Fame: The Musical rocks!
Grant Weaver, GuidingStar.ca
(Feb. 19, 2012)
This week the Unionville Theatre Company brings Fame:
The Musical to the stage of Markham Theatre for Performing Arts.
The show runs from Wednesday, February 22 to Sunday, February
whimsical lyrics and music of last year’s Cats,
the youth-oriented UTC has shown it can also take on the edgier themes
of a modern classic. Fame:
The Musical is set in New York in the early 80’s, at a high
school for the performing arts where, at the beginning of the story, a
diverse group of students have come to audition for admittance. Four
years pass and we see the development of the students, both in their
art and in their personal lives.
It’s a challenging show for UTC to stage, as the students
in the fictional story grapple with not only the many personal
issues that beset all teens—feelings of inadequacy, the experience
of love and heartbreak—but also societal problems still present
today, such as racism, homophobia and drugs.
But as Board
member Flora MacDonald put it: “It’s
a snippet of what life is like growing up as a teenager.
These are the kinds of things our kids face.”
Parent of cast
member David Wallis, she adds with a smile: “And if they can put
it all to music, and singing, then it’s better.”
it is. The rhythm,
movement and energy, the discipline and dedication, the very act of
creativity, these are themselves expressions of optimism and hope.
A musical is always upbeat.
of UTC’s 2011 Cats production, Val Ovtcharov returns this year in the dual role of
that one of the values exemplified by Fame
is the importance of hard work.
That is the title of one of the show’s most popular songs.
given,” he said. “You
have to work hard for it.”
And, in keeping
with that philosophy, Val demands a lot of his mainly youthful 52-member cast.
Everyone who had the pleasure of seeing last year’s Cats
will remember the high level of choreography and dance performance. This year,
Val is once again making the choreography complicated and
pushing them a little bit more.”
Due to the
excellent turnout at the auditions last September, the size of the
choruses was expanded and most of the major speaking roles were
doubled up, with two actors alternating from show to show. The
cast has been rehearsing every Tuesday and Thursday
evening at Brother André Catholic
High School, and every Sunday afternoon at Crosby Arena in
During my visit
to UTC’s Sunday afternoon rehearsal at Crosby Arena,
I had the opportunity to talk to many of the young performers.
I spotted Remi
Marchand who last year played keyboard in the orchestra.
This year he’s on stage, sharing the role of the dutiful
Schlomo Metzenbaum. You’ve
heard of the triple threat, who can act, sing and dance.
Well, in his role Remi is a quadruple threat, playing the
violin on stage in one of his scenes.
isn’t my strength,” he laughed.
But I’m sure Val is working on that.
made his first appearance with the Unionville Theatre Company two
years ago in Willy Wonka.
This year, he plays high school student Nick Piazza, a
challenge considering Luke is only in Grade 7.
But he’s a natural showman, and pulls it off.
The role of Nick has not been doubled, so Luke has a busy
week ahead of him.
“I learned a
lot from my big brother,” Luke told me.
“He’s not like Nick but I learned a lot from him about
how to act like a teenager.”
side comes easily to Luke.
“I’m a lot
like Nick, so it’s cool.”
And like many
of the cast members who study the performance arts privately, or at
school, or both, Luke sees himself as an entertainer in the future.
has a rollercoaster relationship with Serena Katz, a character who
is played on alternate shows by Julia Gartha and Tara Chandran.
Tara, in her
fifth UTC production, is now in Grade 9 at Unionville High School,
enrolled in the drama program.
How has she
changed over those years?
definitely become more confident,” she said.
And, speaking of the parallel between her own life and that
of the characters in the play: “All the kids are going to an arts
school, and so am I. It
shows how they change, and their dreams change, and how they are
growing. And that is
like what we do too. We grow in
our knowledge, and with who we are.”
Sydney Keir is also
enrolled in the drama program at Unionville High School and is studying dance, with a special focus on ballet, at the Karpov
Ballet Academy in Richmond Hill.
Also in her fifth UTC show, she alternates, along with
Katerini Zaikos, in the role of Iris Kelly.
Sydney enjoys the character she plays.
first like one of the villains of the play.
She puts up a really confident act but then she meets Tyrone
and breaks down, tells him the truth, that she’s not rich and that
she has never had a social life.
So, they fall in love.”
has been dancing since she was three and loves jazz, ballet, tap and
acro. She was a bit
nervous at first about her big scenes with Tyrone.
actually really scared, but I’m getting comfortable with it.”
for someone who is such a natural on stage.
always wanted to be on Broadway, performing, dancing in front of an
and Michael Gomez alternate in the role of Tyrone Jackson.
To say the
least, the angry Tyrone is a handful for his teachers.
Richard, a Grade 11 student at Unionville High School, gets a
chuckle out of that.
played a troublemaking, rebellious type character,” he explains.
“So, this is interesting and a lot of fun, too.
I get to misbehave, and on purpose.”
“I like to
listen to my teachers, and get my work handed in on time.
But this guy is the complete opposite.”
explains, “has a lot of anger.
He has this secret inside him that he can’t tell others
about at school—he can’t read.
So, he has this wall of anger.”
some method acting.
“I relate to
events that have angered me and use that emotion for certain
While the cast takes a
break, the artistic team is still hard at work.
Bertram, who directed UTC’s The Music Man, Beauty and the
Beast, and Peter Pan,
returns this year as Vocal Director.
David is a vocal instructor by profession, with over forty
private students. He
also performs with Vocal Horizons, a chamber choir that recently
performed the Messiah at the Richmond Hill Centre For The Arts.
that all the lead characters in Fame:
The Musical have a song that caters to their particular style
example,” he said, “Serena has a highly dramatic song, Tyrone
leads the “Dancing in the street” piece.
Carmen’s song “There she goes” has a very Latino feel
Unionville Theatre Company’s long-time Orchestra Director, Doug
Manning, the rock quality of many of Fame’s numbers called for the recruitment of a base guitar and
electric guitar for this year’s twelve-piece ensemble.
Doug, a retired high school music teacher, keeps up a busy
schedule. In addition to
his yearly commitment to the UTC musical production, he is also
conductor of the Markham Concert Band, and now also of the Pickering
“It keeps me
off the streets,” he jokes.
During this short
break in the rehearsal, I got a chance to talk to a few more
cast members about their experience.
and Laura Hernandez-Merlano will alternate in the challenging
role of the troubled Carmen Diaz.
former student of David Bertram, comes from a very classical-oriented background.
Carmen makes me come out of my comfort zone,” she said.
A Grade 10
student at St. Robert’s Catholic High School in Markham, she plays
piano and was also a member, until last year, of a choir known as
the Upper Canada Chorus.
Hernandez-Merlano feels an affinity to Carmen.
“In a way,
she’s a lot like me. She’s
really social. She
really likes the attention. Even
though she’s a little exaggerated, it’s a fun role to play.
You get to do so many things, and,” Laura laughs, “be a
real drama queen.”
Laura was in Cats
last year and enjoyed the dance and group vocals.
In Fame, however,
there are more spoken dialogues, and more solos, therefore lots of
individual lines to learn, and more individual responsibility.
Laura is also a
professional figure skater, skating with the Markham Skate Club at
Markham Village Community Centre.
She will be performing in an ice show in March entitled Celebrate
Canada, in which the songs of a number of Canadian artists will
be put to choreography on ice.
helped her to develop the discipline and dedication you must bring
to a musical production.
“You have to
be on time for your ice time, and for your teacher.”
I missed my
chance to speak with Demetri Tsioros who plays the role of the
annoying but amusing Joe Vegas for all performances. The
rehearsal of his scenes showed off the stage presence you would
expect from someone who has, I learned, been acting since he was
Now, what are
all these performers going to wear?
Van Yanez, who
directed Willy Wonka in
2010, is the costume designer this year and, with a cast of
fifty-two, that’s a lot of costumes.
I spoke with
Cathy Edwards, the costume co-ordinator.
is distinct, and they are keeping with the fashions of the early
80’s. Most of the
girls will be wearing skirts and blouses, a big change for kids who
are used to wearing jeans.
budget is always a challenge. But
they found a lot of costumes they could use from those stored
from previous shows. They
went to Value Village. The
kids brought things in from home, as did some parents.
Van Yanez made
some costumes himself, in particular the dresses that will be worn
for the Spanish dances. Those
scenes, Cathy promised, will be among the highlights, as will the
hip hop costumes which she described as “pretty out-there”.
costumes requires a lot of attention to detail, and a lot of
volunteer help. Small
adjustments and alterations abound, but it is all coming together ...
thirty-two kids at my house yesterday trying on their costumes,”
she told me.
By now, it’s
late afternoon and I’ve come down to Markham Theatre where the set
building crew has been at work since 9 a.m.
Most of the heaviest work is done and the beautiful set has
largely taken shape.
is on his third UTC production as set designer.
This set is one of the largest UTC has ever constructed.
The school exterior has an upper level that will be used by
the actors. So, it must
be structurally sound. But
it also has to be movable, as it will separate during the show into
three sections in order to create alleys for a streetscape.
That is a challenge: solid, but light.
The moving will be done by a crew behind, and inside, the set
and the audience will see the set move but won’t know how.
UTC is very
grateful to Schell Lumber in Stouffville who have helped the company
produce a great set on a tight budget by offering them reduced rates
on lumber and other building supplies.
Thornhill Towing has contributed to the transportation of the
set from the Markham
Fairgrounds, where it was constructed, to
The set is
ambitious indeed. Many
expressed concern at the beginning that the original concept was too
big, and could not be moved.
Simon with satisfaction, “you find a way to do it, and keep moving
familiar face we met at the theatre was Alex Simpson.
We first saw Alex
in 2007 when, as a twelve-year old, he played Winthrop in UTC’s The
Music Man. Now at
seventeen, he is in his last year at Markville Secondary School and
is interning for Channel 12 Television in Durham, and its local news
program. This gig has
had him on camera reporting on local events, with entertainment his
particular beat. He went
behind the scenes to give the scoop on concerts in Oshawa of Celina
Gomez and Alice Cooper. He
credits his years with UTC as contributing to his career development
and remains very loyal to the Unionville Theatre Company.
As he did last year on Cats,
he’s co-manager, along with Natasha McCulloch, of props and
Unionville Theatre Company has had a major, and positive, impact on
the lives of the many young people who have participated in its
productions. But the
company would like to do more. An
ongoing objective, for the future, is to find a permanent home of
their own, that would have a rehearsal space, set building workshop,
and a place to work on costumes and to store things from year to
year. They hope to work
with the Town of Markham to find such a space.
President of the Board, and co-producer of Fame:
The Musical spoke to me further on this subject.
like to expand and do workshops and summer programs,” she said.
Adrian Chandran also stressed how the establishment of a permanent
home for the company was key to the long-term viability of the
Unionville Theatre Company.
“So that is
what we’re really focussing on.
We really need a home,” he said.
successfully for a Business for the Arts grant from the Town of
Markham. Under this
program, the Town of Markham will match any corporate sponsorships,
up to $9,000. The
theatre company has received much support this year from within the
corporate community. This
year’s Platinum Sponsor is Old Firehall Confectionery; Diamond
Sponsor is Mercedes-Benz Markham; Gold Sponsor is Parsons
International, and Schell Lumber; Silver Sponsors are Catering by
Mario, Markham Colours and Decor, Henry’s Photo Video Digital, and
By the end of
what will be a long Sunday for the crew, the stage will be ready and
the cast will have two short days to finally rehearse in make-up, and in
costume, and in the actual space in which they will perform for the
public, with all the lighting, music and sound!
It’s enormously exciting, and satisfying, for cast and crew
This year, the
final dress rehearsal, on Tuesday, February 21 has been opened up to
children and families that would not normally get a chance to see
live theatre. It will be
a great night for the audience of about four hundred and will add
excitement for the cast as they do their final run-through of the
the intermission, Sasha Stewart, who recently won the Miss Teen
Ontario-World competition, will make a motivational speech to the
kids about following their dreams and reaching their goals.
Our readers, and friends of Unionville Theatre Company, will
remember Sasha’s wonderful performance as Peter Pan in UTC’s
There will be
four evening performances of Fame:
The Musical from February 22 – 25 at 7:30 p.m.
In addition, there are two matinees, starting at 1 p.m. on
Saturday, February 25 and Sunday, February 26.
information about Unionville Theatre Company, visit www.unionvilletheatre.com.
Tickets can be
purchased through the UTC website, or at www.markhamtheatre.ca
or at 905-305-7469.
Cast of Characters
Miss Sherman .. Cheryl Cline*
Liisa Kallasmaa-Davis ≈
Ms. Bell ........... Mayla Donachie*
Hannah Mak ≈
Mr. Myers ........ Steven Cline*
Bill Keir ≈
Mr. Sheinkopf .. Quinton Neufeldt
Nick Piazza .... Luke Cummings-Avoledo
Serena Katz ... Julia Gartha*
Tara Chandran ≈
Joe Vegas ...... Demetri Tsioros
Students ........ Sabrina Boyle
Alexandra Houghton Janelle Stewart
Samantha Jewel Yim
Carmen Diaz ............ Christine Gomez*
Laura Hernandez-Merlano ≈
Tyrone Jackson ....... Richard Walters*
Michael Gomez ≈
Iris Kelly ................. Katerini Zaikos*
Sydney Keir ≈
Mabel Washington .. Marina Couto-Ricciarelli*
Caroline Watling ≈
Goody King ........... Laurel Bury*
Morgan Potter ≈
Students ................ Jane Emblem
Quinn McKenney Sydney Skynner
Schlomo Metzenbaum ........... David Wallis*
Remi Marchand ≈
Grace “Lambchops” Lamb .... Zoe Davidson*
Diana Lyn Ruffolo ≈
Students ................................ Margarita Brodie
Olivia Di Girolamo Cassandra Shultz
*Performing on: Wed., Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 24 at 7:30
p.m.; Sat., Feb. 25 at 1:00 p.m.
≈ Performing on: Thurs., Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 25 at
7:30 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 26 at 1:00 p.m.
Clarinet, Alto, Tenor & Soprano Sax ...
Trumpet, Flugelhorn ........................... Gord Neill
Trombone .......................................... Ernie Devenyi
Electric Bass ......................................
Piano ................................................. Veronica He
Percussion ......................................... Milan Chvostek
Producers ............................... Adrian Chandran
Director/Choreographer ........... Val Ovtcharov
Consulting Director ................. Ron Cameron-Lewis
Musical Director ..................... Doug Manning
Vocal Director ........................ David Bertram
Technical Director .................. Vince Rotondi
Costume Designer .................. Van Yanez
Set Designer ........................... Simon Cantrill
Sound Designer ...................... Chris MacBride
Stage Manager ........................ Robert Cline
Assistant Stage Managers ........
Annie Clark, Caela Kavanagh, Courtney Keir
Costume Co-Ordinator ............
Props Co-Ordinators ............... Kelly Cummings, Natasha McCulloch, Alex Simpson
Set Dressing ............................ Paul Potter, Natasha McCulloch
Volunteer Co-Ordinator ........... Kelly Cummings
Set Construction & Painting .... Steve Avoledo, Solveig Barber, Diane Belair, Sabrina Boyle,
Samantha Brook, Carson Bury, Susan Bury,
Warren Bury, Simon Cantrill, Adrian Chandran,
Connor Chandran, Sharon Chandran, Dennis Cline,
Kelly Cummings, Cathy Edwards, Sarah Farndon,
Teresa Fitzpatrick, Shayla Fullerton, Carlene Flynn,
Liam Hamilton, Ryan Hamilton, Sandra Hardie,
Harzenetter, John Harzenetter, Jordan Hewins,
Deb Jestin, Janet Jones, Lisa Kallasmaa-Davis,
Krystal Khan, Krystyne Kontos, Danny Luciani,
Yelena Malaya, Randy Mandrish, Flora MacDonald,
Callum McKenney, Kim McKenney, Isabel Merlano,
Andrea Merlin, Ian Norris, Paul Potter, Erin Pybus,
Jeff Pybus, Keith Pybus, Shannon Pybus, Eric Schultz,
Cassandra Schultz, Josh Schultz, Kim Snell, Matt Snell,
Martin Russell, Lance Stewart, Jacques Therrien,
Hugh Wallis, Bill Watling, Laurie Watling, Bonnie
Cody Weeden, Kendra Weeden, Mark
Lorraine Yeung, Natalie Yeung, Jim Zaikos, Mary Zaikos
Make-up Artist ........................ Rhondah Wilson
Backstage Volunteers .............. Steve Avoledo, Susan Bury, Warren Bury, Simon Cantrill,
Jung Yun Choi, Mendy Hariman-Russell,
Teresa Fitzpatrick, Sandra Hardie, Francesca
Janet Jones, Sarah Kennedy, Krystal Khan,
France Lajeunesse, Yelena Malaya, Flora MacDonald,
Isabel Merlano, Andrea Merlin, Paul Potter, Jeff
Keith Pybus, Eric Schultz, Karen Skynner, Hugh
Bill Watling, Laurie Watling, Cheri Wilson,
Hae Yung Yim
Costume Sewers ..................... Solveig Barber, Cecilia Brodie, Laurel Bury, Clennie
Fraser-Margilardi, Jessica Glionna, Bonnie Weeden
Green Room Co-ordinators ..... Sharon Chandran, Caroline Mason
Green Room Volunteers .......... Susan Bury, Kelly Cummings, Teresa Fitzpatrick,
Clennie Fraser-Margilardi, Mendy Hariman-Russell,
France Lajeunesse, Breanna Maloney, Jacqueline
Madeline Mason, Lucy Ramirez, Paula Schultz, Mary Zaikos
Graphic Design ...................... Barbra Kwolek
Photography .......................... Martin Russell
Ticket Sales ........................... Terry Boag