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UTC’s Fame: The Musical rocks!
by Grant Weaver,

        (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 26. 

          After the 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.”

          And 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. 

          Choreographer of UTC’s 2011 Cats production, Val Ovtcharov returns this year in the dual role of Director/Choreographer. 

          Val highlighted 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.

          “Nothing is 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 challenging.

          “I’m 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 Unionville.

          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. 

          “Dancing isn’t my strength,” he laughed.  But I’m sure Val is working on that.

          Luke Cummings-Avoledo 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.”

          Nick’s artsy 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.

          “That’s my passion.”

          Nick 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?

          “I’ve 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.

          “She’s at 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.”

          Katerini Zaikos 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.

          “I was actually really scared, but I’m getting comfortable with it.”

          Not surprising for someone who is such a natural on stage.

          “I’ve always wanted to be on Broadway, performing, dancing in front of an audience,” she said.         

          Richard Walters 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.

          “I’ve never 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.”

          “Tyrone,” Michael Gomez 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.”

          Michael applies some method acting.

          “I relate to events that have angered me and use that emotion for certain scenes.”

          While the cast takes a break, the artistic team is still hard at work.

          David 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.

          David explained that all the lead characters in Fame: The Musical have a song that caters to their particular style and personality. 

          “For 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 to it.

          For 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 Concert Band. 

          “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.

          Christine Gomez and Laura Hernandez-Merlano will alternate in the challenging role of the troubled Carmen Diaz.

          Christine, a former student of David Bertram, comes from a very classical-oriented background.

          “Playing 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.

          Laura 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.

          Skating has 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 eight.

          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.

          Every costume 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.

          Staying within 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”. 

          Working on 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 ... well, seamlessly.

          “We had 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. 

             Simon Cantrill 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 Markham Theatre.

          The set is ambitious indeed.  Many expressed concern at the beginning that the original concept was too big, and could not be moved.

          “But,” said Simon with satisfaction, “you find a way to do it, and keep moving forward.”

             Another 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 set dressing.

          In fact, 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.

          Carlene Flynn, President of the Board, and co-producer of Fame: The Musical spoke to me further on this subject.

          “We would like to expand and do workshops and summer programs,” she said.

          Co-producer 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.

          UTC applied 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 Palace Foods.

          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 alike.          

          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 show.  At 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 2009 production. 

          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.

          For more information about Unionville Theatre Company, visit

          Tickets can be purchased through the UTC website, or at 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

Acting Students
 Nick Piazza .... Luke Cummings-Avoledo
 Serena Katz ...  Julia Gartha*                Tara Chandran ≈
 Joe Vegas ......  Demetri Tsioros
 Students ........  Sabrina Boyle              Reanna Merlin
                         Janine Fuglerud            Jack O’Neil
                         Shayla Fullerton           Makenzie Sally
                         Isabelle Gartha             Mackenzie Snell
                         Alexandra Houghton    Janelle Stewart
                         Klia Klinakis                Courtney Wilson
                         Paulina Lucian             Samantha Jewel Yim
                         Jasmin Merlin

Dance Students
 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                        Samantha Skynner
                                  Quinn McKenney                 Sydney Skynner
                                  Alexandra Russell

Music Students
 Schlomo Metzenbaum ...........  David Wallis*                     Remi Marchand ≈
 Grace “Lambchops” Lamb ....  Zoe Davidson*                  Diana Lyn Ruffolo ≈
 Students ................................  Margarita Brodie                Alex Neufeldt
                                                 Matthew Cote                    Samantha Russell
                                                 Olivia Di Girolamo             Cassandra Shultz
                                                 Rosalind Mak

*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 ...  Vittorio Polsoni
 Violin .................................................  Shiny Yang
 Trumpet, Flugelhorn ...........................  Gord Neill
 Trombone ..........................................  Ernie Devenyi
 Guitar ................................................  Will Stokes
 Electric Bass ......................................  Brian Kruschel
 Piano .................................................  Veronica He
                                                             Cindy Ma 
                                                             Odette Wells
 Percussion .........................................  Milan Chvostek
                                                             Heather Wardell

Artistic Team
 Producers ...............................  Adrian Chandran
                                                  Carlene Flynn
 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 ............  Cathy Edwards
 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,
                                                   Ellen 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 Weeden,
                                                   Cody Weeden, Kendra Weeden, Mark Weeden,
                                                   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 Iamundo,
                                                  Janet Jones, Sarah Kennedy, Krystal Khan,
                                                  France Lajeunesse, Yelena Malaya, Flora MacDonald,
                                                  Isabel Merlano, Andrea Merlin, Paul Potter, Jeff Pybus,
                                                  Keith Pybus, Eric Schultz, Karen Skynner, Hugh Wallis, 
                                                  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 Maloney,
                                                  Madeline Mason, Lucy Ramirez, Paula Schultz, Mary Zaikos
Graphic Design ......................    Barbra Kwolek
Photography ..........................    Martin Russell
Ticket Sales ...........................    Terry Boag





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