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Markham Youth Theatre gears up for Grease!

article and photos by Grant Weaver,

Director Dayna Chernoff (third from right in back row) shows off the young and energetic cast of Grease


            (Aug. 22, 2008)  With Andrew Di Rosa and Jill Kooymans starring as Danny and Sandy, and with a talented and energetic cast of thirty, the Markham Youth Theatre has a treat in store for everyone when it brings to the stage the musical Grease at Markham Theatre for Performing Arts September 11-13. 

   spent an evening with the company on August 17, taking in a high voltage rehearsal and chatting with the cast and crew.

            “Playing Sandy in Grease has been one of my dream roles since I was really little,” Jill Kooymans told us. 

            Well, the dream has come true for Jill. 

            “I’ve watched Grease so many times I could probably talk and sing along with Olivia Newton John,” she said..

            And there, Andrew Di Rosa told us, lies a daunting task.  People have seen the movie, or the Broadway show, and will be coming to the theatre with high hopes.

            “You’ve got to try to live up to the role,” he said, “and hope that everyone appreciates all the hard work you’re putting into it.”

            It is a lot of pressure indeed on young performers.  But these two are no strangers to pressure.

            “When I was 14, I was Anne in Anne of Green Gables, so that was a lot of pressure as well,” Jill laughed.

            Choreographer Chris James certainly had the cast going through their paces at this rehearsal which focused on the dance and movement sequences. 

            “Chris is constantly challenging me, making me do things I never knew I had in me,” said Andrew.

            But Grease is also about the music, the singing, the acting.  And let’s not forget that putting on a production like Grease involves a lot of work behind the scenes.  Set construction, technical work, and costumes all have to be right, and promotion and managing the finances are also indispensable tasks.

            Pulling it all together is director Dayna Chernoff.  A graduate of Unionville High School, and its Arts York program, and now a Bachelor of Science in biology, Dayna has already many on-stage credits, including in MYT’s 2007 production of Into The Woods.  This is her biggest directorial assignment.

            The wide popularity of Grease made it a great choice for Markham Youth Theatre’s major 2008 production. 

            “One of our goals this year was to recruit younger members, or more people who hadn’t done shows with us before,” Dayna explained.  With half of the cast members new to MYT, that goal has already been partly achieved.

            Grease’s drawing power would also bring in a larger audience, a benefit in itself, but which would also spread the word about the company to more young people and more potential new members.

            “Everyone knows at least some of the music from the show,” she said.

            As a long-time member of the board of directors of Markham Youth Theatre, and currently its acting president, Dayna thus had an eye not only on the production at hand but also on the long term success of the company. 

            And for the success of Grease, the selection of a music director was critical.  Chosen to take it on was Brian Lee whom we met last year when, as an amazing 15 year old, he directed Into The Woods.  Since then, Brian also conceived, produced and directed A Salute To Broadway, a musical program staged at Markham Theatre last November as a fundraiser for Eating Disorders of York Region.  Andrew Di Rosa and Riley Raymer from the current Grease cast also performed in the show.

            Brian was honoured on Canada Day by the city of Richmond Hill with a Canada Youth Achievement Award. 

For Grease Brian has arranged the music and brought together a band composed of bass, guitar, saxophone, flute and two keyboards.  Until now the band has been practising separately—while the cast rehearsed with the recorded music—but on August 22 cast and band will start to meld together. 

            “It’s a great cast, really great musicians,” Brian said.  “It’s a show that everyone loves so it’s just sheer joy to work on it.”

            The title of assistant director is just one of the many hats that Megan Poole wears.  Megan has been involved in community theatre since she was fourteen, having started with The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan with the Unionville Theatre Company.

            Markham Youth Theatre has been her passion for the last several years and, after stepping away while she completed university, Megan is happy to be back and contributing again.  She is particularly proud of the MYT philosophy.        

            “We get our cast involved in every aspect of theatre,” she said.  “We try to have everyone find a task, in addition to performing, that they might enjoy.”

That could be helping with costumes, set building, even fundraising.

“It helps them to learn respect for the different fields in theatre,” she told us.

Jeff Jones, an alumnus of MYT, is taking the lead with the set construction but is also assisted by cast member Jeff Bolton.  Another performer, Deanna Sciortino, is in charge of costumes.  And everyone will get involved in painting and putting the final touches on the set.

Liisa Kallasmaa Davis, who entertained us last year in UTC’s The Music Man and in their 2008 Beauty And The Beast, is staying backstage in this MYT production, managing the finances--- fundraising, sponsorships and ticket sales.  She also designed the show’s poster and will be putting together the program.

Markham Youth Theatre is very grateful for the support they receive from Markham Little Theatre whose Backstage rehearsal venue on the grounds of Markham Museum has been made available to them.  This also includes the use of its well equipped and spacious workshop where the youth company is in the process of building the set.  The Unionville Theatre Company has lent them some costumes.

But let’s get back to the rehearsal hall where Chris James is into the fourth hour of putting the cast through their drills. Chris had the challenge of designing the choreography, tailoring it to the unique abilities of the cast and to the layout of the set.  But a choreographer must then become an instructor and drill sergeant, keeping thirty enthusiastic young people, ranging in age from twelve to twenty-five, focused and having fun at the same time. 

“It puts you to the test,” he told us during the break. 

A sense of humour helps a lot.

“You have to be stern at some points ... but at the end of the day, if they are not having fun there is no point to this.”

Chris’s musical theatre journey began during his days in the Markville Secondary School music program and we have seen him most recently on stage with Unionville Theatre Company’s Beauty And The Beast and MYT’s Into The Woods and Rocky Horror Picture Show. 

It is always thrilling to see a big production come together and MYT’s Grease is sure to entertain and excite.  Director Dayna Chernoff has assembled a talented and enthusiastic cast and crew.  Young and energetic, they exemplify, as Megan Poole aptly said, “the spirit of Grease”.

The show opens on Thursday, September 11 with three evening performances running to Saturday, September 13 and one afternoon school matinée on Friday.  Tickets can be purchased through the box office of Markham Theatre, on-line or by calling 905-305-SHOW (7469).

For complete show details click here.

To learn more about the Markham Youth Theatre, visit





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