritage Festival in New York.
South Florida Parenting Magazine features StarStruck alumnus Mary Elizabeth Bell on the cover.
From TCPalm - Letters to the editor
If you're searching for funny yet thought-provoking theater performed by a Broadway-caliber cast, don't miss this presentation. "Company" looks at marriage (and non-marriage) through the eyes of commitment-phobic, perennial bachelor Bobby, his married friends and his three frustrated love interests. Through a series of vignettes with these characters, we explore personal relationships: what we get from them and give up for them, and how we grow because of them.
StarStruck, Sondheim keeping 'Company'
STUART — Jennifer Jones is an actress, dancer, singer, producer, director, executive, wife and mother. Now you can add psychologist to the list.
She doesn’t have a diploma on her wall or a couch in her office. What she does have are five weeks of rehearsals as director of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” which opens a 10-day run at the Lyric Theatre tonight (March 7).
“I just have to direct that show,” she recalls telling herself after seeing a Broadway revival of the award-winning musical two years ago. “But how?”
She said directors have approached the show in a variety of ways. “The revival had the musicians pull double duty as actors,” she said.
“I decided to take a psychological journey. “I wanted to get into Bobby’s mind to explore what he thinks about himself and what he thinks his friends think about him.”
Bobby — also known as Robert, Bob, Robby, Robbo and other pet names — lives in New York City. He is 35, single and is unable to commit to a long-term relationship. His circle of friends appears to be limited to five married couples and three girlfriends. All of them have problems, and Sondheim’s show consists of a series of vignettes about their interactions with the aging bachelor.
In typical Sondheim fashion, perspectives on those interactions are provided by the songs. “The lyrics allow the characters to comment on the scene the audience has just witnessed,” said music director and piano accompanist Peter Jones, the other half of the multi-talented Jones team.
“The songs don’t move the action forward,” he said. “They offer a pause, a time for the actors to reflect on what has happened. That’s typical of the ‘concept’ musical, where the focus is on problems or issues rather than plot.”
Jennifer Jones said it’s a technique Sondheim uses to get the audience to think. “Nothing is handed to them on a silver platter,” she said, smiling.
Joining the local cast members are two New York-based actors. One is Josh Noble (Bobby), returning for a third appearance with StarStruck/Peter Jones Productions. He played Sid Sorokin in last year’s production of “The Pajama Game,” and Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast” in 2005, both directed by Jennifer Jones.
He’s happy to be out of New York for a while, and not just because of the weather. “Working with Jennifer and Peter keeps me coming back,” he said. “Jennifer’s directing is brilliant. She thinks like an actor.”
Jean Ferreira (Sarah, who has food issues and is married to the alcoholic Harry, played by Jonathan Cummings), agreed. “Jennifer is fabulous. She really takes time to explore your character and listens to what you have to say.”
The second import from New York is Douglas Habib. He plays David, the pot-smoking husband of the sweet but square Jenny, portrayed by Lynn Mozena. A world-traveled opera singer who has turned to musical theater, he is making his first appearance with StarStruck. But it’s not the first time director Jones has worked with him. “We attended the same high school in Brooklyn,” she said, “and starred in all the school’s productions while we were there.”
She will join him on stage again in “Company.” In addition to her directing duties, Jennifer Jones takes on the role of the acerbic Joanne, wife of Larry, played by real-life husband Peter.
Where: Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart
When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday through March 16
StarStruck brings 'Company' to town
By Shelley Koppel, entertainment writer
Hometown News | Feb 29, 2008
This year, audiences in Stuart have been treated to risk-taking in the theater.
We've seen 'Rent,' 'Sweeney Todd,' and ... from March 7-16, StarStruck Performing Arts Center's Jennifer and Peter Jones bring one of Stephen Sondheim's most audience-friendly shows, 'Company,' to the Lyric Theatre.
I spoke with Jennifer Jones about the challenges of a producing and acting in a play featuring both of the Joneses.
"'Company' is a musical first and foremost," she said. "It's a musical about married relationships. It's a comedy with serious overtones. It's an exploration of marriage about a single guy named Bobby who's turning 35 and his married friends want to know what his next step is. Bobby is played by Josh Noble, an actor from New York. We met him when he auditioned years ago we hired him for 'Beauty and the Beast,' 'Pajama Game' and now to start in 'Company.'
"There are 14 people in the cast and Peter and I play a married couple. My character is an unhappy person who has settled with husband number three. I'm most excited about the talent in this show; it's going to be the best professional show StarStruck has ever done. Vocally and with acting the cast is just phenomenal," Ms. Jones said.
In addition to the Joneses and Mr. Noble, the cast includes Doug Habib, also brought in from New York, and local performers Trinna Pye, Larry Brooks, Lynn Modena, Elizabeth Casalini, Colleen Phillips, Jennifer Shaff, James Channing and Megan Moran.
The latter two are familiar to local audiences for their student performances in many local productions; they're both graduating from StarStruck this year and are pursuing professional performing careers.
"The show takes you through short vignettes in each married couple's life and you get a slice of their life together and a slice of their relationship with their single friend, Bobby," she said. "Bobby also has three girlfriends who come in and out of his life. He's somewhat confused and we go on his mental journey."
The director has a very specific vision of the show's direction.
"My vision is looking at it through Bobby's mind," she said. "I am looking at it as if everything the audience sees is taking place in Bobby's mind, from his perspective. One of the coolest things is that all the couples are on stage all the time, making it a true ensemble. We have a really cool set. It's very intimate and we've pulled the stage in. We have a drop filled with fiber optics so that it looks as if you walked into an Upper East Side apartment for cocktails and are seeing the starry night outside. You feel like you're peeking through the window into somebody's life."
The choice of Sondheim has been an evolution for Ms. Jones, who really didn't explore his work until they were asked to do the school edition of "Sweeney Todd.
"I had to dig deep, exploring Sondheim's music and lyrics. He writes on such as profound level. I feel in love with him because he's a genius. The more you listen, the more you love. I like art that makes you think. I decided about a year ago that I wanted to sink my teeth into deeper stuff. Stuart has been supportive, embracing our kids and on a professional level. I'm excited to live in a town where I can take theatrical chances and feel the town will support it."
Ms. Jones will portray Joanne, a woman jaded by life.
"She's a hard-core New Yorker who drinks a little too much and is cynical," she said. "Deep down she loves her husband, but she wears a tough outer shell and doesn't want to let anyone in. I am nothing like that. I wear my emotions on my sleeve, but I know a lot of people like that and I'm excited to put together all the people I know like that and give the character realistic energy."
And what about directing her husband?
"It's a pleasure directing him," she said.
"He's a natural and the fun is that Peter will be playing the grand piano on stage in every performance. I've made his character a piano player; at times, he's in his character, playing the piano, and at other times, he's the accompanist. It's an exciting and unique aspect to our production and it's fun as a director to do something different."
Stephen Sondheim's "Company," starring Peter and Jennifer Jones, will be performed at the Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart, from March 7-16. Performances are March 7-8 at 8 p.m., March 9 at 2 p.m., March 12-15 at 8 p.m. and March 15-16 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $33; call the box office at (772) 286-7827 or order online at www.lyrictheatre.com
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!
Local students star in environmental documentary
Hometown News | Feb 1. 2008
By Donald Rodrigue, staff writer
STUART - Four of Martin County's best local stage performers were invited to make their television debut recently in a nationally syndicated school documentary.
And they're all under the age of 17.
Christian Martek, 16, Katrina Colletti, 14, her younger sister Andrea, 12, and Michael Risco, 14, beat out about 30 other young actors to win the anchor roles in "Eco=Kids," an educational documentary aimed at teaching America's youth to be more environmentally conscious.
Christian and Katrina, both Martin County High School students, filmed a version for middle schools, while Andrea, a Murray Middle School sixth-grader, and Michael, who attends Stuart Middle School, filmed one for elementary schools.
Katrina says she's been performing in live productions since 2002 but actually won her first role when she was only four years old.
"A group of kids came to town called America's Kids," she said. "When they asked me what I did, I said I like to sing opera, and I started singing this opera note. I got the solo."
She explained that when she heard the audience laugh during the performance, it was the "spark" that ignited her passion for acting.
"I knew that it's what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," she said.
Christian got his first acting break in the seventh grade playing the dog in a production of "Annie" at Murray Middle School.
"I really hadn't been in a play before, but they needed a dog," he said. "I wasn't into singing and acting, and I said, I'll just be the dog."
It was also the first time he performed with Katrina. Though he say's he didn't feel the same spark she did about acting, what did ignite was their friendship. The next year they acted together in "Once Upon A Mattress" and have been best friends ever since.
"'Annie' kind of started our friendship, but that show kind of brought it all together," Christian said.
Since that time, they've performed in several school productions, as well as community theater shows at the Barn and Lyric theatres. "Eco=Kids" was filmed at the Public Broadcasting Station in Boynton Beach, WXEL Studios, and was the first time that either had acted before a studio camera and performed without a live audience. In addition, they had to learn to use a teleprompter and stand for hours in front of a green screen, a high-tech method in which they would later be superimposed on several different backgrounds. They both said it was physically exhausting.
"It was hard to stand in front of a green screen for six hours," Katrina said. "It's so different than being in front of a live audience that gives you feedback."
"All that energy gets sucked into that little hole in front of you," Christian added, referring to the camera lens. "It was definitely more work."
They were, however some special perks they both enjoyed during the several days they filmed the documentary.
"We had our own dressing rooms and we had makeup artists," Katrina added. "I felt like a little diva."
Her younger sister Andrea says she began singing in the first grade and got her first real role at age nine as a chihuahua in a StarStruck performance of "101 Dalmatians" at the Lyric Theatre.
"I wasn't very nervous, just a little bit, because I learned from my older sisters," she said.
She won her first leading role as Gertrude in "Seussical The Musical," also produced by StarStruck.
"I got to be the main star, and that was very exciting for me," Andrea said. "I even got special treatment."
She enjoyed her role as an anchor for "Eco=Kids," particularly because there was room for error, unlike in live performances.
"It was very different in front of a camera - you could retake it if you need do," she said. "It's not as scary in front of the camera because you know you can get it right."
Andrea is also the only Murray Middle School student to have won the right to compete in The Florida State Junior Thespians Festival in Plantation Feb. 15-16. She'll sing a solo for that statewide competition, but she said her real dream for the future is to go on "American Idol."
"That's been my dream since about the second grade," she said.
When the production company producing "Eco=Kids," The Entertainment Group of both Jensen Beach and Palm Springs, Calif., wanted to find the best students to anchor the show, they turned to the StarStruck Performing Arts Studio in Stuart for help.
The studio currently has more than 200 children and youth enrolled in various types of acting, singing and performing classes, of which Christian, Katrina and Andrea take part, as well as performing in the studio's local productions.
Jennifer Jones, who runs the studio along with her husband, Peter, said she knew the three would do well in the "Eco=Kids" audition.
"These are kids who are born with raw talent, and to be able to train them and hone their skills is just a blessing," she said.
Mr. Jones is professional voice and piano coach, while Mrs. Jones has a background in community and professional theater. Together they help nurture budding local talent in their 5,000-square-foot facility on Southeast Dixie Highway.
Michael, a Jensen Beach resident and eighth-grader at Stuart Middle School, has been performing live since he was eight. He said he was selected to co-anchor the elementary version of "Eco=Kids" because he had previous worked with Christopher and Linda Lewis, the owners of The Entertainment Group, on another project.
When his family moved to Martin County from Coconut Creek six years ago, his mother enrolled him in a summer camp so he could more quickly make new friends. It was there that he performed in his first show, "Into The Woods," and discovered his new-found passion for acting. Even so, he was scared the first time he took the stage before a live audience.
"The first thing I said in the theater (before the show) to my mom was, 'I think I'm going to throw up,'" he said. "And I never wanted to leave after that."
He said he enjoyed the experience co-anchoring the project with Andrea but emphasized the big difference between stage acting and performing before a camera.
"The thing is, with theater, everything is so much more elaborate, with more hand gestures, but with TV it's more conversational," he said. "With (stage) acting, I'd be projecting more."
In order to better learn the difference between live and televised acting, Michael recently took a course in Fort Lauderdale, during which instructors taught him to "calm it down and talk like I'm talking to a friend," he said. He also auditioned for a TV commercial on Jan. 24 and hopes to soon break into television as well as work in live theatre.
"They're both great for me and hopefully I can keep doing this."
Mrs. Lewis explained that "Eco=Kids" is designed to make students more aware of conservation and how they, as individuals, can make a difference to the ecology of the planet. She said the four young anchors chosen for the project were remarkable.
"In this case, all four of the kids were very disciplined and a pleasure to work with," she said. "We worked with them every night for about eight or nine nights, and they were exceptional."
I LOVE YOU, YOU'RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE
Barn show explores love from multiple angles
The Stuart News | January 10, 2008
By Bill DeYoung
Those familiar with the term “date movie” will have no difficulty understanding the concept behind the Joe DiPietro/Jimmy Roberts musical comedy “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” onstage at the Barn Theatre.
It’s a date play.
You’ll recognize the first date jitters, the breakup blues, the new-baby bliss, the ennui of the older, married couple and everything in between. Over the show’s two hours, the six performers appear as different characters, in solos, duets, trios and full ensemble pieces.
“I Love You” then becomes a sort of “Saturday Night Live”-esque revolving door. You’ll get familiar with the actors and begin to look forward to seeing them in new comedic guises.
The play is directed by Jennifer and Peter Jones of Starstruck, professional show-creators, with their usual attention to talent, pacing and detail. In that sense, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” isn’t really a community theater production. It’s a Starstruck show — with some familiar faces and voices — brought over to the Barn stage.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The talented cast includes 18-year-old James Channing, who had the title role in the Joneses’ “Sweeney Todd School Edition.” He has an engaging baritone voice, and when he sings “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love With You?” — one of the few serious songs in the play — you might wipe away a tear.
They’re all wonderful vocalists, especially Elizabeth Casalini (“I Will Be Loved Tonight”) and Heidi Condon (“Always a Bridesmaid”). Bobby Johnston (also from “Sweeney Todd”) is hysterically funny as a tough guy sitting through a “chick flick,” and Lynn Mozena’s vignette as a divorcée making a dating video is heartbreaking. Larry Brooks is Stuart’s Mel Blanc — the man of 1,000 voices.
I loved it, it’s just short of perfect and, to paraphrase Billy Joel, I hope they don’t go changin.’
What: “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”
SWEENEY TODD: SCHOOL EDITION
Treasure Coast is definitely Sondheim ready
Hometown News | November 23, 2007
By Shelley Koppel
In the first 'Scene' column last summer, I asked readers if they thought the Treasure Coast was ready for a Stephen Sondheim show.
If the first audience at the recent StarStruck Performing Arts Center's production of the school edition of "Sweeney Todd" was an indication, the answer is a resounding yes.
The audience responded to the darkly macabre, often funny production with tremendous excitement at what they were seeing. It was so easy to forget that the performers were teens, some as young as 13 and 14.
They brought a maturity to their roles that kept them from being caricatures.
I had first seen many of these young actors in "Rent" in the spring; Philippe Arroyo, who played Angel then and portrayed Tobias in "Sweeney Todd, " is only 14; the tennis and basketball-playing teen wants to be a doctor, but he has a capacity to lose himself in a role that is wonderful.
James Channing as Sweeney Todd and Brittany Weir as Mrs. Lovett are veterans of many Treasure Coast productions and in this production they showed the audience the polish and professionalism that you expect to see on a larger stage. They both plan careers in the theater and it truly doesn't seem an impossible dream for such gifted performers.
Also notable in the cast were Alyssa Beckman as Johanna, Kevin Connor as Anthony, Robert Johnston as Judge Turpin, Amanda Paul as Pirelli and Jaimee Smith as the Beggar Woman.
The sets were wonderful, and Jennifer Jones, the director said that it was the most technically challenging production she'd ever mounted.
The split level setting with a shoot for disposing of "dead" bodies without hurting live actors was wonderful, and Todd Bearden, the technical director, deserves praise for that and for the oven in which Mrs. Lovett bakes her pies.
The makeup by Gigi Channing, costumes by Judith Williams and the music, played as always, by Peter Jones, evoked London's dark side.
SWEENEY TODD: SCHOOL EDITION
Stuart kids' 'Sweeney' an across-the-board success
The Stuart News | November 15, 2007
By Bill DeYoung
How ironic that the best theatrical production on the Treasure Coast in recent memory was done not by professional Equity actors, and not by adult amateurs, but by a bunch of teenagers.
Last week’s performances (there were only three) of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” raised the bar for every thespian in our area. With a median age of 16, these kids — students at Starstruck Performing Arts Center — not only sold an extremely complex and difficult musical, they sold it with all the right amounts of pathos, energy and dark humor.
Representatives from Music Theatre International, the New York licensing firm that green-lighted Starstruck’s “School Edition” of the gallows musical, were suitably impressed.
“The first word out of their mouths was ‘amazing,’” said director Jennifer Jones. “They loved the acting, singing, staging. They loved the directing.”
Peter Jones, who operates Starstruck with his director wife, adapted and arranged some of Sondheim’s music to fit the teen production.
They loved that, too. And soon the Starstruck “Sweeney” will be available for schools everywhere to perform. The script will include photographs taken at the Stuart shows.
James Channing, the 18-year-old baritone who brought Tom Collins to a boil in Starstruck’s summer pilot production of “Rent,” was mesmerizing as Todd, the London barber hell-bent on revenge; Brittany Weir, 17, brilliantly handled the comic scenes as daffy Mrs. Lovett (the role that won Angela Lansbury a Tony Award). Back from “Rent,” too, was the extraordinarily talented Philippe Arroyo as the half-witted Toby.
The lighting was stunning, the hair and makeup suitably creepy (as the play went on, Todd’s “victims” would reappear, made up like corpses).
All of that wouldn’t have mattered a whit if the Starstruck kids hadn’t been such strong and consistent vocalists (the chorus songs were especially thunderous), and if they didn’t fully inhabit their characters.
“I do not accept mediocre,” said Jones. “I push them to their absolute best. People think musical theater is about being able to sing well, but it’s not. It’s about more than a voice; it’s about embodying the character. And that’s what I get from my students.
“When James was rehearsing, I told him, ‘If you don’t find a time for the audience to like you, or love you, they’re never going to care about you. And if they don’t care about you, they won’t stay with the character’s journey, and the show is not going to work.’”
SWEENEY TODD: SCHOOL EDITION
The Stuart News | November 6, 2007
SWEENEY TODD: SCHOOL EDITION
Close shave: 'Sweeney Todd' world premiere comes to Stuart
By Bill DeYoung
The Stuart News | November 5, 2007
There’ll be some dark doings this weekend at the Lyric Theatre. But all in the name of art.
Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Sweeney Todd” opens a three-performance run Friday. The title character is a 19th century London barber who cuts his customers’ throats, then turns them into meat pies for public consumption.
Hardly the feel-good show of the year. But Sondheim’s dark operetta won multiple Tony Awards and contains one of the most beloved scores in contemporary musical theater. Director Tim Burton’s movie version, with Johnny Depp as “the demon barber of Fleet Street,” opens next month.
This weekend, for the first time anywhere, audiences will see the “School Edition” of the show. Some material — but not all — has been toned down.
Sondheim himself has been e-mailing changes to Stuart’s Starstruck Performing Arts Center, where 19 local teenagers have been rehearsing “Sweeney Todd” with director Jennifer Jones for several months.
Music Theatre International commissioned the Starstruck kids to be the “guinea pigs” for the teen version of “Sweeney Todd” following the group’s successful adaptation of “Rent” last summer.
“If they’re happy with all of the changes they see onstage, they go back to New York and work with their publishers, and they create a School Edition script,” Jones said. “And from then on, it’s schools all over the country paying royalties and getting those scripts shipped off. And ‘Starstruck Performing Arts Center’ will be in that book.”
The idea is to give school groups across the country something other than “Oklahoma!” and “Finian’s Rainbow” to perform.
Which suits Jones, who owns Starstruck with her musician husband Peter, just fine.
“We were really into doing more and more difficult material with the kids,” she said, “because they like challenges.”
“Sweeney Todd” also presented Starstruck with its most elaborate set design ever — Sweeney’s barber-chair victims are dumped through a trap door into Mrs. Lovett’s meat pie factory downstairs.
Jones recalled when she began to feel empathy for the demon barber. “We finished the second act, and I found myself drawn to tears,” she said. “And I’m thinking ‘Why am I crying? This guy is a mass murderer!’
“You cry because of the journey that Sweeney Todd takes. He was sent away to a prison for 15 years, for no reason. He escapes and comes back seeking revenge on the judge. And it’s his anger and rage, and all these feelings that he held in for 15 years, that creates the rest of the plot that people know.”
What: “Sweeney Todd School Edition”
Online: lyrictheatre.com, starstruckstudio.biz
SWEENEY TODD: SCHOOL EDITION
Staging ‘Sweeney Todd’ a challenge and a thrill
By Shelley Koppel
Hometown News | November 2, 2007
Stephen Sondheim’s shows are challenging for performers and audiences alike. His subject matter is not your typical Broadway fare.
“Sweeney Todd” is his Tony Award-winning musical about a man wrongly accused of a crime.
He is released after spending 15 years in prison, and vows revenge on the judge who sentenced him.
It’s a dark tale filled with wonderful music, intelligent lyrics and comedic turns.
That there are also dead bodies is probably worth mentioning.
Sweeney Todd, known as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, begins exacting revenge by killing people. An obliging baker, Mrs. Lovett, who makes the “worst meat pies in London,” is happy to have the raw material for more pies.
“Sweeney Todd” has been performed in theaters and opera houses around the world, but it has not been staged with a young cast.
StarStruck Performing Arts Center in Stuart has been given the honor of being one of four schools nationwide to premier the pilot for the school edition of the show.
They bring Sondheim to life at the Lyric Theatre from Nov. 9-11, with James Channing in the title role and Brittany Weir as Mrs. Lovett.
Jennifer Jones, of StarStruck, is the show’s director, and her husband, Peter, is the musical director.
Jennifer Jones talked about the challenges of staging Sondheim.
“I am in awe of his lyrics as much as Peter is in awe of the music,” she said. “I want the cast to find the characters through the words. He is a master. What is amazing about the show is the intensity of the characters. There is so much humor and the relationship between Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney is brilliant. Mrs. Lovett is so comedic. There is a morbidness to it because of what they’re doing, but it’s masked in the incredible music and brilliant lyrics.”
Ms. Jones suggests that theater-goers read the synopsis of the play that will be in the theater lobby or in the Playbill.
“Sondheim wrote this as an operetta,” she said. “It’s mostly sung, at a rapid pace. If you know the storyline and know the characters, it will make the experience that much more enjoyable.”
StarStruck was chosen last spring to the pilot premier for the school edition of “Rent,” which also has a controversial subject matter, and Ms. Jones says that the audience response was terrific.
“I have great confidence in our town,” she said. “’Rent’ was a smash this summer; the audience were impressed not only with the talent of the kids, but they embraced the storyline with respect. Stuart audiences are now intrigued. They have seen Rodgers and Hammerstein and although they love it, they are ready for more sophisticated musical theater.”
The director hopes that audiences of all ages will come to se the show, albeit for different reasons.
“Older people will love the intricacies of the music and Sondheim fans will love seeing it well done,” she said.
“Young people will flip out at the dark side of the show, the morose aspect, the physical dynamics of the stage, the costumes and make-up. There is a huge technical component to the show, more than in any other show we’ve done. It’s not easy to drop a body several stories when it’s really alive. People will say, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe they’re kids.’”
StarStruck Performing Arts Center presents the premier pilot edition of “Sweeney Todd” School Edition at the Lyric Theatre from Nov. 9 – 11. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $ 23. Call the box office at (772) 286-7827 or order online at www.lyrictheatre.com.
RENT: SCHOOL EDITION
Young actor a standout among many
By Bill DeYoung
The Stuart News | July 6, 2007
Now that the dust has settled and the cheers have died down, let's talk about the young performers who put on the world premiere of "Rent — School Edition" last weekend at the Lyric Theatre.
This was, without question, the most exciting nonprofessional production I've seen in my four years on the Treasure Coast.
All the leads were great, but the sold-out audiences were particularly impressed with 14-year-old Philippe Arroyo, who played the drag queen Angel.
Singing and dancing in an admittedly silly costume, Philippe — in his first show with Starstruck Performing Arts School — drew massive cheers every single performance.
"It made me feel really good about myself, and happy that I chose Angel to try out for," said the Palm City resident, who'll be a freshman at Martin County High School in the fall.
"A lot of my friends at school were telling me I should try out for that part, that it was their favorite character. And it was a very difficult part for me.
"I watched the movie about five times before I realized 'Hey, I can talk like Angel.' Then I was talking to one of my friends on the bus to a chorus trip that we were going on — he was the first one ever to hear my Angel voice. I said, 'I might want to audition for "Rent," ' and he's like, 'Cool. Which part do you want to audition for?' I said Angel, and he went 'Hmmm ....' Then I did the voice.
"He looked at me with his mouth open and said, 'If you do that, you've got the part for sure. Just don't chicken out when you audition.'"
So strong was Philippe as the unflappable singing-and-dancing Angel that no one ever gave him a hard time about wearing a dress, wig and makeup.
"There'd be an audience filled with high school kids, and even though he was onstage dressed as Angel, there were no chuckles, no extraneous laughter," said Jennifer Jones, who directed the show. "He was so believable as Angel that people just went with it. And that's phenomenal."
Philippe, who hopes to start a career in musical theater (it's either that or medical school), said the performance — and the overall quality of the production — won over some skeptics.
"A lot of my friends have seen the movie, and they know it's just acting," he said. "And if they weren't supportive, they wouldn't really be my friends.
"One of my friends was a little scared about it, but when he saw the show he said, 'Oh my god, it was amazing. I'm so glad you did it.' And he didn't like the movie."
I told Philippe I'd include this: "I really want to thank Starstruck, and to my parents for being so supportive."
Bravo, young man.
RENT: SCHOOL EDITION
With RENT, local theatre finally fulfills its promise
By Bill DeYoung
The Stuart News | July 2, 2007
We’ve turned a significant page in community theatre.
“Rent,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, is a contemporary show, full of the thrilling highs and nightmarish lows of modern life, 180 degrees from the fantasyland parables of those tired old Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals from the 1940s and ‘50s. These are real people, who love, struggle, band together and pull apart as their harsh reality dictates.
Since its Off Broadway debut in 1996, Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” has been justifiably praised for the deep-seated humanity of its storyline, and for the spine-tingling emotion of its music. This production does it justice, and then some.
Here’s the kicker: The cast is made up of Treasure Coast kids, between the ages of 14 and 18.
These young performers clearly feel the relevance of Larson’s story, and its boundless energy; the show positively pulsates from the moment the lights go up.
Kudos to Jennifer Paul Jones, who directed a vibrant and cohesive cast seen on stage – of any age. And to her husband, musical director Peter Jones – he’s coaxed amazing vocal performances out of the talented teens.
The show’s full name is “Rent – School Edition,” and Starstruck – the Jones’ student company – is its guinea pig. This version has never been produced before; because Starstruck won big at the recent Music Theatre International competition in Atlanta, they were awarded first production rights.
Members of Larson’s family, who oversee the late composer’s estate, have endorsed Starstruck, too.
Although “Rent” has moments of great joy and humor, much of the subject matter involves AIDS, homosexuality and drug use. Only the language has been toned down for the “School Edition.”
But that doesn’t matter; those things are depicted on TV every day. At its core, “Rent” is about unbreakable bonds of love and friendship. That’s an important message these kids clearly understand and so successfully put across.
Not to knock Rodgers and Hammerstein, but what does “Surrey With the Fringe On Top” mean to today’s youngsters? With “Rent – School Edition,” we finally have a show that pushers our young talents to the limit.
And, to be sure, they’re up to the challenge.
RENT: SCHOOL EDITION
'Rent' School Edition to hold its world premiere at Lyric Theatre
By Shelley Koppel
Hometown News | June 22, 2007
When students from the StarStruck Performing Arts Center take the stage at the Lyric Theatre on June 29, they will be the first anywhere to perform in the school edition of the rock opera "Rent."
Music Theatre International, or MTI, chose StarStruck to debut the school edition. Marty Johnson, a representative of iTheatrics, the educational programming wing of MTI, was on hand for the first rehearsal and explained why StarStruck received this special honor.
"We saw StarStruck perform at the 2007 Junior Theatre Festival (in Atlanta)," he says. "Not only were the kids amazing performers, but they were knowledgeable and passionate about the theater. When we are looking for a pilot site to work on new scripts, we want to work with groups that have flexibility and where the people in charge and the students are up to the challenge."
"Rent," written by Jonathan Larson and loosely based on the opera "La Boheme," tells the story of struggling artists in New York City in the late 1980s and deals with mature themes, including homosexuality, death, friendship, love and sex.
Its 1996 debut was given added poignancy because Mr. Larson died from an aortic aneurysm one week before the opening, at the age of 36. Jennifer Jones, the show's director, hopes to remain true to Mr. Larson's themes.
"The theme I am looking to pull out is about love; the love one has for friends and for their art and their passion," she says.
"Jonathan Larson wrote 'no day but today.' It's so important to live in the moment and not waste time thinking about the past or worrying about the future. He was all about living in the moment. It was a time when AIDS meant imminent death and he knew that every day is a gift."
Peter Jones, musical director for the production, says that the show connects with a younger generation because of its contemporary style and themes.
"It ushers in a whole new generation of Broadway theatergoers that otherwise wouldn't be so excited by classical Broadway," he says.
"Some kids that get excited about 'Rent' may know 'Hair' or 'Aida' or 'Mamma Mia.' They're already in tune with rock musicals. That is Broadway to them."
The talented cast includes Alicia Tomasko as Maureen, Kelsey Moore as Mimi, Jenni Lawton as Joanne, James Channing as Collins, Philippe Arroyo as Angel, Sam Haas as Roger, Matty Colonna as Mark and Ariosto Reyes as Benny.
Cory Jeacoma, 13, a student at Hidden Oaks Middle School, spoke about what appearing in "Rent" means to an aspiring young performer.
"I think it's a great show. It's not only that Jon Larson died. It's about love and everyone wants love. It's not about fairy tales. It's about real life situations and it really hits home."
"Rent" School Edition will be performed by the StarStruck Performing Arts Center at the Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart, from June 29-July 1.
Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $23.
Call the box office at (772) 286-7827 or order tickets online at www.lyrictheatre.com.
RENT: SCHOOL EDITION
Teen performers hope audiences appreciate message of 'Rent'
By Shawnie Dockery
The Stuart News | June 24, 2007
Dressed in a sassy red Christmas coat, peach-colored fishnet stockings and black high-heeled boots, Angel is ready to celebrate her life, her friends and love. However, at the end of the night, this drag queen drummer is 14-year old actor Philippe Arroyo.
The performing arts school and theater company StarStruck has been chosen to present the student premiere of "Rent: School Edition," a modified version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical "Rent," for teens.
Jonathan Larson's "Rent" takes place in the late '80s and details the struggles of a group of young bohemians in the East Village in New York, who encounter AIDS, drugs, poverty, death and broken friendships. It opens Friday at the Lyric Theatre.
"Doing all types of musicals is fun, but having the opportunity to do something edgier is so much more challenging," said director Jennifer Jones.
The StarStruck cast is made of up 37 students, ages 13-18.
Jones had to make some changes to the Broadway script to make it more suitable for younger ages.
"We removed some of the language, like the really strong curse words, and the song 'Contact,' but the integrity of the show is the same. The themes — AIDS, homelessness and homosexuality — are the same."
The cast found it difficult to relate to some of their characters.
"It's hard making these characters our own in the sense that they are from New York and we are here in Stuart. It's more challenging than most people think," said Kevin Connor, 14.
Natalia Szymamski said she is taking life lessons from "Rent" and hopes the audience does the same.
"We are created equal, and just because you do have AIDS or do have a drug addiction doesn't mean you're completely different from everyone else," said Szymamski, 16. "You still feel the same way, you still think the same thoughts. This play is opening our minds to not be restricted to what our parents think, or what people who teach you want you to think."
Although the material is mature, Jones has faith in her cast. She made sure that the parents and the students knew what this show was and said they were excited to present it.
"Kids today are being raised in a much more realistic world because of the Internet, and I think there is certain honesty in the parenting that was different from years ago," Jones said.
"By presenting this we are saying, 'Hey, this is reality.' AIDS is prevalent in our society, homosexuality is prevalent in our society; let's look at it, let's deal with it, let's find the healthiest way for all of us to live with it."
When auditions came, Jones thought that Angel's part would be difficult to cast because of the nature of the role. To her pleasant surprise, there were a lot of boys to choose from.
"I was really excited," she said, "because they were like, 'you know I'm a guy, I know I'm a guy, I can put on a wig, be a cross-dresser and it doesn't mean anything.'"
Jones is also thankful for the parents' support. Before the rehearsals began she asked parents to watch the movie with their children and talk about the various themes.
Many of the students feel they are making a difference by being a part of "Rent."
"One of our main jobs as actors is to be able to change how the audience sees the situation," said Broghan Wikarek, 18. "We don't have to permanently change their minds about gay people, or about people with AIDS or homeless people. Even if it's just for that two hours, they get to see it from someone else's eyes; they get to experience it differently."
Because of the musical's content, one challenge that Jones foresees is getting the community to fill the seats of the Lyric on opening night.
"We live in a town where, understandably, some families may not want to expose their younger children to the subject matter in the show 'Rent,' and I fully understand that and respect that," she said.
"My hope is that people will read up about 'Rent' and realize it's about humanity and about people sticking together through thick and thin, and that there are enough people that come to support the ideals of the show and come out to support the kids that want so much to send Jonathan Larson's message."
IF YOU GO
What: "Rent: School Edition"
Where: Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave. Stuart
When: 7 p.m. Friday; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. July 1
Info: (772) 286-7827
THE PAJAMA GAME
'Pajama Game' shows musical comedy is in style
By Shelley Koppel
Hometown News | February 9, 2007
When the StarStruck / Peter Jones Production of "Pajama Game" opens at the Lyric Theatre on Friday, Feb. 16, the performance will be a tribute to the late John Raitt, who originated the role of Sid Sorokin on Broadway.
Peter Jones, who plays Vernon Hines in this production, had the opportunity to accompany Mr. Raitt on the piano at an appearance at the Lyric some years ago and the two sang, "Hey, There" together backstage.
"Meeting him added extra fire and motivation to do the show and to do it well," says his wife, Jennifer Jones, executive director of the StarStruck Performing Arts Center and the production.
The romantic musical comedy is set in the 50s in a pajama factory.
Sid Sorokin, the new factory superintendent, falls in love with Babe Williams, head of the union grievance committee, which is leading a fight for a seven-and-a-half-cent pay raise.
The cast of professional actors includes Atlanta-based Josh Noble as Sid Sorokin; Sharon Owens as Babe Williams; Larry Brooks as Prez; Jill Erickson as Gladys; Michael Izzolo as Mr. Hasler; and Jean Ferreira as Mabel.
Peter Jones has taken the role of Vernon "Heinzy" Hins, the jealous factory timekeeper, because he enjoys the scope comedy provides an actor.
"Its' fun to make an audience laugh," Mr. Jones said. "On stage the audience connects to you..."
THE PAJAMA GAME
Musical 'Pajama Game' a winter blockbuster at Lyric
By Megan Kenny
The Stuart News | February 18, 2007
Forget a mere 7 1/2-cent raise — the cast of "The Pajama Game" could convince even the tightest of wads to shell out for a handful of magic beans.
Man, can those guys sing.
The classic 1950s musical, about the impending strike of workers at a pajama factory, is another flawless production from StarStruck/Peter Jones Productions. The show runs at the Lyric Theatre through Feb. 25.
Especially enthralling is Sharon Owens, who plays Babe Williams, a role immortalized in the 1957 film version of the play by Doris Day. Owens' rich, bluesy voice brings all the confidence and authority of Day, without the inevitable blonde ditziness. As if to drive that point home, Owens' Babe is a redhead.
The rest of the cast also is charming. Peter Jones, who runs StarStruck with his wife and castmate, Jennifer, plays the over-the-top, overzealous factory timekeeper, doltish and funny.
Both secretaries, Jill Erickson's Gladys and Jean Ferreira's Mabel, are the perfect shrill busybodies.
The musical, which won a 1955 Tony Award for best musical and a 2006 Tony for best revival of a musical, follows a group of factory workers who stitch pajamas for the Sleep Tite company and feel they should get a 7 1/2-cent raise for their work. Their boss, the grouchy Mr. Hasler, played by Michael Izzolo in his first role on stage, naturally disagrees.
Since it's practically mandatory in all musicals, there also is an unlikely love story, this one between factory worker and one-woman grievance committee Babe, and new factory superintendent Sid Sorokin, played affably by Josh Noble. If you think problems don't crop up between management and factory drone, think again.
The production indeed is flawless. Not a note is missed, not a line is flubbed, not a dance step is stuttered.
"The Pajama Game" contains some very familiar numbers, in the form of the sexy "Steam Heat," choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse, and the Latin-themed show-stopper "Hernando's Hideaway."
"The Pajama Game" is a must-see for anyone who wants to take in an extremely well done, professional musical's musical.
Starstruck's kids really going places
By Bill DeYoung
The Stuart News | January 11, 2007
Thirty-plus kids from Stuart's Starstruck Performing Arts Center are flying up to Atlanta this weekend, to compete in Music Theatre International's Junior Theatre Festival.
"They'll compete on Saturday morning with other groups — some are coming from Germany, from Canada and from all throughout the United States," says Peter Jones, Starstruck's founder, CEO and music instructor. "Probably about 2,500 kids are going to be there."
The Stuart contingent will include a total of 65 people, including the students (who'll perform scenes from their recent show "Once on This Island Jr."), chaperones, parents, family members and Starstruck teachers.
"Then there's two days of various workshops for the students (acting, singing and improvisation) and for our teachers (lighting, costuming and others)," says Jones. "The whole weekend is packed full of activities for them."
The judges are professionals from New York's theater world; there's no cash prize, but the trophies — not to mention the workshops, and the advice given by the judges — will mean a lot to these kids (ages 8-18).
But there's something even more valuable here, Jones points out.
"Some of them have never left Florida before, so this'll be an eye-opening experience for a lot of them.
"Especially because we live in a small town like Stuart, they tend to feel isolated in that they're the only ones that like musical theater — it's such a small group of kids, or so they think. But now they're going to be in Atlanta with 2,500 other musical theater kids.
"And that can only be a positive experience, to know that they're not the only ones doing this."
StarStruck performers earn their 'pilot' wings
By Jeri Butler
Palm Beach Post | January 19, 2007
They have had their 15 minutes of fame and are likely to have a lot more.
Twenty-nine musical theater students at StarStruck Productions in Stuart performed 15 minutes from their latest production Once on This Island Jr. before 2,500 people at the Cobb Convention Center in Atlanta on Saturday. The event was the Music Theatre International Festival competition, and 1,300 acting students participated.
"They won the Outstanding Performance Award and Outstanding Technical Achievement Award, and they are so excited," said Peter Jones, musical director of StarStruck.
And what's even more exciting, Jones said, is the school has been chosen by MTI to perform pilots of new shows.
"They picked us as a performing arts school to try out new shows to see that they flow and there are no glitches," Jones said.
The students of StarStruck have performed the student editions of Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof, Bye Bye Birdie and most recently Once on This Island Jr. at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart. On May 5 and 6, the company will present a Disney production of High School Musical at the Lyric. While they were in Atlanta, the students had a chance to meet popular teen actor Zac Effron and see the premiere of High School Musical at the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta.
Being able to perform student productions of MTI shows will surely add to StarStruck's repertoire and reputation as a fine musical theater school. Having seen the school's Les Miz and West Side Story at the Lyric, it was amazing to me that these actors were just middle and high school students. They have the strong voices, dancing ability and composure of much older actors in training.
For more information on StarStruck, call (772) 283-2313.
Trio of talented girls form friendship through their music
By Rita Hart
Hometown News | January 19, 2007
The contingent from the StarStruck Performing Arts Center boarded a plane bound for Atlanta the weekend of Jan. 12.
The chaperones and teachers were as excited as the performers at the prospect of the group's participation in the Music Theatre International's Junior Festival there.
Competing against national and international musical theater groups, the 30 students from the Treasure Coast performed numbers from "Once on This Island."
As a result of that performance, the Treasure Coast group won the "Most Outstanding Overall Performance" award, and "Most Student Involvement Technical" award.
What few may have known during that weekend was that among the group was a trio of high school girls with a wealth of musical talent between them, who had formed a deep and lasting friendship born of that very talent.
Jenni Lawton, 18, Megan Moran, 16, and Brittany Weir, 16, are talented vocalists who have performed locally in multiple theatre productions and singing groups.
Jenni, a senior, and Brittany, a junior, both attend Martin County High School, while Megan, also a junior, attends Lincoln Park Academy in Fort Pierce.
Jenni and Megan met first, when they were in seventh and sixth grades respectively, and both performed in a local production of "Fiddler on the Roof."
"That was my first production, and we played sisters," said Jenni.
Jenni then met Brittany when both began attending Martin County High School and joined the school's nationally acclaimed choral group, "Opus," which stands for Outstanding People United to Sing.
"Jenni probably won't remember this, but when I was auditioning with her at Martin County for my first show, she came up to me and asked if I wanted to pray with her," said Brittany. "Nothing has ever calmed me the way that did in my life. It was so nice of someone I barely knew to do that."
Brittany, who was named "Female Outstanding Cast Member" at the Atlanta Music Theatre International competition, remembers meeting Megan when Brittany was a freshman in high school, and both performed in "Bye, Bye, Birdie" through Shiloh Productions.
"I've done nine other shows with her since then," said Brittany, who introduced Megan and Jenni to each other.
All three girls agree that their friendship was cemented last March when they played the roles of sisters in the "Summer of '42" for the StarStruck Performing Arts Center.
"We did 17 performances, and we were always with each other," said Brittany.
Megan said, "That is the first time all three of us worked together, and that's where we really got to bond. Without theatre, I wouldn't know them, and because of theatre I've been able to stay in close touch, especially since we don't go to the same school. We all support each other in other productions that we do, even if all three of us aren't in it."
Mrs. Jones confirmed that there is no competition among the girls. "They've all been leads in shows, and all have been part of ensembles of shows," said Mrs. Jones. "Whether they are the stars or not, it doesn't affect their relationship with one another or anyone else."
As evidence of that, Megan will be front and center in the audience when the Martin County Fine Arts Department presents "Thoroughly Modern Millie" Jan. 25-28 and on Feb. 1-3.
Brittany has the lead role of Millie in the production, and Jenni will play the role of Muzzy.
"It's my dream role, so I'm really excited," said Brittany.
The friendship of the girls goes beyond their musical theatre connection.
"I've had a tough couple of years," said Brittany. "My father just died of leukemia, and they were there for me through the whole thing. I don't know where I'd be without them, and I'm so fortunate to have them in my life."
Jennifer Jones and her husband, Peter, own StarStruck Productions, and have come to know all three girls well.
"I think the most significant thing I can tell you is that they are very committed young ladies. They definitely stand out as young people who work very, very hard. They understand what commitment means, and they really act like professionals. There is no coaxing, no parental intervention. They work hard, and they want to be the best. They are a pleasure."
The girls do not see this commitment as something that will end with their high school graduation. "Performing is something that all three of us are dedicated to and want to do as a career," said Jenni. "It's nice because we do a lot of productions together and we do a lot of things together, so it's going to be hard leaving them."
Jenni is talking about the separation from her friends that will occur in the fall, as she has been accepted to New York University's music theatre program.
"It's something I've always wanted, and I've worked really hard, not just with performing but also with challenging classes. So I feel very honored to have been accepted," said Jenni.
The girls, all excellent students, seem to have an inexhaustible supply of energy.
Brittany is vice president of the drama club at Martin County High School, and Jenni is its secretary.
"In November, we were all going crazy because we were in several productions," said Megan. "We were doing double rehearsals."
This included rehearsals for the Shiloh Production of the off-Broadway show "The Taffetas," in which all three performed, once again as sisters.
"They are mature, they are lovely, and they are excellent students," said Mrs. Jones.
The week of Jan. 8, television station CBS contacted Megan, advising her that her music video, which had been submitted to the station for a segment entitled "Living Room . Live! Kids" had been accepted by CBS and would be shown on the morning news program "The Early Show."
On Jan. 15, her video was aired, along with those of two other contestants.
The contest lasted for several weeks, with three entrants shown per day. The public was asked to vote on CBS' Web site for their favorite performer.
The winner, who was not known at press time, will be flown to New York to perform live on the The Early Show.
"Anything these girls go through, they always seem to rise to the top," said Mrs. Jones. "I am very proud of them, and I anticipate them doing great things, whether it's Broadway or becoming doctors or teachers. They are going to be leaders in whatever they do."
Thoroughly Modern Millie will be performed at Martin County High School, 2801 S. Kanner Highway, Stuart, at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 25, 26, 27, Feb. 1, 2 and 3 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 28.
For more information or for tickets, call (772) 219-1800, ext. 32318.
SUMMER OF '42
Barn raises roof with ‘Summer of ’42’
By Bill Deyoung
The Stuart News| December 20, 2006
Stuart – Touching, funny and almost perfectly crafted
there’s so much to recommend about the Barn Theatre’s “summer of ’42,”
it’s hard to know where to start. An off-Broadway musical making its
Florida debut, “Summer of ’42” is an adaptation of Herman Raucher’s 1970s
film about three dorky, sex obsessed teen boys on vacation in a beach town
“StarStruck teens debut musical favorite ‘Grease’”
By Rachael Joyner
The Stuart News| June 30, 2006
Stuart – Thirty-four middle school and high school kids
from Fort Pierce to Jupiter dance around on a wooden studio floor. The
girls in the poodle skirts and guys in black-leather jackets sway back and
for the, faces beaming, hands waving as they sing “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
Born to hand-jive, baby, born to hand-jive, baby. Yea!”
‘Hello, Dolly!’ a beautiful, old musical
By Valerie Nienberg
The Stuart News | February 20, 2006
“Hello, Dolly!” is a musical in the most traditional,
“olde tyme” sense that is likely to draw definitive lines between people
who love musicals for their own sake and those who just can’t overlook
storyline. Playing now at the Lyric Theatre, “Dolly” follows the life of
Dolly Levi, played by Jennifer Paul Jones, a matchmaker extraordinaire who
learns that her own happiness is as important as her client’.
‘Hello, Dolly!’ at the Lyric Theater
by Jerry Andrako
Hometown News | February 10, 2006
Stuart – The play to be presented by StarStruck/Peter
Jones Productions at the Lyric Theater Feb. 17-26 is not your
grandfather’s “Hello, Dolly!”
SUMMER OF '42
March 15th Will Be Mariner Sands Night at Barn Theater for Summer of ’42 Opening
Mariner Sands Country Club Newsletter | February 2006
When Bob Eckert turned 90 in 2000, he celebrated his
birthday with a musical party for family members and many of his Mariner
I REMEMBER YOU: THE SONGS OF WWII
Jones and company really deliver in WWII revue
By Bill DeYoung
The News | December 2005
If there was any doubt that Peter Jones is the most versatile talent on the Treasure Coast, "I Remember You: The Songs of WWI" will lay it permanently to rest.
The 33-year old Jones, who produces several stage musicals a year with his Starstruck Productions, is first and foremost a musician. In this revue of beloved '40s songs, onstage for two shows today at the Lyric Theatre, he plays the grand piano, leads a 17-piece Big Band, and sings with all the warmth and intimacy of the great piano-bar crooners like Michael Feinstein and Peter Cincotti. He's that good.
At center stage during "I Remember You" are four singers -- Jennifer Paul Jones (Mrs. Peter Jones), Jill Erickson, Dan White and Colleen Phillips. In trios, duets and as a quartet they harmonize on "Moonlight Serenade," "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and other '40s perennials.
Each performer has a lovely solo or two. Erickson shines on "Skylark," White delivers a passionate "Moonglow," and Paul Jones sweetly interprets "One More For The Road." Phillips' standout number is "Imagination."
The For Dancers Only Band is solid, punching out "In The Mood," "String of Pearls" and "Pennsylvania 6-5000" as if they were the Glenn Miller Orchestra overlooking a USO dance floor. The trumpeters and saxmen stand for their solos, which is very cool.
The only criticism I'd have is that this show needs more choreography. As with "In The Mood," the great touring revue that celebrates the same era, many of these tunes invite tripping-of-the-light-fantastic variety. These performers are terrific, but if they were jitterbuggin' across the Lyric stage, that would bring up the energy level.
A minor issue, really. The lynchpin of the whole thing is Jones, whose tinkling ivories illustrate the ballads, and whose rollicking boogie-woogie work gives the swing tunes an added kick. He plays the piano as if he'd been with this band for decades.
Jones' solo moments -- "White Cliffs of Dover," "Serenade in Blue," "Stardust" and a handful of others -- are absolutely stunning.
Without him, "I Remember You" would be nostalgic fun. With him holding it all together, it's a stunning display of musical versatility -- and nostalgic fun, too.
I REMEMBER YOU: THE SONGS OF WWII
The Treasure Coast's Cultural Couple
The Palm Beach Post | December 2005
Around the Treasure Coast, Jennifer and Peter Jones are the musical couple of choice, both as featured vocalists for the Indian River Pops Orchestra and in such productions at Stuart's Lyric Theatre as Guys and Dolls, Chicago, Oklahoma! and Grease. For the holiday season, they have assembled a new show called I Remember You: The Songs of WWII, which they will be performing -- backed by the 17-piece For Dancers Only swing band -- twice nightly, at 6 PM and 8:30 PM, on Wednesday and Friday at the Lyric.
According to Jennifer, "These songs are all about love, about pining away for someone you love. It's World War II stuff, about my honey who went away and I can't wait for him to come back. Peter and I love that era, we're just two old-fashioned people at heart."
Tickets are $32.50. Call (772) 286-7827 to order tickets or order online at www.lyrictheatre.com.
BEAUTY & THE BEAST
'Beauty' is enchanting family spectacle
By Valerie Nienberg
The News | November 6, 2005
It's hard to tell which is more remarkable about "Disney's Beauty and the Beast" -- the costumes, the set or the cast. But put them all together and you get a truly spectacular experience that will bring you to your feet and leave you with a grin that's hard to erase.
The show, which opened Friday at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart, tells the classic tale of a beauty, Belle (Melissa Careccia), an "odd" girl who becomes a prisoner in the castle of the Beast (J.R. Coley), a once-handsome prince tortured by a decade-old spell. The Beast must make Belle love him and she wants nothing more than to escape, but over time they both start to see things differently.
You'll recognize the songs, including "Belle," "Gaston" and the showstopper "Be Our Guest," you'll probably sing along and you certainly won't want it to be over.
Director Jennifer Paul Jones cast the show perfectly, from Careccia and her lyric voice as Belle to Cole as the tortured Beast.
The entire cast works together like clockwork, but Josh R. Noble steals the show with his portrayal of Gaston, who seemingly leaps out of the animated movie and onto the Lyric stage. His smug, Cheshire grin alone is enough to draw a giggle, but then he opens his mouth and the entire theater explodes into laughter.
Careccia is his perfect complement, throwing out a disgusted look or rolling her eyes at the perfect moment. Matty Colonna, as Gaston's wannabe sidekick LeFou, is a master of physical comedy and has all the hallmarks of a star at only 15 years old.
The Beast's servants, who are slowly turning into inanimate objects because of the spell, play out their scenes on a beautifully crafted, elaborate set that fills up every square inch of the Lyric's recent expansion. Peter Jones provides comic relief with a French accent as Lumiere, and the remainder of the "enchanted objects" make the Beast's castle a place every kid would want to visit.
The show's costumes and makeup are the stuff Disney parades are made of, with Coley taking the cake in his tusks, horns, hairy hands and tail. Some of the scenes are intense and may be scary for young children, but "Beauty" ends just like you'd expect it to end -- on a child-friendly note that will warm the hearts of adults, too.
BEAUTY & THE BEAST
Beauty and the Beast enchants audience
By John Shannon
Hometown News | November 11, 2005
Walt Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" -- now playing at the Lyric Theatre in downtown Stuart -- is a fairytale symbolic of a young woman's search for her identity in the shadow of her father's eccentricity.
In the tradition of other Disney gems that explore metaphorically the psyche's development (Phantom of the Opera, Sorcerer's Apprentice, Sleeping Beauty) and in the hands of Palm City's own Jennifer Paul Jones, the director (and feather duster, "Babette") it allows for many interpretations, chief among them, as evidenced by the nonstop laughter, could simply be pure, uncomplicated enjoyment.
The script comes from Linda Woolverton's screenplay, with original music scored by the legendary Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (of Hair fame).
If the audience will allow themselves the full-on experience of an eternally updated fable that's older than time, they'll add to the enjoyment of the simple pleasures at the costume surface, which conceals -- like the Beast himself -- a meaning nothing short of a revelation, the epiphany of discovering for themselves the many messages one is able to derive from this masterpiece.
The story begins at the dawn of time, represented here by a beautiful maiden disguised as a witch holding a rose whose hourglass petals remind the audience of the maddening beauty of fate.
She knocks on the door of a narcissistic, handsome prince who soon will mirror his visitor as she punishes him for his disobedience by rendering him into the hideous Beast.
In a point driven home by the witch having gifted the fallen soul a mirror, the Beast, who finds himself and his servants knee-deep in the consequences of original sin, represents the very face of the chaotic unconscious realm (aka Mother Nature) -- a verifiable trip one may indirectly glean from C.S. Jung's The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious," for example.
The happy servants ("objects" of economic and social oppression) in his castle (the collective unconscious), as if hurled through the proverbial looking glass, now find the shards of their broken lives materialized in the guise of their chief duties: Lumiere, the butler, now a changeling candlestick; the larger-than-life matron, Madam de la Grand Bouche, now an actual walking, talking wardrobe.
It's left to Belle's alienation as the town odd ball to confront that which even her stumblebum father couldn't handle -- the Beast -- as she makes her way through the murky woods of the unconscious depths, guarded by such frightful imagery as the intuitive storytellers of antiquity conjured in the accurate visage of the vicious guardian wolves.
As if it were a blatant homage to the anima / animus theory, Belle is finally able to understand her father while simultaneously realizing her own hidden strengths after facing (and healing) "the Beast" born cursed, as it were, at the dawn of time...at the dawn of man's consciousness.
As the ribald songs chocked full of clever and guiding lyrics enchant the audience, Gaston and his flunky LaFou supply the comedy relief with characters executed flawlessly by actors Josh R. Noble and 15-year-old Matty Colonna -- whose rubbery pratfalls gives the popular animated movie version a run for its money.
Making such a grand vision possible -- though involved in it primarily for the love of acting -- is a cross-section of the local talent pool as well as seasoned professionals from as far away as New York.
Director Jennifer Paul Jones' incredible eye for detail -- coaching her cast on every aspect of the multi-dimensional landscape called the stage -- goes well beyond the brain-blistering corralling of the choreography, dialogue and timing, as she oversees the talents of her professional backstage crews which include music director, (and husband) Peter Jones, whose been a music director since he was 14; choreography by Danielle Karam; makeup, wigs and costume co-designer, the amazing Kathy Waszkelewicz, and many others.
The cast handles with poise and professionalism her succinct criticisms, as the meetings between rehearsals were filled with levity. For example, she instructed one of Gaston's groupies on her line: 'so...how 'd it go?' explaining how the comedy works via the enunciation and timing. One of the amazing dynamics of these pow-wows were the actors' -- laden and wary with heavy, itchy costumes and makeup -- ability to handle it, do it, and get it right, all the while seeming to have the best times of their lives.
When I get home, I just have to do my homework as fast as I can," says the Fork, 13-year-old Josie Murray, an eighth-grader at Hidden Oaks whose previous experience on stage at the Lyric was in Annie. "I love it -- it's fun! I'm looking forward to getting a part in next summer's Grease."
Daniel White, 22, plays Cogsworth the clock: "He's master of the house, butler of the house, an anal retentive guy. I can be pretty crazy sometimes, but he's not eccentric...he's manic and wound up like a clock. I work at Starbucks so I can relate," said the Palm City resident whose been acting since middle school. "I like the timing of comedy and the ability to make people laugh. I like being able to provide that escape for people -- I must have a Peter Pan complex."
Music director, Peter Jones, lends his Lumiere a smile so infectious that the aristocratic curl of the corners of his mouth take on an animation all their own, thus concretizing the role as nothing short of unforgettable.
Veteran actor, Josh NOble, 25, a resident of New York's infamous Greenwich Village, very humbly expressed his goal as an actor simply to keep working.
"the only way I relate to Gaston is that we both smile a lot and we're both big guys," he said, smiling. "But I find Gaston interesting in that he is the true Beast in the show. He's the conflict and the one who brings them together -- because he's out to get them."
Melissa Careccia, 20, says she doesn't read as much as her character, but she'd like to.
"I think Belle is very intelligent and wise beyond her years. Everyone thinks she's odd because she doesn't conform," says the Orlando resident and full-time student, adding that she's played Belle in high school. "I work at Disney, so I can bring those experiences into the role as well. I think I learned from Belle to judge people by their hearts, which is another reason she's a satisfying character to play because every night I get to present her values to the little girls out there."
J.R. Coley (a former Judas in Jesus Christ, Superstar) played the terrifying Beast, and like a lion in the jungle of a bustling back stage area, he kept one eye on his two cubs, Taige and Tegan, who were running around while he morphed -- in a matter of minutes at the nimble and vastly experienced hands of Mrs. Waszkelewicz -- into the mesmerizing icon for the group's last rehearsal before their brilliant Friday night premiere.
His wife, Erin Coley, a drama teacher, displayed her obvious love and support for her husband by helping out backstage, a dynamic the ubiquitous Mrs. Jones never failed to point out within her energetic cast, and within the play itself, which is why she chose to do it.
"Another theme in the show is the relationship between the father and the daughter and the incredible love that fathers and daughters have for one another, " explains Mrs. Jones. "And the camaraderie between the enchanted objects like Mrs. Potts (Heidi Condon) and Chip (Danielle Steinberg), the candlestick and the clock...no matter what happens to them they stick together and support each other.
"It's a beautiful story that is absolutely hilarious and so poignant it makes you cry."
The only way tot take in the meaning of the energies of so many gifted actors and crew -- too numerous to mention -- is to catch their next performance this weekend beginning Friday, Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. and, as the director suggests: "Sit back and enjoy an evening filled with music, humor, passion and love."
FEBRUARY - MARCH
Curtain Call: Theater is a way of life for Peter and Jennifer Paul Jones of Stuart
By Bill DeYoung
The News | February 9, 2005
Peter and Jennifer Jones employ a lot of people for their StarStruck theatrical productions - actors, singers, costumers, set designers and more.
At the end of the day, however, Mr. and Mrs. Jones make all the decisions. The buck stops with them.
The Joneses operate StarStruck - a professional-level acting company - and its music, theater and dance school, TheatreLoft, which introduces local children to stage work and its various components.
"We'll see something at different angles, but rarely is there any conflict," says 32-year-old Peter, the piano-playing, singing and dancing dynamo who started doing Treasure Coast community theater at the age of 9.
"And if there is any disagreement, that just makes the outcome even better, because we both have such strong ideas about how something should be put together."
Opening Friday at the Lyric Theatre, Starstruck's latest show is Oklahoma!, the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical about feudin' cowboys and farmers.
Peter plays kind-hearted cowpoke Will Parker, while Jennifer - who was acting professionally before she arrived in Stuart from New York 10 years ago - is Will's dim-bulb girlfriend, Ado Annie.
As the show's producers, the Joneses hand-picked the local cast based on talent - unlike community theater, the actors are paid - and Jennifer is directing.
And directing yourself isn't easy.
"The word 'slack' doesn't come into my life, with anything I do," she sighs. "I'm very hard on myself."
She can also be hard on the actors - including her husband.
"There's an appropriate time to disagree," Peter says. "It does help that we go home to the same house, and when rehearsal is over, we don't go to bed - we're up till 1 or 2 in the morning talking about how rehearsals are going, talking about the show."
Jennifer, 37, wouldn't have it any other way. "We feel so blessed - and I don't mean to sound cliche or cheesy or anything, but we thank God every day.
"We're doing what we love; we're doing theater constantly."
Peter Jones got an instant family when he married Jennifer Paul in 2002 - he is stepdad to her children, 12-year-old Amanda and 9-year-old Kevin (she's a student at Hidden Oaks Middle School, he goes to Palm City Elementary). Peter dotes on them, and proudly boasts that they are both excellent singers (the kids are also enrolled in TheatreLoft classes).
Although Jennifer's at home most weekdays (she teaches one class, on Thursdays), Peter gives music lessons five days a week.
And they're both in rehearsal, for something or other, almost every night.
"Considering our lifestyle, the hours..." Peter laughs. "The theatrical lifestyle does not lend itself to what people call the traditional family. It's graveyard shift."
Still, when one show is over, it's a while before they start obsessing over the next one. "We do shut it off," Peter says. "Although we are producing all the time, this show - Oklahoma! - will end on a specific date.
"And mentally, that's comforting. That's when we go on vacation."
Jennifer says that she and Peter are big believers in the concept of karma - what goes around, comes around.
"We run a tight ship, but we do everything grounded in ethics and morality," she explains. "We love our students, and the friends that we perform with.
"And we love getting to know new people in each show. Doing theater is always an emotional experience. I get chills just talking about it."
by Steven Martine
Stuart Magazine | February 2005
(filesize = 12 mb -- recommended only for high speed connections)
Ticket scalpers, sold-out performances and lines that stretch around the block are the new reality in Martin County now that StarStruck is here.
What started as a dream a few years back has matured into the hottest acting house on the Treasure Coast. Peter and Jennifer Jones are drawing talent from all over the United States to act in one of their six yearly musical productions.
TheatreLoft, their entertainment training center, features programs for thespians ranging in age from 5 to 80. Dancing, acting, piano, voice, guitar and improvisation are just a few of the programs offered by the dynamic duo.
In June of 1997, the two talented actors met while rehearsing for the musical "Pippin" at the Barn Theatre in Stuart. Peter Jones was president of a local acting group, while Jennifer was new to the area. At a friend's suggestion, she went to the auditions.
Together, they found a need for performing arts education on the Treasure Coast. Their creative drive formed StarStruck and opened the doors to TheatreLoft in February 2003.
IN THE BEGINNING
Peter Jones was born in New York and relocated to Stuart while in grade school.
While in kindergarten, Peter's class was performing a Disney Revue for the spring show. Peter heard the Mickey Mouse March during the rehearsals, went home and played it on the piano.
"I immediately had to take piano lessons from a 1970s hippie guitar teacher," he said. "That's why I think I play the way I do today. I learned how to improvise from a chord chart first."
Typically, people first learn how to read music. Peter learned by ear until years later. When he came to Florida and started lessons in his new home, his piano teacher was horrified that he couldn't read music.
"I started from scratch as a beginner, learning how to play by only reading the notes," he said.
His improvisation days were put on hold.
"Now when I teach, I use a combined approach," he said, "I start them with chord charts and note reading at the same time. I credit my own piano style to this combined technique."
Peter is also an accomplished actor and singer, starting his stage presence more by accident than by choice. He was working as a music director for a show in Stuart and, right before the performance, was asked to fill in on stage because the were short male actors. Ten years later, after receiving his degree in piano and vocal performance from Florida Southern College, Peter frequents the stage, starring in shows up and down the east coast.
"I enjoy making an audience think. Some roles that I have done are much more introspective," he said. "I enjoy evoking emotions from the audience."
"Moving an audience to tears or to side-splitting laughter is so exciting to any performer," Jennifer agreed.
Jennifer Paul Jones came to the area from her native New York a decade ago.
"I came to Stuart to escape the cold, brutal New York winters," she said.
Her acting debut came at age 5 when she starred as a tree in a summer camp performance of Little Red Riding Hood.
"I loved being that tree. I was definitely an animated tree," she said. "I was only 5 years old, but from that point on, I was always involved in performing. M family was continually entertained by my homespun musical revues."
At the age of 8, Jennifer played a lion during a performance where, as fate would have it, a costume glitch made her tail come unhitched. At the perfect moment, she threw the tail off the stage, never breaking character and never missing a beat of the show.
"That was the moment that I understood the control I had as an actor," she said. "When I did 'Annie' (at 11 years old) I played Grace Farrell. It was my first taste of being a starring actress. It was this fabulous role, I got to wear beautiful clothes, and I remember the rush of the applause.
"I remember walking onto the stage and thinking, 'This is it.' I really sensed I was doing something unique, and I wanted to relive that feeling over and over."
It was the culmination of these three experiences that made Jennifer realize that this was her life's calling. Then, through high school, Jennifer attended Belvoir Terrace Performing Arts summer program in Tanglewood, Mass., as well as acting in Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, NY. In addition to her acting, Jennifer sang in a traveling choir through her teenage years, ultimately achieving a master's degree in education from Queen's College in New York.
Growing up in the theatre arts helped make Jennifer a great teacher and director. Her life experience is the foundation of what she brings with her into the classroom.
"I know what it is like to be on the stage, both as a child and as an adult," she said.
She not only teaches technique, methodology and discipline, but also imbues her students with a greater sense of confidence and esteem.
"I work with them on transforming their nervous energy into adrenaline as they step onto the stage," she said.
BIRTH OF A DREAM
Peter has been teaching piano and voice for the past 15 years, while Jennifer, who was the director of education at a local religious school, was teaching private and group acting lessons. Five years ago, while conducting a children's musical theatre workshop at the Lyric Theatre, the two conceived the dream of a professional acting school on the Treasure Coast.
"We realized we wanted to raise the standard for children's programming in the arts," said Jennifer.
The studio space they found to house their dream incarnate sits above a local carpet store and fits the needs of the two. The studio's interior space is plentiful; one of the rooms is exactly the same size as the stage at the Lyric Theatre. That coincidence gives the actors the ability to rehearse at TheatreLoft and transfer their piece into the Lyric Theatre seamlessly. The rehearsal room has one entire wall of mirrors in which the actors can watch their every move, sculpting their act into a work of perfection. Behind the stage room lies the green room -- common in theaters but unheard of in acting schools. It provides a refuge for actors to relax out of the way of rehearsals. They can watch all the happenings on stage, wait for cues and practice their lines for their next turn on stage.
Murals and drawings done by their students are displayed throughout the green room.
"When I feel a child is creative, I try to encourage them in all ways, not only in singing or acting, but in any way that stimulates their growth," Jennifer said.
TheatreLoft also has studios where Peter and Bryan Phoebus teach piano and voice. Peter plays on a Chickering baby grand piano, a Baldwin upright piano or one of a few Yamaha digital keyboards in the music rooms.
"It is important that the people teaching with us are also working professionals in their field," said Jennifer. "Our improv teacher owns a murder-mystery theater company. Our piano teacher is also a music director at a local church, and our dance teacher is a professional choreographer."
Their commitment to the craft has led the two to search out only the finest working professionals to assist as teachers.
"The object of an actor is not only to entertain, but to make someone think or feel in a way that they haven't felt before, to see something new or in a different light," Jennifer said. "I try to express to my students how passionate you have to be as a performer. You cannot go on stage and be blase. It is the job of an actor to evoke some emotion from the audience, whether that is to make them laugh, cry, smile or get angry. This is their job as performers, and I want them to respect and understand the discipline it takes to achieve that goal."
Spending a short time inside TheatreLoft, anyone will understand the passion the two have for their craft. Students laugh and joke before class and then are suddenly paralyzed at attention, listening and absorbing every ounce of direction that the two veteran actors give. When it is time for an awkward teenager to read for a part, the transformation is amazing. Some students may be shy and quiet, boisterous or unruly off of the stage, but they soon learn to deliver passion and emotion, amazing the audiences when the curtain goes up.
"You have to smack the audience in the face with energy. You've got to be passionate and larger than life," Jennifer said.
In addition to running TheatreLoft, Jennifer and Peter volunteer at local schools in both Martin and St. Lucie counties. Peter frequently volunteers his musical services for various organizations and nursing homes. Jennifer also sits on the board of the Treasure Coast Children's Museum.
The couple attends all of their students' performances, seeing them in other shows, musical concerts and gallery openings. Their philosophy of teaching and their commitment to their students is all encompassing and never stops.
Peter and Jennifer's dream has infected many others, so much so that the two are looking to expand StarStruck soon.
"Our dream is to have a 200-seat theater with ongoing children's programs," Jennifer said. "We want to create a facility that gives children more opportunities to perform, enabling the classes to share what they have learned with their parents and friends on an ongoing basis. A theater would allow us to explore more artistic endeavors professionally as well, without having to incur the cost of renting theater space. We have teachers contacting us, professionals in the field who want to be part of StarStruck."
They have the teachers and the students, now they just need more room. Jennifer and Peter are thrilled with the support that the community has shown during the past few years but would like to expand to fulfill the large demand they are experiencing.
"Learning how to sing and act is so much more than doing a show. It is about learning how to communicate, understanding your emotions and honing skills that will stay with you forever," Jennifer said. "Being articulate, not fidgeting, speaking slowly, making eye contact and exuding confidence -- all of these are skills that reach far beyond the world of theatre."
To see some StarStruck talent, guests can attend the opening of "Oklahoma" on Feb. 11, 2005 at the Lyric Theatre. The show will run through Feb. 20.
Peter Jones goes back to high school
By Bill DeYoung
The News | December 10, 2004
After his recent sold-out success with "Annie," You'd think Peter Jones -- actor, singer, piano player, teacher and producer -- might slow down a bit.
You'd be wrong.
The next show from Starstruck / Peter Jones Productions is Oklahoma! and it'll debut in February. Casting is complete and rehearsals are about to begin.
Stuart's favorite musical wunderkind is playing piano for the Port St. Lucie High School production of Barnum this weekend -- the sort of thing he hasn't done for a long time, but the play's director is a good friend, and it needed doing.
So there you are.
"They weren't able to use the school band, and I got drawn in," Jones explains. "And after the hurricanes, they almost canceled the show. But the kids really wanted to do it. It was supposed to happen before Thanksgiving, and it got bumped to now."
St. Lucie High drama teacher Patrick Madden is a member of Jones' acting company (he'll play Ali Hakim in Oklahoma!) and explained to Jones that his production of Barnum, the musical story of legendary circus man P.T. Barnum, was worth holding on to.
"It's actually a very colorful show," says Jones. "there are circus bits all throughout the production.
"And a local guy named Phil Cavenaugh -- he sometimes does the clown Mr. Funnybones -- came in and helped all the kids learn juggling, and walking on stilts, and unicycling. So the kids have worked really hard mastering all of these difficult circus acts."
Shows are at 8 pm today and Saturday, and at 3 pm Sunday. Call (772) 337-6043.
Scalp job: Who's your Daddy?
By Bill DeYoung
The News | October 2004
When Brian Pecci was offered the plum role of Daddy Warbucks in the Starstruck / Peter Jones production of "Annie," the producers initially thought he might be able to do the part without going bald, the way everybody in the world knows the character.
"I talked to basically everybody I know," says Pecci, "and everybody I know said the same thing: 'If you play Daddy Warbucks, you gotta shave your head.'"
Pecci, who's lived in Florida since 1979 and in Jensen Beach for the past three years, is an optician with Stuart's East Florida Eye Institute. A semi-professional actor who spent three years with the Springer Opera House in Georgia, he got his optician's license from the University of Florida when stage gigs were coming few and far between.
"I started to balance it," he says, "because you may not always get an acting job, but people always need eyeballs."
"Annie," which opened at the Lyric Theatre Thursday night and runs through Nov. 7 is, of course, the beloved musical about Little Orphan Annie and her great benefactor, zillionaire Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks. Who is, to put it indelicately, bald as a cue ball.
Two weeks ago, Pecci went under the shears.
"You wonder what you're going to look like bald," he says. "As I'm sitting in the chair, I'm halfway thinking, 'You know, you really could get up and say, 'No, I really don't want to do this.'' Once they took off that first chunk with the scissors, though, that was about it."
And the final result?
"I was surprised -- it really didn't look that bad. The biggest thing is the maintenance. That's the one thing I didn't even think about. I have to shave my head twice a day."
Pecci says his wife had the expected reaction: "She was laughing hysterically. We videotaped the episode, and she was at work. When I got home that night, she was in tears watching it. Laying on the floor in tears, laughing so hard."
The polished dome also scared his young nephews. Pecci says, adding, "They didn't recognize me at first."
'Annie': Worth seeing 'tomorrow' -- or today
By Bill DeYoung
The News | October 30, 2004
So rarely does a local theater production enthrall and fully entertain an audience, it's easy to watch many of them -- some good, some not so good -- and learn to live with lowered expectations.
That makes the current Starstruck / Peter Jones Productions' interpretation of "Annie," onstage through Nov. 7 at the Lyric Theatre, even more of a delight.
It's an outstanding and colorful production of a well-worn musical, with songs and characters that have been, well, done to death.
Leapin' lizards! It's flawless from start to finish.
"Annie," as the world knows, tells the story of the Depression-era Little Orphan Annie,her high-spirited friends in Miss Hannigan's gloomy orphanage, and Annie's subsequent acquaintance with -- and adoption by -- billionaire industrialist Oliver Warbucks.
It's based on the old newspaper comic strip, and the characters are over-the-top and cartoon-like.
But who from recent generations remembers the strip? It's likely that more people know "Tomorrow," the hit song from this 1970s musical, and all the syrupy cover versions and parodies that have appeared in movies and on TV in the decades since the play first arrived.
Frankly, this reviewer had that treacle song in mind before the curtain went up on Starstruck's opening night.
All trepidation was dashed to bits by the time the opening chorus number "It's A Hard Knock Life," was even half over.
The 10 local girls who play Annie's fellow orphans are exceptional. These aren't professionals (although a few of the adults in the cast are), and I can't say enough about their singing, their tightly choreographed dancing, their comic timing. Their facial expressions.
The youngest is St. Michael's fourth-grader Brianna Scully, who looks like she's been onstage for all of her short life.
Annie is played by 12-year-old Orlando middle-schooler Stephanie Aardema, and her singing -- even on "Tomorrow" -- is lovely. Not shrill. Not cutesy-poo. Like every other young performer in this show, she is totally believable in the cartoon world of "Annie."
Have I mentioned that the show is funny, too?
The adult cast is outstanding, especially Brian Pecci as Warbucks, Karin Leone as his secretary Grace Farrell, and Peter Jones himself as the evil Rooster Hannigan.
Jones' wife Jennifer Paul Jones, who directed the show, appears as Rooster's dim-witted girlfriend Lily St. Regis. The two of them are hysterical.
Special mention goes to Stuart's Dan White, a veteran of numerous Starstruck and Shiloh productions. He gets better in every show; in "Annie," he appears in three or four roles, all singing and dancing, and he makes each character distinctly different.
Best of all is Jill Erickson, who plays the boozy Miss Hannigan as a cross between Carol Burnett and Paul Lyn de -- she steals every scene she's in, without overpowering the other actors, or the kids. You get to watching for her to re-appear.
Kudos to all involved, from the sound mixing (spotless) to the set changing (mercifully fast).
There isn't a wrong note in this "Annie" -- it's proof that even dated material, when done with talent and care, can still live and breathe wonderfully.
By the way: If you've ever though about how to introduce your children to theater, take them to this show. They'll be ...starstruck.
'Annie' brightens Stuart
By Jeri Butler
Palm Beach Post | October 2004
"It's a hard knock life" the little orphans sing in Annie, but we all know "the sun will come up tomorrow." This hopeful musical is now on stage at the Lyric Theatre in downtown Stuart, and it's a gem. Directed by Jennifer Paul Jones, who plays the money-grubbing Lily St. Regis side by side with her husband Peter Jones as Rooster Hannigan (he's also the musical director), the show will lift your spirits and take you to another time when optimism was in too-short supply: the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Jennifer Jones has directed a half dozen musicals for Stuart-based StarStruck Productions, including Guys & Dolls and West Side Story, and with each challenge, she sharpens her skills. Watching her in the studio, she shows her creativity while consistently encouraging the actors. It all pays off on stage, and in the case of Annie, it's a big payoff. The cast, the sets, the costumes, music, dance and comedy are clever and first-rate.
All the performers are excellent, but the stand-out is Stephanie Aardema, a seventh-grader from Orlando who beat out 130 other kids for the lead role. Aardema has a beautiful voice and natural stage presence beyond her 12 years (and she appreciates her mother and grandmother driving her to Stuart for rehearsals). Other exceptional performances are by Brian Pecci as Daddy Warbucks, Karin Leone as his faithful secretary and Jill Erickson as the nasty Miss Hannigan, whose comic timing and rubbery face cracked up the audience.
Performances of Annie are at 8 tonight, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. All seats are $32. For reservations, call the Lyric, 286-7827.
In the packed lobby of the Lyric Theatre in downtown Stuart on Monday night, Madelins Simms, left, and Brittany Lustig, both 7 and from Palm City, review the song "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile," before auditioning for "Annie." StarStruck / Peter Jones Productions' open call auditions had the potential orphans sing parts of three songs in front of director Jennifer Paul Jones. Those asked to stay were asked to dance and read through the script. The show opens Oct. 28 and runs through Nov. 7 at the Lyric Theatre.
Stuart's TheatreLoft gives young people lessons in the performing arts
By Bill DeYoung
The News | February 2004
Three 8-year-old kids are sitting at a long desk. Each is speaking into a telephone.
"Today is a great day," a girl says into her receiver. "I wish I could get off work today so I could see my sister."
Standing behind the children, Larry Brooks -- a grown man with an infectious smile -- whispers the word "sister."
Immediately, the next girl picks up the conversation. "I miss my sister," she says. "I sure wish she would come over so I could see her."
Brooks then prompts the boy in the middle with the word "her," and amidst much giggling, the word game continues.
This is Improv 1, the Tuesday afternoon class at TheatreLoft, which teaches acting, singing, dancing, music and other theater skills to children. The youngest student in the school is 6 years old, and there are several 60-year-olds enrolled in music classes.
Although most community theater groups offer summer acting and singing classes and workshops, TheatreLoft is the only full-service musical theater school on the south end of the Treasure Coast.
Vero Beach's professional Riverside Theatre has numerous programs for children.
TheatreLoft is the brainchild of 32-year-old Peter Jones and his wife, Jennifer Paul Jones, 37. They began the school four years ago, and last spring moved into a roomy studio / office space on Monterey Road in Stuart -- and with more than 100 students taking classes Monday through Thursday, space is actually getting a little tight.
With a staff of nine, TheatreLoft teaches the young, and the young at heart, from all over the area.
Self-esteem, Jones explains, is at the heart of what he and his faculty are selling.
"We have parents who call us up when the program's over and tell us, 'We have a new child,'" he says. "Four weeks after they were nervous and shy, and hiding behind Mommy's dress, they're putting on a little show after dinner in front of Grandma and Grandpa."
Life skills learned
Palm City's Alyssa Beckman, 11, takes musical theater dance, acting and musical performance workshop classes at TheatreLoft. She is also one of Peter Jones' voice students.
"Our friends had told me, if your child is interested in theater and the performing arts, you're only going to want to talk to Peter and Jennifer," says Alyssa's mother, Karen. "And now she really loves it."
Alyssa, a sixth-grader at Hidden Oaks Middle School, takes TheatreLoft classes Monday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons.
Beckman can see the change in her daughter. "I believe it helps in school -- if you have oral reports and you are comfortable speaking, or singing, in front of other people, it certainly builds those presentation skills. There's a lot of life skills that are learned along the way."
Most importantly, Beckman says, Alyssa has found her niche. "This is what she chooses. She's self-motivated on this -- it's up to her."
Sixteen-year-old Kim Kielbasa of Port St. Lucie has been studying voice with Jones for several years. "Before, I never thought she could sing," says Kim's mother Eileen. "And the improvement in her singing is unbelievable. I don't know if it was confidence, but he's really gotten to her."
Kielbasa has watched her daughter perform in several TheatreLoft shows, including "Annie" and the periodic ""Broadway Kids" revues.
"My daughter is a drama student at Port St. Lucie High, and she's interested in going into that kind of a career," she says.
"When you see the final, completed show it's amazing what they have some of these kids doing, thing I would never think they'd have the self-confidence to do."
Born in New York, Jones arrived on the Treasure Coast at the age of 9. A skilled pianist and a talented vocal arranger, he began working for Stuart's Barn Theatre, and in the early '90s spun off Shiloh Theatrical Productions with several musical theater-obsessed friends.
Paul Jones taught public school in her native New York before settling in Stuart in 1995. For four years, she was principal and educational director of Temple Beit Hayam -- until she met Peter Jones, that is.
Jones left Shiloh, and the pair created StarStruck / Peter Jones Productions to give the area more musical theater -- Paul Jones had performed for years before moving south -- and to put TheatreLoft into play.
"We're both theater junkies," says Paul Jones. "We know what it was like when we were 10 years old, and 15, and it was in our blood.
"I still remember laying on my bed, staring up at the 'Pippin' album and singing into my hairbrush. We know what that's like, and we can sense it when the kids are here.
"They leave here having a great experience. And theater kids may not be soccer kids, and they find their niche. They find friends that don't think they're weird."
StarStruck's professional arm -- all the actors, and technical people are paid, not volunteers -- begins a 10-day run of "Grease" tonight at the Lyric Theatre. Jones and Paul Jones have the lead roles, Danny and Sandy.
"It's a wonderful thing to be able to do this as a living," Jones says. "We're very blessed to be able to do what we love."
Lyric Theatre version of 'Grease' is slick, fast
By Bill DeYoung
The News | February 21, 2004
The 1978 film version of "Grease" is a horror.
The actors are too old to be playing '50s high school kids, the staging is clumsy, and the story is hard to follow.
Unfortunately, the movie, which was extremely successful, is probably the final word on "Grease" and '50s nostalgia, for most people.
I had never seen the "Grease" stage musical -- from which the film was adapted -- and, with visions of singing-impaired Stockard Channing, John Travolta and Jeff Conaway dancing in my head, I was not looking forward to Stuart's StarStruck / Peter Jones Productions' rendition at the Lyric Theatre.
What a nice surprise, then, to discover a fast-paced show cast with energetic and talented actors, singers and dancers. They aren't real teenagers, but suspension of disbelief is always easier to swallow in a stage show.
This "Grease" has very little in common with the movie -- it's fun, funny, lightning-quick and, best of all, believable. It is also the most professional-looking community theater show this reviewer has ever seen.
There are two people to thank for this. Jones, who plays tough-guy Danny Zuko, is musical director, and he gets strong vocal performances from every member of his cast.
The ensemble singing, which breaks off into doo-wop, rhythm 'n' blues and a cappella, all hallmark 50s styles, is uniform and solid.
Director Marc Carmen is also responsible for the choreography. At times, there are more than 25 people onstage at once, and never does it look cramped or stagnant. Several of the dance sequences are so complicated, it's like watching a three-ring circus: it's hard to know where to rest your eyes (check out the "Hand Jive" dance in the second act).
Everybody knows the story: It's 1959, and the senior class at Rydell High is divided into social groups: greasers, nerds and jocks for the guys, and poodle skirt-wearing "good girls" who don't get along with the "bad girls," a go-all-the-way clique called the Pink Ladies.
Enter squeaky-clean new student Sandy, who's teased and ridiculed by the Pink Ladies.
Over the summer, at the beach, Sandy fell in love with Danny, and she's astonished to discover that he's one of the biggest leather-wearing greasers at Rydell.
While Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's script is full of laughs, it's secondary to the music. From teen-bop numbers ("Summer Nights") to moony ballads ("Freddie My Love") to silly Elvis send-ups ("Beauty School Dropout"), they all help propel the story forward in enjoyable ways.
Along with Jones, cast standouts are Karin Leone as Marty, Jean Ferreira as Pink Lady frontwoman Rizzo, Jennifer Paul Jones as Sandy and Larry Brooks as the hard case Kenickie.
There isn't a weak performer on the stage, however, and they interact so well, with quick comic timing, that the ensemble acting sequences are a joy to watch.
The set, with a row of locker doors through which the actors come and go, is ingenious.
Everyone associated with this show is to be commended for bringing out the best in a musical theater war-horse that was apparently grossly misinterpreted by Hollywood.
With this production, at least, "Grease" is the word.
Jennifer Jones with JACKY MASON
Broadway Kids Cast, 2003
WEST SIDE STORY
'West Side Story' is a treat
By Jeri Butler
Palm Beach Post | July 8, 2003
If you had the chance to see the musical West Side Story at the Lyric Theatre over the July Fourth weekend, you had a treat.
Performed by the summer theater workshop students at Peter Jones Entertainment in Stuart, it was wonderful from start to finish. Expertly directed by Jennifer Paul Jones, with Peter directing the music and playing keyboard, the young performers showed remarkable acting talent and strong voices.
Particularly outstanding were Melissa Careccia, 18, in the role of Maria and Paul Baswell, 17, as Tony. The clever set was a configuration of metal fencing that created the illusion of New York tenement fire escapes, yards and streets.
On opening night on Friday, the cast played to a full house and finished just in time for the audience to enjoy the fireworks display in downtown Stuart. But they had already enjoyed plenty of fireworks inside the Lyric that night.
WEST SIDE STORY
Something spirited is coming
By Jeri Butler
Palm Beach Post | June 24, 2003
"Let's have the Jet boys in the drugstore scene," yells Jennifer Paul Jones, director of the upcoming production of West Side Story that will be presented by Peter Jones Entertainment during the July 4th weekend at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart.
Last week, during rehearsal at Jones' TheatreLoft in Stuart, David Young, 17, was waiting to take his place.
"I'm Riff, the gang leader. I'm bad. I die," Young said.
Shhh, don't give away the plot, Riff.
West Side Story, considered a Broadway classic with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and original choreography by Jerome Robbins, is the timeless Romeo and Juliet love story about two teens from different cultures; in this case, Puerto Rican immigrants and native-born New Yorkers.
On this day, Jennifer, originally from the Big Apple, is in her New York frame of mind, wearing a "New York" T-shirt and giving instructions with a twinge of a New York accent. Just about all of the cast members seem to be working on their New Yawk accents and attitude.
"You ain't never gettin' married; you're too ugly," one of the Jets says to another member of the Jet gang.
"Enunciate! We have to hear those words," says Jennifer.
While she places actors on their spots, her husband, Peter Jones, plays Officer Krupke, the funniest song in the show, on the piano.
"I'm distoibed. I'm psychologically distoibed," a Jet sings.
"Focus, guys!" barks Jennifer. "Say 'Line' if you don't know it."
If an actor falters, a prompter nearby fills in the missing line to keep things moving.
"You're gonna get these lines memorized by Monday, then it's boom, boom, boom."
With 10 days left to opening night, there's plenty to learn. This story is set in the 1950s, but teenagers with their own problems of acceptance, anger and authority can relate to the tale of star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony and gang violence between the Sharks and the Jets. It's a show that has it all.
In April, more than 80 students, ages 11 to 18, auditioned for Peter Jones Entertainment's theater workshop program, and 32 were chosen to be in West Side Story including Melissa Careccia as Maria, Paul Baswell as Tony, Angel Cerniglia as Bernardo, Angelica Melillo as Anita and Matty Colonna as the Jet member "Action."
Performances of West Side Story are at 7 p.m. July 4; 2 and 7 p.m. July 5; and 2 p.m. July 6 at the Lyric Theatre. For tickets, call 286-7827; children, $10, adults $15.
Troupers find ideal space for rehearsal
By Jeri Butler
The Palm Beach Post | May 28, 2003
After years of making do with whatever rehearsal space was available, Peter Jones Entertainment Inc. has a permanent home. It's called the TheatreLoft on Monterey Road in Stuart in the place formerly occupied by Turnabout Model Agency and The 4-Cs Club.
"Now we have room for costumes and props, everything," said Jones, who has a grand piano and a keyboard in his office / studio, as well as three gold brocade theater seats trimmed with fringe that were originally in the Lyric Theatre in downtown Stuart.
"This floor is about the same size as the Lyric stage," said Jones, pointing to the dance studio's purple wood floor lined with mirrors on one side. Adjacent to this large room is the smaller Green Room, where young stars and students can hang out on beanbag chairs. It's also the place for musical Broadway Birthdays for a per-person fee. Outside the Can Can Room (water closet), wallpapered with fashion magazine covers, stands the studio's mascot "Steiny," a Frankenstein mannequin appropriately attired in a purple boa.
Jones, 31, a graduate of Martin County High School, studied piano in Stuart with Dale Gudeman and is also gifted with a fine voice and dramatic skills. He has produced and appeared in numerous shows at the Lyric Theatre including Oklahoma!, Guys & Dolls and Bye Bye Birdie, and in March accompanied singer John Raitt at a show to raise money for the Lyric's expansion.
"Next year, we're doing an adult version of Grease and I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, which is hilarious," Jones said. "It's like Seinfeld to music."
Next month, 30 students who auditioned and were accepted for Jones' summer musical West Side Story begin rehearsals at the studio. It will be directed by Jennifer Paul Jones, Peter's wife, who also sings and dances, and presented at the Lyric Theatre July 4-6.
The Joneses, Danny Benz and Melissa Careccia will teach a three-week musical theater camp called "Rising Stars" from July 7-25 at the TheatreLoft. It is from 8:30 am to 2:45 pm weekdays, costs $600 and includes acting, singing and puppetry.
On June 16, auditions for Grease and I Love You, YOu're Perfect, Now Change will be held at 7 pm at the studio. Be prepared to sing 16 bars of your favorite 1950s up-tempo song (not from Grease) and dance. A head-and-shoulders photograph and resume are also required. For information, call 283-2313. The TheatreLoft is at 584 SE Monterey Road in Stuart.
PETER JONES & FRIENDS
Jones, friends quite a show
By Jeri Butler
The Palm Beach Post | April 2003
Adorable. Boyish. Talented. Those are just a few adjectives that describe Peter Jones, pianist, singer, arranger, conductor, the person who presented "Peter Jones & Friends" at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart last week. Like Tony Bennett, Peter has groupies. At the Friday matinee, not-so-teenaged gals in the front row of the theater squealed with delight when he opened the show singing Kiss me once, and kiss me twice, and kiss me once again, it's been a long, long time. They held up pink signs with hearts sprinkled on them that said "Bravo, Peter" which he seemed to appreciate.
Peter is at his best when he sings the mellow oldies such as Nat King Cole tunes, starting slowly, his fingers caressing the piano keys, and then picking up the tempo. On Friday he sang Cole's jazzy Straighten Up and Fly Right and also gave the audience a music history lesson. "One month when he needed rent money, Nat King Cole sold the song for $50," Peter said. He then introduced his wife, Jennifer Paul Jones, an excellent cabaret singer, with the appropriate Have You Met Miss Jones? and the couple had fun on the song Making Whoopee. Jennifer is lovely but not above poking fun at herself. Wearing a slinky red sequin strapless gown, she said, "Backstage they said I looked like Jessica Rabbit."
Joining the couple were singers Jill Erickson, Karin Leone, Charles Jones and John Erickson, who have all been friends for years. Karin, Charles, John and Peter sang in OPUS at Martin County High School and have stayed in touch since the late 1980s.
OPUS, a chorus under the direction of Ron Corbin, has produced many wonderful singers and is still winning gold medals in national choral competitions.
Among duets and solos, the female friends did a rousing song-and-dance rendition of All That Jazz wearing sleek black wigs, and later, Mr. Sandman, looking and sounding like the McGuire Sisters. The male friends brought down the house with There's Nothing Like A Dame from South Pacific, and Jill, an alto, showed her comic talent on a clever, theatrical Alto's Lament singing the melody of Broadway tunes followed by her "boring" alto part. "Just give me a shot a the melody," she moaned.
Peter Jones & Friends had a super backup band with Stuart Middle School music director and saxophonist Al Hager on bass, Stix Nickson on drums and Mark Green on trumpet, flugelhorn AND flute.
For information on Peter Jones Entertainment, call 283-2313.
Broadway’s Raitt lends voice to Lyric fund-raiser
By Brian Bixler
The News | March 2003
When Lyric Theatre board member Robert Eckert decided to raise funds to renovate the historic landmark, he asked a few good friend to help him out.
Friends like Broadway legend John Raitt, mezzo-soprano Cynthia Clarey, pianist John Covelli and Stuart’s own entertainer Peter Jones.
All three of them will lend their considerable musical talents to “Music of My Friends II,” a fund-raising concert 8 p.m. Saturday at the Lyric.
Eckert’s friendship with Raitt, the original Billy Bigelow in the musical “Carousel” and star of 1954’s “The Pajama Game,” goes back 35 years to when Eckert first hired the baritone to perform for a community Christmas concert in Hartford, Conn.
The men remained friends ever since.
“I’ve seen him in at least 10 different productions,” Eckert sad of Raitt, who is also the father of singer Bonnie Raitt.
Now 86, he will perform songs from his most famous musicals, sharing the stage with Clarey, whose credits include the Peter Brook-directed “La Tragedie de Carmen”; and Covelli, a renowned pianist/conductor whose musical successes span the worlds of orchestra, solo piano, chamber music, opera, ballet, Broadway and pops.
A few $50 tickets were still available earlier this week for the public, but Eckert had already given most of them to friends in exchange for donations to help the Lyric expand its stage. Construction is expected to begin on the project this summer.
Eckert hopes to announce a sizeable donation to the Lyric at Saturday’s concert.
For tickets, call 286-7827.
Two years ago, Robert Eckert, a Lyric Theatre board member, celebrated is birthday at the Stuart theater with a “Music of My Friends” benefit. It was a success, raising $20,000 for balcony and lobby renovations.
Saturday, Eckert is producing “Music of My Friends II,” featuring John Raitt, known for his starring roles in Carousel, South Pacific, and other Broadway musicals (as well as being father of Bonnie Raitt). Accompanying him is pianist Peter Jones, whose theatrical company in Stuart just completed a successful run of Guys & Dolls at the Lyric. Jones will also play a medley of Nat King Cole favorites. Joining Raitt and Jones is classical pianist John Covelli, who will perform an interpretation of George Gershwin’s music, and mezzo-soprano Cynthia Clarey, who has starred in Carmen and Porgy and Bess.
GUYS & DOLLS
Peter Jones delivers great, big, beautiful ‘Dolls’
By Brian Bixler
The News | February 2003
Even if you’re not a gambling person, here’s a safe bet: Peter Jones Entertainment’s production of “Guys and Dolls” at the Lyric Theatre is one of the best locally produced musicals you’ll see this season.
Fast-paced, flashy and bursting with talent, it’s a wonderfully exciting way to rediscover Frank Loesser’s classic.
Much of the credit goes to director/choreographer Jared Walker, who not only helms this jaunty, sparkling show, but literally wears another hat – along with other fedora-topped cast members – as man-about-Manhattan Sky Masterson.
With a certain swagger, Walker plays a cocky gambler who bets he can win the heart of a straight-laced missionary Sarah Brown (Karin Leone). The odds are in his favor when he, too, unexpectedly falls in love.
The other side of the coin is a parallel love story of commitment-phobic Nathan Detroit (Peter Jones) who is coerced into ending his perennial engagement to a showgirl, Miss Adelaide (Jennifer Paul Jones) by finally marrying her.
The action throughout the show revolves around Nathan’s attempts to find a spot for his floating crap game, far from the eyes of the hard-nosed police officer, Lt. Brannigan, while keeping his relationship with Adelaide intact.
Walker brings it all together with a splash of cartoon color that washes the stage in pinstripes, plaids and polka dots on the eye-popping costumes, most of which appear to have been rented.
The top guys and dolls in this show, all of them excellent vocalists, deliver outstanding performances. Peter Jones is in fine form as Nathan, giving the hardened gambler a soft, comical edge with broad gestures and an authentic-sounding New York accent.
His real-life wife, Jennifer Jones, steers clear of playing a cliche dumb blonde, imbuing Adelaide with a beguiling innocence while mustering up her comedic wiles to sell her solo songs, particularly “ Adelaide’s Lament.”
Though dancing seems to present Leone’s biggest challenge, she combines powerful vocals with superb acting for a winning portrayal of Sarah; and Walker does it all – dancing, singing and acting – with great flair.
Some may wonder why Patrick Madden, looking a lot like Martin Short as Jiminy Glick, is saddled with a fat suit to play Nicely-Nicely Johnson, until they see him eating food in every scene – a nice comic thread woven through the production. Madden also shines in the rousing second-act number, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”
Lead performances aside, some of the show’s most memorable moments come from the ensemble dancers, including a fine-feathered rendition of “Bushel and a Peck,” a teasingly playful “Take Back Your Mink,” and a thrillingly balletic “Luck Be A Lady Tonight,” which best showcases Walker’s crisp choreography.
As music director, Jones has foregone a live orchestra for this production, opting instead to have Bryan Phoebus engineer the score through a keyboard that provides a full sound.
“Guys and Dolls” has been around for more than half a century now. If you’ve never been in love with it before, you will be after seeing this production.
Melissa Careccia, David Young, Angelica Melilo and Kevin King lead the Peter Jones Entertainment production of Oklahoma! The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, performed by members of Jones' summer theater workshop for teens, opens today at the Lyric Theatre.
For some kids, summer fun is a song and dance
By Brian Bixler
The News | June 2002
Summer camp isn't always campfire songs, roasted
marshmallows and cabins in the woods.
Jones goes to town with production of 'Chicago'
By Brian Bixler
The News | February 2002
When audiences gather at the Lyric Theatre for the musical Chicago, producer Peter Jones has plans to razzle-dazzle 'em.
"I think our Treasure Coast audiences have risen to a level of sophistication to handle more cutting-edge musical theater," said Jones, whose company is staging the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical beginning Thursday in Stuart.
That means Jones has no plans of toning down the sexually charged show that originally was staged by choreographer Bob Fosse more than 25 years ago. Chicago, which includes such memorable songs as All That Jazz and Razzle Dazzle, has become a steady ticket on Broadway following an award-winning revival in 1996.
Jones said he realized local audiences were looking for something other than Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals after he directed a Kander and Ebb revue in 1999. Because of that, he decided to stage Chicago.
"When I originally did (the revue) The World Goes 'Round, I found that local audiences responded very well to the almost provocative nature of Kander and Ebb's music. And very sexy choreography. And that's not something local audiences are used to going to the Lyric Theatre to see," he said.
"Plus, I have my personal favorites; and that, of course, comes into play when I'm choosing a show."
Originally directed and choreographed by Fosse in 1975, Chicago is based on a true story from the 1930s that focuses on a pair of accused murderesses who are determined to turn their infamy into celebrity.
The main characters, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, are based on real-life killers whose stories made the front pages thanks to Chicago Tribune journalist Maurine Watkins. Velma, half of a vaudevillian sister act, shot her sibling after catching her in the arms of Velma's husband. In the musical, her high-profile crime has captured the interest of the media, but becomes old news when an adulterous chorus girl, Roxie, kills her lover. Roxie and Velma battle one another for bigger headlines.
With slick defense lawyer Billy Flynn on both cases, manipulation of the media begins, and both murderesses turn their sensational crimes into star vehicles that bring them fame.
Jones, who plays Flynn as well as being the show's musical director, has surrounded himself with many of the same members of the creative team that worked with on another Kander and Ebb show, Cabaret, last year at the Lyric.
Choreographer Joanne DePrizio said she tried to remain faithful to the original show.
"My major thing was to keep the intent of the Fosse style in the dances, yet use my own choreography," DePrizio said, adding that Fosse "was such a master. He totally broke every rule of dance and that's what no choreographer does and that's why I'm attracted to his work."
DePrizio, who danced in the show during another South Florida production about 10 years ago, will play the part of Roxie at the Lyric. The musical is one of her favorites, she said.
"The story itself is very entertaining because it makes you think about how the justice system works and how it doesn't work," she said. "Each character is very interesting because you watch them go from manipulative to sweet and honest to manipulative again."
Jones said he has doubled the orchestra for this show from the quartet that was used in Cabaret. An eight-piece ensemble will include new instruments such as a tuba and violin under the direction of Gary Power.
The cast will also include Jennifer Paul as Velma and Jill Erickson as Matron "Mama" Morton. Both actresses have become fixtures in Jones' productions. Jim Docter will play the part of Amos, Roxie's husband. The show's director is Rae Randall.
Peter Jones Entertainment's production of Chicago opens Thursday and runs through march 2 at the Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday and Feb. 22-23, Feb. 28 to March 2, and 2 p.m. Feb. 24. Tickets are $27. Call 286-7827.
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Kit Kat Klub
Members of the Kander & Ebb musical Cabaret. Cabaret is being performed at the Lyric Theatre, Stuart, April 25th to the 28th. For tickets, call the Lyric Theatre box office at 286-7827.
'Cabaret' should give audiences a jolt
By Brian Bixler
The News | April 2001
It's easy to get caught up in some of the more light-hearted music of Cabaret.
After all, who wouldn't get a laugh from a man with a banana singing a love song to a woman dressed in an ape suit, or giggle and blush at a song about a menage a trois while its participants riddle about under a sheet onstage.
Such shenanigans and bawdy behavior could make it easy to forget the seriousness of the musical's story: While Berlin's residents are clowning and cavorting at the city's Kit Kat Klub, the winds of politics are shifting at a dangerous pace.
Peter Jones Entertainment's current production of Cabaret at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart doesn't allow its audience to become as complacent as the denizens of the Kit Kat Klub. The jolting production makes us sit up and pay attention while the fear that accompanies the rise of Nazi power in Germany slaps us in the face.
Until now, Jones' production company has been known for producing some well-polished revues. This show should put PJE on the map as a viable theatrical company, capable of staging full-scale musicals that are more than one-night stands.
Though he has dual roles as musical director and cast member, playing the Master of Ceremonies, Jones wisely turns the directing duties over to marc Carmen and choreographer Joanne DePrizio.
As a performer, Jones is certainly a gracious host for the evening, imbuing his character with a heavy dose of school-boy naughtiness that adds levity to the often somber proceedings. As a singer, he shows off his talent and skill as an interpreter especially well during I Don't Care Much near the end of the second act.
He is joined onstage by a capable Jennifer Paul as the English entertainer Sally Bowles. Paul's accent sounds more country-club Connecticut than middle-class Mayfair, and her take on the show's signature song, Cabaret, is angrily cool instead of celebratory. But she wears Sally's skin well, shining during dance numbers and in her emotional scenes with love interest Clifford Bradshaw.
An American writer, Sally's boyfriend is played by Joe Grandmaison, who makes his character the emphatic voice of reason in the show.
But the romance of Sally and Cliff takes a back seat to the dramatic and touching story of a German landlady, Fraulein Schneider (Rae Randall), and the Jewish Herr Schultz (John Carlile) who find that the love they have discovered in old age is doomed by an increasingly hostile environment around them.
Randall is this show's star. As a singer, she lacks the vocal strength that could have made her solo What Would You Do? more powerful; but as an actress, Randall never misses an opportunity to endear her character to the audience with a mix of defiance and desperation.
She's also credible in her portrayal of someone elderly, which cannot be said of Carlile. When the youthful actor, dressed up to look like an old fruit vendor, jokingly says "I don't see any old people," the irony of the line cannot be ignored.
Despite the strengths of its leading characters, however, there wouldn't be a cabaret without the Kit Kat Klub Girls. Marcia Halpern, Joanne DePrizio, Tina Mayfield, Angel Wrona, Melissa Morales, Lee Davidson and Tanya Macklin execute DePrizio's provocative, Fosse-inspired, goose-stepping choreography with professionalism and pizzazz, making a creative kick line at Act II's rise one of the most entertaining moments of the evening.
The cabaret atmosphere is further authenticated by a four-piece orchestra that hovers above the stage thanks to Mark Brinkerhoff's two-tiered set.
Peter Jones produces Kander and Ebb musical on Lyric stage
By Brian Bixler
The News | April 2001
Hardly what one might consider fodder for a Broadway musical. But Cabaret, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s darkly comic look at the rise of Nazism in Germany, isn’t your typical song-and-dance show.
Based on John Van Druten’s play I Am a Camera, which in turn was inspired by Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, Cabaret has been around since 1966 and was made into a phenomenally successful film in 1972. The play has since enjoyed two New York revivals and is still on the Great White Way.
A local version, produced by Peter Jones Entertainment, opens Wednesday at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart. But don’t come expecting to see a stage version of the movie.
“When people think of Cabaret, they think of Liza Manelli,” Peter Jones said of the Academy Award-winning movie that won an Oscar for the actress. “The film deleted a whole plot line which I believe is essential to the story.”
That plot line is the budding romance between Fraulein Schneider, the owner of a boarding house in Berlin, and the green grocer, Herr Schultz, a Jew. The love story turns tragic with the rise of anti-Semitism among the couple’s friends and neighbors.
“The story of the Holocaust, that’s more or less the driving plot,” said Jones, who plays the Emcee in his production. “That’s what’s hovering over all the characters in Cabaret. Since the show takes place in 1931, no one really knew what was going to happen over the next couple of years.
“It’s interesting to see how the rise of Nazi powers affected first the characters there and then all over the world.”
Director Marc Carmen, who has collaborated with Jones previously, said it was important to maintain historical accuracy in the production.
“It really does focus on the people and politics of Berlin in that time period,” Carmen said.
To drive home the point, he said, the show will contain a scene in which a person wearing a yellow Star of David is beaten, while elsewhere on stage characters sing a German folk song.
“It’s shocking, but I’m really pleased with it,” Carmen said. “We really wanted to make a statement about the show and really delve into the story of Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider, which to me is what the story of Cabaret is all about.
“It’s one of those shows, like A Chorus Line, where everyone remembers the last number, but they forget the road that it took to get to that number.”
Cabaret’s main characters are Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer who comes to Berlin to work on a novel, and Sally Bowles, an English cabaret artist who is one of the featured performers at the decadent Kit Kat Club. The evening’s guide is the Emcee, who is the catalyst, narrator, sympathizer and manipulator wrapped into one person, Carmen said.
“He’s good and evil,” Carmen said of the ambiguous character. “You never quite know which way he’s going to go. One minute he’s a friend, another he’s an enemy. I think the audience won’t really have a chance to trust him, which will be great because in Germany at that time you couldn’t really trust anybody.”
Because much of the show takes place at the bawdy Kit Kat club, which allows the Emcee to comment on various turns of the story, Carmen has augmented his cast with singers and dancers, in addition to the lead speaking roles.
More than 50 people showed up to audition and much of the cast comes from Palm Beach county, Jones said.
“If people are used to seeing local theater, they’re going to be seeing a whole new set of faces,” he said. “People really came out of the woodwork.”
Joining Jones onstage are Jennifer Paul as Sally, Joe Grandmaison as Cliff, Rae Randall as Fraulein Schneider and John Carlile as Herr Schultz.
Performances of Cabaret will be at 8 p.m. Wednesday through April 28, with an additional 2 p.m. matinee April 28. Tickets are $25. Call 286-7827.
Jones does his best with ‘Duets’
By Brian Bixler
The News | Friday, February 2, 2001
Peter Jones was back onstage at the Lyric Theatre Wednesday night doing what he seems to do best – orchestrating an original musical revue.
Carrying on with his usual troupe of singers and dancers, the local impresario told the audience he was interested in creating a revue that would mirror the type of atmosphere that often permeates his personal studio when friends drop by, gather around the piano, and sing their favorite songs. The well-rehearsed and polished show was also intended to showcase the kind of entertainment Jones provides at private parties along the Treasure Coast.
Jones’ own romance with show tunes was evident in the 22-song revue titled Duets (a misnomer considering the number of other combinations put together onstage). The nicest thing about the revue was its eclectic mix of music, put together from Broadway shows, old and new (and not necessarily the expected show-stoppers), as well as some standards and classics.
Joined by a trio of musicians, as an accompanist, Jones spent the evening confined to a spot behind the piano keys, where he delivered a few solos as well as segues and anecdotes between numbers. His partners put some kick in the show with mostly simple choreography by Marc Carmen and Joanne DePrizio. It made for an evening that was like stopping by a piano bar, a Las Vegas lounge, a Broadway theater and an upscale nightclub all in one night.
Jones clearly has a local following as evidenced by the packed house and his show reflected a hometown feeling in his personal repartee with the audience. Unfortunately, some of the technical problems with sound gave the show a small-town feeling at times.
Despite those, however, there were several highlights during the 90-minute intermission-less show.
Jones shined during his solo number from the new musical I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and topped that when he paired up with the gifted Karin Leone to sing Goodbye My Love from his recently released CD. Musically the vocalists are a certain match for each other and they provided some perfect harmonics also on a rousing rendition of Tonight, Tonight from West Side Story.
As a performer, Carmen was able to show off some of his fancy footwork and knocked the crowd out during his own high-kicking solo from a Chorus Line, a show which contributed one of the evening’s best arrangements – At the Ballet, sung beautifully by Leone, Jennifer Paul and Jill Erickson.
Paul also lent her smoky vocals to a slow and jazzy rendition of Johnny Mercer’s One for My Baby, while Michael Hanle teamed up with Leone on Richard Rodgers’ People Will Say We’re in Love.
But the clear audience favorite of the evening came from Erickson, who, ever the comedienne, had a chance with Paul to reprise her rendition of Grass is Always Greener from the 1981 musical Woman of the Year. Though this had been done before in a Jones revue, it’s still a “wonderful” number thanks to Erickson’s hilarious interpretation.
Jones’ musical ensemble – Brian Cunningham on drums, Al Hager on bass and Greg Power on trumpet – shared the stage and provided a full sound behind the vocals. For their final song of the night, they went to town with a lively rendition of Cabaret – a smart promotion of Jones’ next show at the Lyric, scheduled for April.
Duets Review in The News
Once again it was a full house at the Lyric Theatre for a production of the talented Peter Jones. His “Duets” brought out his enthusiastic following to enjoy not only his talent, but also the talents of his company that includes Jennifer Paul, his delightful partner on and off stage, queen of the quick costume change; Jill Erickson, a natural comedienne meant for the stage, whose brother said she has always been funny; Karin Leone with her beautiful, soaring and perfectly phrased soprano; Marc Carmen, whose high kicks and choreography added greatly to the production, as did the singing of Michael Hanle.
One of the best attributes of Jones is his ability not only to sell a song and to keep things moving, but also to bring intimacy to his productions. While at his piano he lets the audience in on some of his methods and the happenings at some of their rehearsals.
Suffice it to say, if there were people in the audience who didn’t know him at the overture, they were all his friends at the finale.
Vocalists double up for Broadway 'Duets' at Lyric Theatre
By Brian Bixler
The News | Friday, January 26, 2001
Two heads are better than one, they say.
GUYS & DOLLS, JR.
Children shine in Lyric's 'Guys and Dolls, Jr.'
By Nisha Pulliam
It's not often a children's musical performance will appeal to anyone other than the parents of the children. The exception to the rule was the performance of "Guys and Dolls Jr." performed at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart. It was hard to believe the cast members were age 8 to 16 until you realized it was a Peter Jones Production.
He has directed such favorites as "And the World Goes Round," and was musical director for "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." It certainly didn't hurt that the creative sets were designed by talented artist and Lyric Theatre manager Ginger Baldwin.
anyone who has seen any of Jones' productions is a believer that he can make it happen, especially when he has the added talent of the beautiful director, Jennifer Paul, working with the children. The couple have become two of Stuart's beautiful and talented people making beautiful music together on stage and off. What made it even more incredible was the fact that they had only three weeks of rehearsal before putting on the performance for a week.
"I was so happy and proud of all the children. They performed beyond expectation and what made it even more exciting is knowing how much they learned," said Jones, who was in charge of the music. "We spent a lot of time with the children working on characterization so they would understand the motivation of what they were doing, not just moving from point A to point B."
And it showed.
Jones said they are building talent for the future.
"When children get up on stage, you never know how you are affecting them," he said.
"When their parents see them on stage, they are amazed. They come out of their shell, and it's a wonderful thing to witness."
What made the evening ever more fun was that the musical was a junior version of "Guys and Dolls," with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, father of the theater's executive director and grandfather of Gracie Loesser, who played the part of Big Jule.
Gracie was a huge hit. The youngest and smallest person on the show, she played the part of the biggest, toughest mobster -- and she pulled it off. Must be in the genes.
Her father said he and his wife, Laura, spent hours helping the adorable munchkin develop a deep voice to go with the character.
"It's the first time the Lyric has done this kind of thing, and it was extraordinarily successful." Loesser said. "We had 1500 tickets sold, an average of 300 people a show -- almost double for a children's production -- and many of the people who came didn't own any of the children, and they loved it."
Jennifer Paul, whose career has been in education and is educational director of the religious school at Temple Beit Hayam in Stuart, said, "My hobby and passion has always been in theater, so for me to combine education and theater was really a dream come true."
She said the kids worked very, very hard and they had some incredible people working with them.
"Being part of the Loesser family for four weeks was wonderful" she said. "The opportunity to work with Gracie was a treat. It was like an honor to be able to direct her and get some advice from John Loesser. After all, his father wrote the show."
Ever the professional, Jones would not allow the parents to see any of the rehearsals -- no stage mothers for him. Even so, many of the parents got involved by making costumes and working backstage, including Gracie's mom and brother, Jordan.
All the children were terrific, but special mention must go to 16-year-old Teesa Peebles as Miss Adelaide. Her stage presence was remarkable, with a wonderful stage voice that could be heard in the last row of the balcony.
Her male counterpart was Morgan Rumble as Nathan Detroit. His characterization showed his 7 1/2 years of acting experience with many of the local community theaters.
Jennifer said she and Jones feel that children are not exposed to classic American theater, and they really want to expose the children of the community to more of the classic shows such as "The Pajama Game," "Oklahoma" and "The Sound of Music."
With the terrific reception the show received, everyone agreed they will definitely do it again.
Chorus girl Dana Goldsmith, 10, patiently waits to take the stage while the "gangsters" argue during a rehearsal of the Lyric Theatre version of Guys and Dolls, Jr., Friday. The musical, starting July 6, is being performed as part of a local theater summer camp called Musical Theater Workshop 2000. Frank Lessing, who wrote the music and lyrics, has a granddaughter, Gracie Loessing, in the show.