March 6, 2013
Wonderful Town: A High-Energy, Entertaining Romp
By Sam Knobel
Youth Musical Theater Company has brought Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town to Berkeley’s Julia Morgan Theater, and it’s a feel-good, energetic musical with many memorable songs.
The musical, which first opened on Broadway in 1953 and won five Tony awards, was written by Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and music by Leonard Bernstein.
Based on the 1940 play My Sister Eileen, Wonderful Town tells the story of two sisters who leave their home town of Columbus, Ohio, to try to make it on their own in New York. Ruth (Lena Mayer), a shy and intelligent young woman who wants to be a writer, faces the publishing world of men and finds all doors closed to her. Eileen (Caitlin Cobb-Vialet), an outgoing, attractive actress, uses her wiles with men to get what she wants. Both struggle to find themselves and to find love.
The standard of singing by the YMTC troupe is high, the orchestra puts in a rousing performance and there are several funny moments to savor. From the two sisters singing “Why, oh why, oh why, oh, why did I ever leave Ohio?” to a group of Cuban sailors dancing the Conga for what seemed like ten minutes, the show is full of humor.
The production is hugely entertaining and well worth the time to go enjoy the ensemble performance of these talented teens.
There are three more performances of Wonderful Town: on Friday March 8 (Student Rush Night: all students tickets are $10, available at the door at 6:30 pm), and Saturday March 9 at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday March 10 at 2:00 p.m. at the Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Avenue. For more information, visit the YMTC website. Tickets available at Brown Paper Tickets.Sam Knobel, 14, is a student at Berkeley High School and the son of Berkeleyside founders Lance Knobel and Tracey Taylor.
July 11, 2012
West Side Story Charms
Berkeley's Youth Musical Theater Company turns in stirring dance numbers, energetic performances.
By Janis Mara
Leaping, high-kicking, emoting and singing their hearts out, the 45-member cast of Berkeley’s Youth Musical Theater Company brings “West Side Story” to life in its production at El Cerrito High School running through tomorrow.The musical has been around since the 1950s, but from the minute the cast -- all but three of whom are between seventh grade and college age -- hit the stage, it’s apparent that its themes of gang warfare, xenophobia and racism are just as relevant today as its accompanying plea for mutual understanding.
The production faced a significant challenge, opening on the same day that Contra Costa Civic Theatre, El Cerrito's resident community theater company, premiered the same musical just a few blocks away. But the Youth Musical Theater Company, a Berkeley based pre-professional training program for young actor-singers, managed to sell out the house for three of its performances last weekend, and the house was packed Friday night.Every detail may not be perfect, but the way lead characters Tony (Joshua Herman) and Maria (Sophia Sinsheimer) look at each other, captivated and captivating, the infectious energy of rival gangs the Jets and the Sharks, especially in the song-and-dance numbers, and the musical backing of the 33-piece professional orchestra, carry the day.
For those unfamiliar with the details, West Side Story focuses on two rival New York gangs in the 1950s: the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang, and the Jets, whose members are white. A reimagining of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" with the gangs standing in for the feuding Capulets and Montagues, the stage is set when Tony and Maria, each from one of the rival gangs, fall in love at a dance. While the ‘50s slang is dated and today’s gangs make these guys look relatively mild –at least at first - as the plot develops and the actors race across the stage, swing their ladies at a local dance and carry off the climactic fight and near-rape scenes, the musical becomes all too realistic. Which is not to suggest by any means that the show is a downer. There’s comic relief aplenty, especially in the person of Officer Krupke, played by Mike Vaughn, and three Jets girls who hilariously twit Maria in her number “I Feel Pretty.”
There are also some of the most stirring dance numbers ever, particularly “Cool,” in which Maxx Kurzunski’s lighting creates a play of light and shadow reminiscent of a Rembrandt as the dancers strut their stuff.
Director Jennifer Boesing has done a deft job of channeling the youngsters’ abundant talent into their respective roles, with Andrew Humann especially strong as Riff and standout performances by Lena Mayer as Velma and Maya Kell-Abrams as Graziella. Gilbert Johnson’s simple set gets the job done and Pam Crane and David Schleiffers deserve kudos for the choreography, beautifully realized by the cast.
El Cerrito Patch
July 11, 2012
Youth Theater Staging West Side Story 2 Weekends in El Cerrito
The Youth Music Theater Company tackles real-life issues while receiving professional training, says Laura Soble in this guest feature about the company's upcoming production opening Friday in El Cerrito.
By Laura Soble
YMTC (Youth Musical Theater Company), a Berkeley-based company with youth from several communities including El Cerrito, has made its name by producing professional caliber musical theater while providing exceptional training to students from the seventh grade through university level. Working hand-in-hand with professional directors, designers and musicians, the company has a reputation for taking on challenging and sophisticated musical and dramatic themes, and always accompanied by a full, live orchestra.
Opening July 13, at the new Performing Arts Theater at El Cerrito High School, is YMTC Artistic Director Jennifer Boesing’s take on West Side Story: featuring teens playing the teen roles and adult actors playing the adults in their world. The show is accompanied by a 31-piece full, live orchestra conducted by YMTC’s resident music director Dave Moschler.
West Side Story, at its core, is about two teenagers who love one another, in a time and a place where their love is not accepted due to racial intolerance, with tragic consequences. Based on Shakespeare's tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, the show is set in the streets of New York City as rival gangs, American-born Jets, and Sharks, immigrants from Puerto Rico, face off for turf.
Boesing, in working with her cast, reports that some frank discussions occurred with her actors. “The themes of West Side Story are as relevant today as they were in 1957—in some ways even more so. Throughout the rehearsals, we were struck by the timelessness of this tragedy of forbidden love. Racism, working class struggle, and ethnic intolerance are still prevalent today, even if they assume different forms than they did 50 years ago. And it was not lost on the cast that the struggle to love and marry whomever you chose has an acute contemporary resonance.”
The character of Anybodys, a tomboy who tries to join the Jets, is a character who wants to be loved, but cannot find acceptance in either the male world of the Jets, or the female world of the time. Celeste Kamiya, a 15-year-old student at the Urban School of San Francisco states, “I've struggled with trying to figure out who Anybodys is since I was cast in the role. I've known and loved West Side Story since I was four, but I never really thought of her as anything more than a girl who wants to hang out with the guys – now I see she really is so much more than that. She's the odd one out. In a musical in which the central theme is love, Anybodys is the only young character that never finds it...”
“Yes, she is a tomboy, but the word 'tomboy' is so general, so vague – it can mean so many different things. Does she actually want to be a boy? If she were a real person today in 2012, would she want to change her physical sex? Is she a girl who is attracted to girls? Or does she simply want the protection and belonging that comes from being a Jet? In trying to figure out her character, I've discovered that she herself probably wouldn't have known the answers to these questions. This is partly because she's a young person, and partly because of the society and the repressive world she lives in. It wouldn't have been okay for her to be confused about this aspect of herself. I try to let that come out in my portrayal of Anybodys – the battle constantly going on within her, of not knowing what she wants and the world not allowing her to be who she wants to be."
Kamiya’s comments also mirror a struggle that the the writers and composers of “West Side Story” could relate to: Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents were all gay men living in a time where living a public life and being closeted were in constant conflict.
Monday, July 9, I attended what is a called a “Cue to Cue” rehearsal at the theater. A cue to cue rehearsal is a many hours long experience that includes a great deal of sitting and waiting, with a focus on getting the technical elements of a production set and working with the acting and music. As YMTC is also a teaching company, a lot of instruction and learning is also happening through creating live performance, including all of the technical elements.
The theater was full of activity: the stage director calling cues, the stage manager and stage crew “spiking” the stage (marking with tape where various set pieces were to be placed), the actors and technical crew working out scene changes to the second so they will look seamless in performance; the lighting designer adjusting light cues, the set designer in the back of theater working on set pieces with a volunteer work crew, and the music director in the orchestra pit on the piano, without orchestra, plunking out the score.
During a rehearsal break, I took a few moments to check in with actor Andrew Humann, a 19-year-old Pinole native, who is part of the company’s summer mentorship program. Andrew played the role of Jesus in YMTC’s Jesus Christ Superstar last summer, and just a year out of high school has had professional acting jobs at the Berkeley Playhouse, Shotgun Players, Center Rep and Boxcar Theatre.
Andrew noted that "tech rehearsals are hard, tedious and long, but necessary. The reward is always worth it. It helps to work with someone like Jennifer and her team who know the show so well.” Andrew is playing the character of “Riff,” who is the leader of the Jets. “Riff is one of my favorite roles. He keeps the Jets together. The instant he dies it shows how lost the Jets are without a leader. He can think for himself, and his death teaches the other kids that they now need to think for themselves. I love doing it.”
When asked about the experience of working with younger actors, Humann gave praise to his acting colleagues, appreciating their understanding of theater etiquette, “which is due to both Dave Moschler and Jennifer Boesing who know a lot about directing and teaching. They are seasoned, and put these kids on a path to set them up for success in the professional theater.”
West Side Story runs for two weekends: July 13, 14, 20, 21 at 7:30 p.m., and July 15 and 22 at 2 p.m. at the Performing Arts Theater at El Cerrito High School. The show features students seventh grade through university age from El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and Walnut Creek. Ticket information: www.ymtcberkeley.org.
Laura Soble is an El Cerrito resident who loves live theater, and serves on the board of directors of YMTC (Youth Musical Theater Company).
July 9, 2012
West Side Story Opens at YMTC this Friday
By Ashley West
West Side Story draws its inspiration from the Romeo and Juliet tale. Its world of tenements and gang wars makes it relevant to contemporary audiences.
SHN SF describes the show: "Two star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria, find themselves caught between rival street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. Their struggle...in a world of violence, hate and prejudice is one of the most heart-breaking...and innovative musical masterpieces of our time."
West Side Story is a sumptuous, modern amalgam of music, dance and book. YMTC’s production met with several challenges, one of which was casting. They had to find over 40 teenagers who could act, sing and dance.
Jennifer Boesing, YMTC’s director’s mission for this production is “to tell the story well with actors who understand what it’s about.”
At the initial table read, the young cast talked about tolerance and acceptance as they relate to school cliques. Although cliques emphasize exclusion of the “other,” teens realize that they can rise above the pettiness of these groups.
The challenging Leonard Bernstein score includes the iconic songs "Something's Coming," "Tonight," "America," "I Feel Pretty" and "Somewhere." Sondheim was barely more than a teenager when he penned these classic lyrics. David Moschler is the musical director.
West Side Story runs from July 13 through 21 at El Cerrito High Performing Arts Theater, 540 Ashbury Avenue, El Cerrito. Tickets are $12 to $24, and are available at Brown Paper Tickets.
YMTC (Youth Musical Theater Company) is a Berkeley non-profit that presents Broadway quality musicals with full orchestras. It also offers quality theater training to pupils from middle school through college.
YMTC combines polished and proficient young actor/singers talented and dedicated young singer/actors with theater professionals to produce exemplary theater experiences.
Contra Costa Times
July 6, 2012
Two Productions of West Side Story Coming to El Cerrito
By Chris Treadway
Officer Krupke will have his hands full starting this week as those street gangs known as the Sharks and the Jets bring the song and dance of the classic musical "West Side Story" to two venues in El Cerrito.
You heard correctly.
Two different productions of the Romeo and Juliet-themed tale of forbidden love, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, will open on July 13.
Contra Costa Civic Theatre, the city's resident community theater company, will have a 13-piece orchestra -- the largest in its 52-year history -- to accompany the dance scenes and memorable lyrics.
It will also have a cast that includes 26 of 33 actors making their debut with the company. Choreography director Derrick J. Silva, managing director Daren A.C. Carollo and musical director Sean Kana promise a tight production where "the show's pace is nonstop" as it moves through the score's familiar numbers.
Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with 2 p.m. Sunday matinees on July 15, 22, 29 and Aug. 5 at 951 Pomona Ave., El Cerrito. There will also be special Thursday night performances at 8 p.m. July 26 and Aug. 9.
For tickets or details visit www.ccct.org or call 510-524-9132.
The second production of "West Side Story" likewise opens on July 13 just a few blocks away at the Performing Arts Center at El Cerrito High School on Ashbury Avenue, where the Youth Musical Theater Company from Berkeley will open its production at 7:30 p.m.
YMTC will have a live 33-piece professional orchestra for its production and a teen cast "doing the score and the choreography justice," with members who "absolutely shimmer in these roles," according to director Jennifer Boesing on the YMTC's blog.
Boesing directs, with musical direction by Dave Moschler and choreography by Pam Crane and Dave Schlieffers.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. July 13-14 and July 21 and 22; with 2 p.m. matinees on July 15 and July 22 at ECHS, 540 Ashbury Ave.
Tickets and details are available at 800-838-3006 or Brown Paper Tickets.
It should be noted that these are not competing productions of "West Side Story." The two theater companies have been working in collaboration, and the casts of both performed the balcony scene at an invitation-only event at on July 1.
"We're each promoting the other's show, and we're talking up a storm about all the ways in which we are different and can learn from each other, starting with the plain and simple fact that the cast is made up of mostly seasoned adults and the YMTC cast is made up of mostly teenagers," Boesing noted on the YMTC blog.
"After the first matinee performance for each of our shows (on July 15), we are having a public joint event," Boesing writes. "Immediately after the gang finishes their curtain call, they will invite their audience to join them in high-tailing it over to El Cerrito Performing Arts Center to take part in a talk-back with the audience and cast members and directors from both productions."
Febrary 15, 2012
Ragtime Transcends Both Stage and Expectations
By Emily Henry
"Ragtime" is performed on a small stage, with very few props and no scene changes — and yet, the show is epic.
The audience is stunned from the first belting note, through the pitch-perfect harmonies. By the finale, they're on their feet, most smiling contentedly, and others with tear-stained cheeks. The applause rattles the Julia Morgan Theater, and even some of the more bashful cast members.
The pièce de résistance? All the actors and actresses in the production are between the ages of 10 and 21.
Yes, even Luna Lewis, a 10th grader at Berkeley High School who plays leading lady "Sarah" with an exceptional maturity of emotion. Lewis can also carry a beautiful melody.
Misha Riley, a 12th grader at Maybeck High School in Berkeley, is so endearing in his role at the immigrant "Tateh" that he becomes the most empathetic character. Through his deep and earnest performance, with an undercurrent of humor, Riley inspires the audience to relive their own immigrant tales of chasing the American Dream and finding disillusionment and struggle along the way.
Sarah's love interest and the show's leading man, "Colehouse Walker Jr.," is played by 21-year-old Dawon Davis, an Oakland native and former foster youth who makes the stage his home. His commanding presence and rich voice, along with the breadth of his acting abilities, make Davis a must-see performer.
But it is Shelby Stewart, a 12th grade student at Head-Royce school in Oakland, who first captures the audience's attention with her acoustic talents and the sincerity of her performance. Stewart's voice is perfectly powerful, and a sweet, subtle emotion dances on her face in every scene.
"Ragtime," based on E.L. Doctorow's 1975 novel and adapted for stage by playright Terrence McNally, follows the lives of three families in turn-of-the-century America as they struggle to grasp, or hold onto, their American Dream. Director Jennifer Boesing brings the show to life on the Julia Morgan Theater stage, creating space and atmosphere with a dynamic production that transcends the stage.
The show begins with a series of vignettes, capturing the pomp and power of the early 1900s. Soon, a story emerges as the lives of the characters begin to intertwine, forcing them to face the contractions of their time. Wealth and poverty, freedom and prejudice, hope and despair must face-off to overcome injustice and transform tragedy to triumph.
As a musical, "Ragtime" offers soulful melodies and feet-tapping tunes, evoking a range of emotions as the audience commiserates and celebrates with the characters on stage. The foundation of the show's musical vibrancy sits below stage, as a live 26-piece orchestra fills the theater with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' award-winning music.
"Ragtime" first opened on a Toronto stage in 1996 and went on to win the 1998 Tony Award for Best Score, Best Book and Best Orchestration. The show was revived on Broadway in 2009.
Performances of "Ragtime" continue this week from Thursday, Feb. 16 through Sunday, Feb. 18, with a 7:30 p.m. showtime.
What Audience Members are Saying About Ragtime...
This is such an exciting and electrifying show. Every performance in this show is wonderful including every single ensemble member. The director, Jennifer Boesing, elicits a focused and highly tuned performance from each and every performer whether they are a lead or an ensemble actor. The beautiful staging and costumes only add more professionalism to these great performances. I encourage anyone who hasn't seen this show to try get a ticket.The show is a masterpiece!
We drove all the way from Placerville just to see "Ragtime," and it was well worth it. Listen to me: go see this show. The talent, professionalism, and dedication of these young people completely blew us away. After the show, we were slack-jawed with amazement at the experience we had just been through. This production of "Ragtime" shook us up, made us laugh, thrilled us, and brought tears to our eyes. Congratulations to every member of the cast for your brilliant performance. We will be back to see your next show.
WOW! Ragtime was an extremely challenging work.. pulling together such a talented and diverse cast, costuming, orchestrating, and capturing the time… the quality of execution was phenomenal! From the bottom of my heart, thank you and all of the YMTC staff and Board for the vision and dedication which has evolved to become such an enormous treasure for our children and the community at large. BRAVO!!!!!
Director Jennifer Boesing's ability to bring artists of that age to life in such a deep and truthful way is quite amazing. The voices, costumes, music (26 piece orchestra apparently!), and the emotion make it an absolutely wonderful theatrical experience. Honestly, it compares with the best of Broadway and professional theater I've ever seen. A must see.
July 18, 2011
What's the Buzz? Jesus Christ Superstar Rocks YMTC
By Emily Henry
With a cast of teenagers and 20-somethings, the classic rock musical comes to life at Berkeley's Youth Musical Theater Company.
Teenagers know drama.
Angst and confusion, friendship and betrayal — these are the rites of passage for young adults. So it's no wonder the youthful cast of Berkeley's latest rock musical empathised with the themes of Jesus Christ Superstar. Unrequited love? Check. Rebellion? Check. Feeling misunderstood? Check.
The trials and tribulations of teenagedomecho onstage until July 30 at the Youth Musical Theater Company (YMTC)'s production of Jesus Christ Superstar. The cast of young adults range in age from 13 to 22 years old.
"[Jesus Christ Superstar] is a very good show to do with young people because it has a quality of adolescent, dramatic, intense energy," said Artistic Director Jennifer Boesing, who moved to Berkeley from Minneapolis 14 years ago to study opera at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. "It's really about friendship and betrayal and loyalty and self-doubt — all these things that are really, really familiar and accessible for teenagers."
Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar debuted on Broadway 40 years ago, and is based loosely on the life of Jesus with a focus on the treacherous disciple, Judas Iscariot. Since its original run in 1971, the show has continued to be a popular asset to musical theater, winning numerous awards and inspiring a host of interpretations from stage to screen. But a young cast brings something new, according to Boesing.
"There's an incredibly exciting energy that comes with a young cast doing the show that wouldn't happen in the same way with adults," said Boesing, who added that the audience "will be really blown away by the caliber of talent on stage."
The cast includes young adult singer-actors from Berkeley, including Luna Lewis as Mary. The lead character — Jesus — is played by a Pinole native, Andrew Humann.
A young cast, however, by no means makes for a rookie show, according to Boesing.
"The level of production value and the performances themselves are stellar," said Boesing. "We really set out to have a very professional environment."
A crew of professional artists worked on the production, including designers and directors, as well as a rock band. "It enables the young people to do what they do best," said Boesing. "We really give them a high bar."
Despite the limiting 100-seat capacity at YMTC, Jesus Christ Superstar opened to a packed house Saturday night (Jul. 15). Opening night sold out, and the first performance of Jesus Christ Superstar ended with a standing ovation. The show will span 13 performances — the longest run the YMTC has done for any of its shows so far — with its final show on July 30.
"What's exciting to me about this show is I think we're going to get an audience of people who just love Jesus Christ Superstar," said Boesing, who remembers listening to the original album back in the '70s.
Despite being a product of the hippy generation, Jesus Christ Superstar seems to still resonates with modern youth.
"When we held auditions it was amazing to me how many young people knew about it and were really into it," said Boesing. "I think it's the drama of it, the intensity and the angst of the relationship between Jesus and Judas. It's really adolescent — in the good sense of the word."
j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California
February 26, 2010
Young Cast in Berkeley Tackles Anti-Semitism in 'Parade'
By Emma Silvers
From the good-natured sounds of giggling and after-school gossip at Berkeley’s Julia Morgan Theater, one wouldn’t have guessed that the cast of “Parade” was arriving to rehearse a very serious production: the true story of a 1913 Georgia trial in which Jewish factory manager Leo Frank was wrongfully convicted and hanged for the rape and murder of a 13-year-old employee.
“We have become known for picking intense work,” said Jennifer Boesing, the artistic director of the Youth Musical Theatre Company. “Our mission is about creating professional, exciting theater that allows kids to perform at a really high level, more than doing family entertainment.” Read more »
Oakland Tribune / Contra Costa Times
Breaking a Leg in Berkeley
By Damin Esper
Jennifer Boesing is doing the theatrical equivalent of herding cats. The Artistic Director at Berkeley's Youth Musical Theater Company has a room full of teenage actors and two and a half weeks to go before opening night.
"Remember, it's not slow motion," she commands as the ensemble sings its way offstage during one number. "Spread out on the stage. Bend down, pick up something. Look around for something."
During another number, Boesing is trying to stagger the entrances of all the families in the YMTC production of "The Mothers of Ludlow," a world premiere musical that debuts July 16. She tells each group which measure of the music to come in on, and the kids furiously scribble notes in their three-ring binders. Read more »
KPFA's 'Open Air' featuring "The Mothers of Ludlow". Listen to the interview »
Berkeley High Jacket
February 26, 2010
YMTC Puts on Another Great Youth Performance
By Marnina Wlrtschafter & Kyla Mathis-Angress
Combine a campy score and script with a slew of talented actors in a large mixing bowl. Add a dose of absurdity and a few sexual innuendos that will flyover the heads of younger audience members. Top it off with flamboyant wigs, a colorful set, and a full pit orchestra. Blend until smooth and enjoy this Youth Musical Theater Company production of Once Upon a Mattress, a hilarious take on Hans Christian Anderson's "The Princess and the Pea."
Once your eyes adjust to the neon color scheme, you can immerse yourself in this medieval queendom. Power-hungry Queen Aggravaine goes to great lengths to keep her naive son, Prince Dauntless the Drab (played by BHS sophomore Alex Senauke), from finding a true princess to marry. As long as Dauntless stays single, not one person under the Queen's rule can marry. Sir Harry, in a terrific performance by BHS senior Kaiso Hill, goes on a quest to find a princess for Dauntless, in order to marry his own love...
Berkeley Daily Planet
July 30, 2009
‘Les Miz’ Brims with Youthful Excitement at Julia Morgan
By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Whether it’s toiling in a chain gang, getting pickpocketed in a lowlife inn or fighting with hopeless courage on a Parisian barricade, the swirling onstage action and musical fanfare of Les Miserables would keep any company of actors and techs busy with the breakneck scene changes alone—much less a troupe of aspiring teenage performing artists, who take on the singing, dancing, emoting roles of principal and supporting characters, besides making up the ever-changing, ever-active chorus.
But backed by a full orchestra, 15 musicians under the familiar hand of Dave Malloy (Shotgun Players, Ten Red Hen, CalShakes), the players of Youth Musical Theater Company trouped through the tumultuous epic that frames both inspirational and love stories, learning about becoming an ensemble in the process, perhaps the greatest triumph any band of actors can experience—to be a company... Read More »