We Welcome You to Munchkinland—Elisabeth Gray Engle on Directing This Summer’s Children’s Musical The Wizard of Oz

wizard

 

Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh My!

Sixty-five children of all different ages from the Columbia area came together this summer to bring you the youth edition of a beloved classic, The Wizard of Oz through Workshop Theatre.

“We are very excited to be doing The Wizard of Oz this summer! There are so many magical elements to this show already, so that is really fun to explore. But the real magical feeling comes from the cast members. We have a very large cast of kids of varying ages and schools who come together to create this show. They form bonds and friendships, and the excitement and energy that they bring to rehearsal is the real magic of the show,” director Elisabeth Gray Engle says.

The range of experience and ages might often lead to complications in the directing process, but Engle uses each child’s unique talents and personalities to create their own interpretation of such a well-known show.

“…Many of our roles are double cast, so there are two actors who alternate the role. This is really fun because you get to watch these two young actors create two very different characters from the same material,” Engle explains. “So much of the humor of our production has come from the actors, and I think that is what makes our production unique. We have a very talented group of kids who each bring something different to their characters.”

While the 4 to 18-year-olds bring a lot to the theatrical table, the production team has also put their own spin on things. With people like Alexis Doktor doing costumes and Baxter Engle doing set, the wonderful land of Oz is sure to excited audiences aesthetically.

“I cannot say enough good things about our Oz Team. Katie Hilliger (Choreographer), Jordan Harper (Musical Director), Jeni McCaughan (Producer), Braxton Crewell (Stage Manager), just to name a few, make this experience so positive and meaningful for our kids. We have high expectations for our cast, but we have a lot of fun along the way,” Engle affirms.

Engle, herself, is no stranger to the stage or directing. She is a company member at Trustus Theatre where she has taught, performed, and will be seen next in the world premiere of Big City. On top of all that, this is Engle’s 5th summer production through Workshop, her 11th year directing youth theatre, and she continues to teach theatre at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School.

“I love working with kids in the summer because it is such a joyous time of year in their lives. The summer musical is different than a school musical or a show during the year because the kids (and adults!) have that special energy that can only exist during the summer,” Engle elaborates. “…They come together during the summer to create this show, so that [in] itself sets the experience apart from school year productions. It’s really exciting to see so many kids from so many different schools who love musical theatre come together. They get along so well, and they love being with ‘their people.’”

The show runs June 25 through June 28, with both evening and matinee performances at the Heathwood Hall Episcopal School auditorium. Go to workshop.palmettoticketing.com for times and tickets!

“Theatre always has a unique way of bringing people together, and we have certainly seen that this summer with our cast,” Engle endearingly states. “Our cast is made up of kids from varying backgrounds, schools, locations, and experiences, and we have loved seeing them come together to create art.”

By Haley Sprankle

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

REVIEW: Chapin Theatre Company’s Into the Woods by Melissa Ellington

intoTheWoods

Chapin Theatre Company presents an outstanding production of Into the Woods with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine at the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College. The musical debuted in 1986 at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, followed by a Tony Award-winning Broadway production in 1987. Numerous other versions of Into the Woods have emerged over the years, including Broadway and London revivals as well as the 2014 film adaptation. (This reviewer first fell in love with the musical through the PBS American Playhouse filming of the original stage production. Into the Woods became the first of many musicals I would direct with high school students, and I have fond memories of problem-solving its trickier production demands with energized and optimistic teenagers.) The Chapin Theatre Company succeeds in producing a musical with considerable history through an innovative and fresh approach.

Into the Woods weaves together familiar fairy tales in clever and surprising ways. Key characters are drawn into the woods in pursuit of their dreams and desires: the Baker and his wife seek items needed to lift the Witch’s magic spell and cure their childlessness; Cinderella travels to her mother’s grave for advice on how to attend the prince’s ball; Jack (of eventual beanstalk fame) must sell his beloved cow Milky White in a desperate effort to alleviate his family’s poverty; and Little Red Riding Hood sets out for her grandmother’s house, only to be waylaid by the Wolf. While Act One traces the journey towards wish fulfillment, Act Two takes a darker turn as the characters face what happens after “happily ever after.” As Cinderella sings to a heartbroken Little Red Riding Hood: “Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood. Others may deceive you. You decide what’s good.”  Recognition of human imperfection and finding hope amid bleak circumstances provide thematic cornerstones that are as timely now as ever.

Into the Woods has been challenging and moving audiences for decades, and astute director Jamie Carr-Harrington has assembled a top-notch cast for this excellent production.  In the central role of the Baker, Clayton King provides vocal power and emotional connection through pivotal numbers such as “No More,” a poignant sequence with the Mysterious Man (aptly played by Andy Nyland, who is also the appealing Narrator.) Becca Kelly (Baker’s Wife) and Karly Minacapelli (Cinderella) create engaging characters while sharing gorgeous vocal talents.

Catherine L. Bailey triumphs in the complex role of the Witch, communicating both strength and frailty in songs such as “Last Midnight” which is performed as a beguiling lullaby that transforms into a ferocious display of power. Jackie Rowe plays Little Red with depth and compassion, making a role that could easily become a caricature into a highly moving depiction of growing up. After admiring his work on various Columbia stages for years, this reviewer was thrilled to open the program and see Paul Lindley II cast in the role of Jack. Lindley’s vocal energy and magnetic stage presence contribute to a gratifying performance. Nancy Ann Smith delivers a delightful portrayal of Jack’s beleaguered mother.

As the “charming, not sincere” Princes, Jeremy Reasoner and Kyle Neal have impeccable timing and admirable voices, especially in the crowd-pleasing number “Agony.” Ann Baggett (Stepmother), Rachel Glowacki (Lucinda), and Elizabeth Stepp (Florinda) depict Cinderella’s step-family with comedic glee, while Courtney Reasoner shares a beautiful soprano in the role of Rapunzel. Parker Byun succeeds as an appropriately sleazy Wolf and doubles in the role of Cinderella’s incompetent father. Ruth Glowacki’s fierce Granny and Giant and Joshua Wall’s sarcastic Steward contribute to the strong performance.

With superb musical direction by Christopher A. McCroskey, the cast demonstrates extraordinary vocal ability throughout the production. A first-rate group of musicians fulfill the intricate challenges of Sondheim’s score, including David Branham (Bass), Brian Lamkin (Trumpet), and Samantha Marshall (Flute). Patty Boggs’ precise work with percussion enhances the production significantly.

A substantial production staff has collaborated to bring Into the Woods to life, including Carr-Harrington, Lou Clyde (Producer), Carrie Chalfont (Stage Manager), Matt Pound (Technical Director; Set and Lighting Design), Shelby Sessler (Costumer), Kara Pound (Art Design), Diane Moore (Properties) and J.S. Lee (Sound Design and Technician). The technical demands of Into the Woods are considerable, and the production team showcases creativity and skill in staging this performance.

With Carr-Harrington’s expert guidance, the Chapin Theatre Company scores a major win with Into the Woods. For viewers who think they have already seen this material because they went to the movie version: you really don’t want to miss the opportunity to enjoy this lovely production of a musical treasure by a successful local theatre company in the wonderful Harbison Theatre facility. As the characters sing in the opening prologue, “Into the woods, it’s time to go!”

Into the Woods will be presented by the Chapin Theatre Company at the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College on June 24, 25, 26, and 27 at 8 pm and on June 28 at 3 pm. The theatre is located at 7300 College Street in Irmo, SC.  For more information, visit www.chapintheatre.org.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There’s a Road We Must Travel: Mariangeles Borghini on the Road to the Removal of the Confederate Flag

Mariangeles Borghini
Mariangeles Borghini

By Haley Sprankle

“South Carolina is a beautiful state, and we are a diverse community,” local social worker and social justice activist Mariangeles Borghini says. “And we don’t all fit under that symbol.”

On June 20, 2015, thousands of people gathered on the State House lawn. A symphony of car horns sounded in support and agreement upon entering the scene, and chants of “Take it down!” flooded the streets. The people of Columbia united for one cause—the removal of the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds. Borghini was one of the driving forces behind this movement. Along with Emile DeFelice, head of Soda City Market, and Tom Hall, attorney and filmmaker, the trio created an event that changed the game of rallies in Columbia, in South Carolina, and in the nation.

“After the attack in Charleston, I was looking online to find discussions about the connection between what happened and the Confederate flag we have flying at the State House…And I couldn’t find any,” Borghini states.

As a social justice and human rights activist, she did what she does best and joined a team rallying people together by creating a Facebook page, “Take Down the Flag SC,” which now has over 8,000 likes. Through the page, Borghini was able to promote the online petition against the flag, while also creating an event under the same title. The immediate response was amazing—in less than 24 hours, the event had over 1,500 people pledging to attend.

“I had no idea how this was going to take off,” Borghini explains. “At Saturday’s rally, we had thousands of people around the State House asking in a peaceful, respectful, and hopeful way. That’s what I call democracy, social participation, and community advocacy.”

The grace of the crowd and profound statements of the speakers were a testament to the honest intentions of the movement. There was no violence, and there were no visible counter-protesters, but there was a whole lot of love. “We worked as a team to make this happen,” Borghini adds. “Not only the three of us, but the thousands of people supporting us through the [Facebook] page and our family and friends that pushed us forward and had our backs.”

While many have openly voiced their disagreement with the movement and claim the flag is merely a symbol of “heritage,” Borghini takes a stronger stance on the hot topic.

“Since I came to this country more than five years ago, it was always a shock for me to go downtown and see the Confederate flag flying in front of our state Capitol. Every time a friend or relative came to visit, it was really difficult and shameful to me to explain that to them. I’ve always felt frustrated and impotent about that,” Borghini divulges. “…The flag has been used as a symbol of hate, racial discrimination, and injustice, and it is offensive for many of us that are living and raising our families in South Carolina.”

In a press conference on June 22, 2015, Governor Haley announced her support for the flag’s removal, and gave a July 4 deadline for the decision to be made.

“I am thankful with our Governor for taking a step forward on this. To remove the flag is the first reasonable step in the process of healing a history of segregation, discrimination, injustice, and loss for many human beings. We are identifying with different values—we are not what the flag symbolizes to the majority of people. I really hope our legislators move in the same direction,” Borghini says.

Activism can’t just stop at a rally, though.

“My advice is to love each other and to speak up when we see something that is not right every day,” Borghini advocates. “Racial violence and other types of injustice happen on a daily basis, so let’s not let that happen. If we don’t do it, we cannot expect others to do it for us!”

For information about future events and initiatives regarding the removal of the Confederate flag, be sure to like the Take Down the Flag SC Facebook page.

“It is great we are not being silent anymore,” Borghini affirms. “We are speaking up and taking action towards having a better place to live and raise our families.”

Posted in General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment