|Ryan Everitt and Jordan Hayakaya
in Woodland Opera House's
Basically, it’s a plot about a town where all music has been banned because of a tragic accident six years ago that killed four teens. Then a new kid comes to town and turns everything else around and all join in the singing, dancing finale.
Hardly the stuff of great theater, not even musical theater, which is often known for its silliness.
However, under the direction of Crissi Cairns with choreographer Kevin Gruwell, the Woodland Opera House has created a first-rate show. Though this is not a young people’s show, the quality of Woodland’s many youth programs is evident in the number of excellent young people in the cast.
Leading the pack is Ryan Everitt as Ren McCormack, whose father has walked out on his wife, leaving the two with no ability to remain in Chicago. They move to Bomont (the state is never revealed) to live with her sister (Jennifer Goldman) where they discover that the local minister, the Rev. Shaw Moore (Michael Maples) seems to run the town.
After an accident killed four teenagers returning from a dance, he got the city council to rule that there is to be no dancing in the own of Bomont.
Everitt is a great actor, completely comfortable on stage. He has a wonderful voice and dances well.
As for Maples, when he opens his mouth at the first religious service, you sit up and go “whoa!” His presence is captivating and even when you hate the bible-thumping reverend for his rigidity, you can’t help but admire the talents of the actor.
Poor Ren can’t get a break. He’s cited for driving too fast, fired from his first job, bullied at school because he’s the new guy and picked on by the coach (Steve Cairns). What’s a guy to do? A devotee of clubs in Chicago, Ren has a need to just dance the frustration away.
He makes friends with the laconic Willard (Marcus Lucia), the reverend’s daughter Ariel (Jordan Hayakawa) and spitfire Rusty (Emily Jo Seminoff).
Lucia’s Willard is an “aww shucks, ma’am” kinda guy, quiet and shy, but a loyal friend whose life is changed by mutual attraction to Rusty. His “Mama Says” was a real audience favorite.
Seminoff is great at these spitfire roles, and this one is no different. She’s always fun to watch on stage.
Hayakawa is wonderfully stubborn in her fights with her father over his rigid-handed parenting. Though she is dating the town bad boy (Jonathan Kalinen), he is abusive and she is soon attracted to Ren. Her solo, “Holding Out for a Hero” is wonderful.
Others in the cast include Erica Levich as Ren’s mother, Erin Kelly as Principal Clark, and Steven O’Shea as Cowboy Bob.
The actor who received the biggest applause and the most laughter was Mary Dahlberg in the tiny role of Betty Blast, owner of a diner. Since her time on stage is slightly more than five minutes, the audience reaction must be something which Woodland people are aware of, not outsiders.
Music director Lori Jarvey leads an orchestra of six, and also plays the piano. When Woodland did this show in 2003, there was difficulty getting the voices of the singers over the music of the orchestra. Fortunately, there is no problem like this in this production. Everyone is easily heard and understood.
This may be the fullest I have ever seen the opera house and the response of the audience was tumultuous. There was no question about whether this show is a hit with the audience.