“Coming Distractions” Highlights Breadth of Young Talent in Ventura County Theater

REVIEW BY CARY GINELL

Coming Distractions, a one-night concert benefiting Panic! Productions and the theater arts program at Newbury Park High School was earmarked as a live preview of musicals coming to Ventura County in 2016, but more than anything else, it showcased the rich treasure trove of talent currently developing in our schools and community theaters. Saturday night’s performance featured previews of nineteen shows that will be staged in 2016 by theater companies throughout Ventura County (see below for the entire list). In the concert, which was directed by NPHS drama teacher Marilyn Strange, abbreviated songs were performed by members of the Newbury Park High School Drama Department, as well as youngsters from other local schools and guest stars who got their start in Ventura County theater. 

For those who have never seen a musical at one of our VC high schools, Coming Distractions was an eye-opener. Through organizations such as Young Artists Ensemble, Curtain Call Youth Theater, and others, young performers get a taste of what it is like to be on Broadway for the first time. Many go on to study theater arts in college and still others actually make theater their profession. Our job here at VC On Stage is to encourage young performers to reach for the stars, and by working with established performers such as those who performed in this show, the kids in Coming Distractions got some invaluable experience.

What was most amazing about the show was how many songs and dance routines had to be learned by the NPHS students in a relatively brief time. In all, excerpts from 54 songs were performed, most of which featured the teen ensemble, which included Miranda Barraza, Kobe Burton, Roxanne Chevalier, Lexie Collins, Madeline Gambon, Nicholas Glaab, Mateo Gonzales, Sam Herbert, Autumn Jessel, Julia Kreinces, Allison Martinez, Megan Masson, Kaitlin Maxwell, Jade McGlynn, Gabriel Nunag, Elaine Panico, Zoe Reed, Carly Shukiar, Rory Smith, Sam Thacker, Evelyn Utterback, Kylie Vincent, Madeline Weiss, and Brooke Wiltfang. Kudos to choreographers Miriam Durrie-Kirsch and Kylie Vincent for teaching the dance steps to the kids for the endless series of numbers and to Diann Alexander for her impeccable musical direction. 

There were many highlights in the show, which was hosted by Panic! Productions co-founder Paul Panico, and although we can’t single out all of the featured solos, some of the best received included Madeline Weiss’s brilliant performance of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid, Carly Shukiar’s heartfelt solo of “One Perfect Moment” from Bring It On, Allison Martinez’s shining rendition of “Much More” from The Fantasticks, Sam Herbert singing “Love I Hear” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Kylie Vincent’s shimmering version of “Spark of Creation” from Children of Eden, Nick Glaab’s “I Am the Captain of the Pinafore” from H.M.S. Pinafore, and Madeline Gambon in a particularly vibrant version of “Home” from The Wiz. 

Of the “special guests,” the explosive Andrew Metzger was featured on several numbers, including a reprise of his role as Uncle Fester in “The Moon and Me” from The Addams Family, whose cast from the Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi production returned mostly intact to perform “When You’re an Addams.” Also from that cast, Natalia Vivino, a Santa Susana High School graduate with one of the most impressive and powerful voices we’ve heard in a long time on local stages, performed Wednesday Addams’s solo, “Pulled,” which brought down the house. 

J. Bailey Burcham was electrifying in “The End of Time” from Panic! Productions’ forthcoming presentation of School of Rock (a Ventura County first), while Paul Panico and Robert Weibezahl reprised their roles of Hucklebee and Bellomy in The Fantasticks by singing the charming duet “Plant a Radish.” Renee Marino, a star of the motion picture version of Jersey Boys as well as Cabrillo Music Theatre’s recent production of Damn Yankees, was radiant in her performance of “My Funny Valentine” from the rarely seen Rodgers & Hart classic, Babes in Arms. Keenon Hooks danced up a storm on “Ease On Down the Road” from The Wiz, Christopher Gambol (“Make Them Hear You”) and Joshua Finkel (“Buffalo Nickel Photoplay, Inc.”) sang two songs from Ragtime, and Dana Shaw sang a powerhouse version of “You Don’t Know This Man” from The Parade, the 1998 musical that dramatized the infamous 1913 murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan. The show concluded with a scintillating duet by Natalia Vivino and Ryan Driscoll on “In Whatever Time We Have” from Stephen Schwartz’s Children of Eden

For those of you who were not able to make it to the concert, the VC On Stage Calendar includes dates, showtimes, and theater directions for all of the shows profiled in the Coming Distractions concert. You can also look forward to our usual full coverage of these shows, including interviews, profiles, and reviews. The shows covered included:

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Cabrillo Music Theatre)
Oliver! (High Street Arts Center)
The Pajama Game (Camarillo Skyway Playhouse)
Babes in Arms (concert version) (Rubicon Theatre Company)
The Fantasticks (Camarillo Skyway Playhouse)
Guys & Dolls (Curtain Call Youth Theatre)
The Wizard of Oz (Young Artists Ensemble & Conejo Players Theatre)
The Wiz (Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi)
The Little Mermaid (Cabrillo Music Theatre)
Curtains (Camarillo Skyway Playhouse)
The Addams Family (High Street Arts Center)
School of Rock (Panic! Productions)
American Idiot (Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi)
Footloose (Curtain Call Youth Theatre)

Bring it On! (Panic! Productions)
H.M.S. Pinafore (Curtain Call Youth Theatre)
Parade (Panic! Productions)
Ragtime (Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi)
Children of Eden (Cabrillo Music Theatre)

 

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