Ventura County is known for being a training ground for performers in musical theater – many young artists who started here have “graduated” to national tours, like Natalie Storrs, who just completed a run of “Sister Act,” while Tessa Grady (“Annie”) and Jonalyn Saxer (“Bullets over Broadway) have also trod the boards on the Great White Way. Last Thursday night, five talented young ladies performed in an evening of cabaret at the Mermaid Tavern, a successful evening that will no doubt spur future similar shows.
The girls, ranging in age from 12 to 14, created their own acts under the tutelage of Joshua Finkel in a six-week course during which they drew from their own experiences to create a singular, personal “act,” each lasting around 8-10 minutes. The idea was to make the girls become comfortable in front of an audience, so the only characters they had to play were themselves. They took basic themes from their lives, and with Finkel’s help, crafted stories, jokes, and wrote new lyrics to familiar Broadway songs, such as “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from Company and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl. In the process, they were taught a variety of skills, such as performing with a handheld microphone, what to do with your hands when singing, timing, acting techniques, and responding to an audience.
After Finkel gave his own musical introduction (based on “Wilkommen” from Cabaret), twelve-year-old Jade McGlynn gave a very poised and funny act surrounding her main desire in life: to have her own hook for her backpack at middle school (as she sang “Much More” from The Fantasticks). McGlynn is already showing a great talent for facial expressions, as she reported on giving acting tips to her fellow schoolmates.
Laney Panico, 13, is the youngest of four daughters of Paul Panico, producer of Panic! Productions in Thousand Oaks. In Laney’s act, she dissed good-naturedly on the foibles of her three older sisters, bringing shrieks of laughter from the audience. Her act included a clever reworking of “Practically Perfect” from Mary Poppins.
Kylie Vincent, 14, is a self-described theater geek who has visions of becoming a Broadway star one day. Her portion of the proceedings finished with a winning version of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”
Thirteen-year-old Zoe Reed talked about being the “short kid” in a family with two tall brothers, leading off her act by singing “Little People,” Gavroche’s solo from Les Miserables.
Allison Martinez, 13, is already a stage veteran (she opened with “Broadway Baby” from Chicago), who eats, sleeps, and drinks musical theater, much to the disdain of her classmates. She recalled performing for the first time when her third grade glass put on a production of Guys and Dolls.
All five girls showed tremendous poise, acting skills, and good singing voices in their respective acts. Of course, at this age, most teenaged voices pack more power than pitch, but more work and vocal lessons will usually take care of that. What matters most is that Allison, Jade, Laney, Zoe, and Kylie all have the talent and drive to succeed in musical theater, and will hopefully join the ranks of their fellow alumni in keeping the Ventura County ghostlight lit.