By Mary Ann Bourbeau |
RED BANK – There’s always something interesting going on at Phoenix Productions. Next up are the School Holiday One Day Master Classes on Jan. 15, Feb. 19 and March 30, hosted by Broadway performers from shows that are currently running or have recently played on the Great White Way.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Clay Thomson will host a “Newsies” master class. Thayne Jasperson will conduct a “Hamilton” master class on Presidents Day and, on March 30, a guest artist from “Disney’s Aladdin” will teach a master class. During the classes, which run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., students will learn scenes, choreography and songs, including full production numbers directly from the show. A condensed class option for older, advanced-level teens and adults (ages 16 and up) is also available from 1 to 3 p.m.
“We started this last year and it’s been very successful,” said Tom Martini, chairman of the board trustees and one of the theater company’s founders. “The magic of it is that it’s scheduled when the kids have the day off from school. It works very well.”
The master classes evolved from Phoenix’s ever-growing dedication to education, which includes its Rising Star Academy for kids, tap lessons for adults and a musical theater summer camp.
“Education has always been part of our mission, and these master classes are selling out,” said Martini. “It seems to be a winner of an idea.”
Thomson and Jasperson have both performed on Broadway in “Newsies” and “Matilda.” Jasperson is currently in the cast of the smash hit “Hamilton.” Martini said the goal is to choose actors from shows that Phoenix students are excited about and these are some of the shows from that list.
“The songs our students use as audition songs give us an indication of whether it’s a hot show,” he said.
Each master class is open to about 30 students. Full day classes are $99 and the condensed class is $75.
“Many of the people in our classes are pre-professionals,” said Martini. “They learn their craft by performing in our shows, and then they go on to a professional career. Some had a career in theater and then settled into a more stable life, but still have the bug. Other people just love the theater and want to perform on their own terms.”
Martini said many Phoenix alumni have gone on to have successful careers in the industry. Jillian Mueller appeared on Broadway in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Bye Bye Birdie” and toured with “American Idiot,” “Memphis” and “Flashdance the Musical.” Jared Gertner performed in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “The Book of Mormon.”
Some even come back after having successful gigs to appear with their friends at Phoenix. Kate Pentek did just that when she starred in a 2016 production of “Gypsy.”
“She spent eight months performing on a cruise ship and saw most of the world,” said Martini. “Now she’s auditioning to be in our production of ‘Annie’ this spring, and then she’s going on another cruise.”Martini also spoke of 12-year-old Lily Grace Riddle, who played Baby Louise in “Gypsy.” Grace went on to perform the same role at the Cape Playhouse in Cape Cod.
“She still takes classes with us,” he said. “It’s exciting to see people develop.”
Phoenix Productions, which was formed in 1988, presents four shows a year at the Count Basie Theatre, each with a live orchestra. Ever since Phoenix completed renovations to its new 11,000-square-foot building on Chestnut Street, the nonprofit has been expanding its educational offerings to the community. In order to raise funds to continue this mission, the theater company is hosting its 30th Anniversary Gala on Saturday, Feb. 24. The event, held at the Count Basie Theatre, will include past and present Phoenix performers singing 30 songs from 30 shows from Phoenix’s first 30 years of productions, from “Jesus Christ Superstar” to “Seussical.” Act II will contain 30 songs the theater has yet to produce.
“It should be an amazing evening of talent,” said Martini.
The gala will also serve as a kickoff for Phoenix’s 2018 season, which includes “Annie,” “In the Heights,” “1776” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
“It’s an exciting season for us,” he said. “We will be introducing two new shows to our audience. ‘In the Heights’ is by the author of ‘Hamilton,’ and we’re very excited about ‘Hunchback.’ It’s going to be a really big show. We’ll be doing ‘1776’ as we head into the midterm elections. It will be a chance for people to really understand what our forefathers intended when they started this country.”
Tickets for the 30th Anniversary Gala are $42 and can be purchased at the Basie box office. VIP tickets are also available, which include a preshow dinner, premium orchestra seats, acknowledgment in the Playbill, commemorative pins and more. For more information, visit phoenixredbank.com.
Arts and entertainment reporter Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published in the Jan. 11-18, 2018 print edition of the Two River Times.
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