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Promising Young Performers Are Given Chance to Strut Their Stuff

July 18, 2002|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I'm going to be acting and singing with people who think the way I do about acting ... working with people who think like me. I'm not used to that. I value music so, so much. To me, music is almost like religion."

Danielle Withers, 18, of Mason, Ohio, was waxing enthusiastic about her upcoming trip to Hollywood, where she and others like her will perform at the John Raitt Theatre. As the newly formed Cappies Hollywood Theater company, the young actors--award-winning high school theater artists from Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Virginia--will present three musicals, staged by theater professionals, starting Friday and running through Aug. 3.

"It's pretty much an opportunity of a lifetime," said cast member Jonathan Matthews, 18, of Springfield, Ore.

To be chosen for the Cappies Hollywood Theater company, Withers, Matthews and eight other teens competed against other Cappie Award winners--theater arts students recognized for excellence by high school theater critics. The critics and performers are participants in the Critics and Awards Program, a 3-year-old, national mentoring and peer review program sponsored by the Capitol Steps political satire troupe.

Capitol Steps and Cappies co-founder William Strauss, whose most recent book, with co-author Neil Howe, is the sociological study "Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation," saw the Cappies as a way to counterbalance the negative press teenagers received following the tragedy at Columbine High School in Colorado. He also wanted to give recognition to students in theater arts who often "don't have much attention paid to them in relation to sports, for example.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 19, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 5 inches; 206 words Type of Material: Correction
Columbine High location--In some issues of Thursday's Calendar Weekend, the Art Zone column incorrectly identified the location of Columbine High School. It is in Littleton, Colo.

"The goal we had was to try to provide more positive community celebration of the great things that teenagers do," he said.

The young actors will strut their stuff in two original musicals, written by Strauss and scored by veteran composers Bo Ayars and Steven Rosenhaus.

"MaKiddo," a comic take-off on Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Mikado," satirizes high school stresses over grades, standardized tests and college applications. "Freethemusic.Com," said Strauss, "is about high-tech teenagers who like to upload and download songs and a big entertainment company that wants to stop them."

In its final week, the company, joined by veteran Broadway star John Raitt and "surprise guests," will present "A Tribute to Richard Rodgers," a musical revue celebrating the centennial of the composer's birth, which they also will perform at the Beverly Hills Civic Center Plaza.

The Cappies joined with the Hollywood-based American Center for Music and Theater this year to create the Cappies Hollywood Theater. Next year, the center plans to expand the program into a larger summer stock company with actors 18 and older.

"High school theater is the real youth culture," Strauss said. "That's where they're out there, doing something, shaping something. And what they're doing is so much more illuminating than what you see on TV shows or movies."

"People at a young age are not always taken seriously as performers," said Paul Gleason, American Center for Music and Theater's co-founder and general director. "We had one person call this a summer camp. It ain't no summer camp. They are working 12 hours a day; they are doing three full shows and performing for legitimate audiences. They have [theater and film professionals] advising them.

"These are not kids. From this moment, we call them young working professionals."

Withers, who will attend Howard University in the fall with a double major in music education and musical theater, will "definitely" pursue it as a career. "Maybe be Vanessa Williams doing 'Into the Woods' someday. I want to be a star."

"MaKiddo," John Raitt Theatre, 6520 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.; "Freethemusic.Com," John Raitt Theatre, July 26-27 at 8 p.m.; July 28 at 3 p.m.; "A Tribute to Richard Rodgers," John Raitt Theatre, Aug. 2-3 at 8 p.m. Tickets: $10; (323) 871-8082. www.cappies.com. Beverly Hills Civic Plaza, 450 N. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills, Aug. 4, 5 p.m. Free. (310) 550-4796.

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