By Julie Horner
San Lorenzo Valley High School’s Performing Arts Center celebrated its grand opening one year ago this month. The theater, a spanking, high-tech showcase for the cathartic arts, was made possible by Measure O, an $18.9 million bond measure approved in 2008 that authorized the school district to construct, improve, and acquire facilities.
In just a few weeks, San Lorenzo Valley High School Drama presents Gershwin’s Tony Award winning Crazy for You in six performances March 4 through March 12 in this sleek, accommodating performance space.
On a decadently bright and warm mid-winter afternoon, I let myself into the cool dark backstage where rehearsal was just getting underway and was met by Crazy for You romantic lead, 16-year old Quinn Becker. We’d met before. He and his family and local Boulder Creek potters, Dan and Laurie Hennig, were featured in the indie movie, Play Faire, by LA’s Teo Guardino, and the community had come out last summer to pack the house for the screening at Park Hall in Ben Lomond.
Guitar in hand, Quinn escorted me to the stage to meet director, Will Guilford, who then introduced me to members of the production team. Set building had just begun: Framework for the Saloon was in place stage right, blue tape marked the places where the limo would pull up stage left. I was invited to imagine a stocked bar and other trappings you’d find in a properly well-heeled early 20th Century landscape.
Set in the 1930s, New York banker and aspiring dancer Bobby Child is sent to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a theater. Instead, he falls in love with the owner’s daughter, Polly, and puts on a show in their failing theater to pay the mortgage and win her heart. Quinn plays Bobby, and the part of Polly is played by Miranda Robinson, also 16.
Packed with nonstop hits written by George and Ira Gershwin, the show explodes with spectacular production numbers, including “Slap That Bass,” “I Can’t Be Bothered Now,” “I Got Rhythm,” and the romantic favorite, “Someone to Watch Over Me.” An ensemble of over 30 singers and dancers is supported by a six-piece band featuring four SLVHS students directed by Dan Lingenfelter.
After being introduced to a few of the teen actors, some as young as 14; vocal director, Nicki Kerns; student choreographer, Robert Jeffrey; and lighting designer, David Halper, we dispersed, actors to the wings, me to my seat in the auditorium. I was sole observer delighting in an exclusive first glimpse of what promises to be a lush, technically challenging production featuring a very talented cast and production team, awesome sets, great singing and choreography.
A chorus of young voices drifted in harmony from another room, and the Follies Girls with tap shoes on were queued, awaiting their entrance. Director Guilford said, “The beauty of this show to me is introducing tap dancing to these kids – it’s a lost art form.” There will be three big tap numbers for the Follies Girls.
“Five, six, seven, eight, shuffle, hop-step, brush-circle step step,” called 16-year old junior, Robert Jeffry, tap dance choreographer, demonstrating the moves slowly at first and then up to speed, the girls in a line behind him following his every nuance, mostly already memorized. With acting and dancing cred from performing in All About Theater at Louden Nelson Center, Robert lead 12 girls and one guy (our romantic lead, Quinn) through all the razzmatazz they could muster.
After a few run-throughs, Robert had the chorus line run through the routine on their own to Gershwin on the laptop. Dazzling in shorts, leggings and jeans, tapping and twirling in unison, the routine ended on beat and Robert said, “I feel like you guys sounded really happy!” In a final once-more before taking ten, Quinn joined in, performing his role in stride with the chorus girls, singing along with the voice on the recording with confidence, suave to a fault. “Dancing makes my problems all seem tiny,” he sang with a handsome grin and a knowing swagger.
“There’s something about stage, Will said.” He did his thesis on adolescent self-esteem. Kids in his program learn through the art of drama to collaborate, plan, and support each other, building a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. “I get to witness it all the time, from 6th grade on.” He pointed out that most of the cast in Crazy for You have been under his tutelage since middle school.
And there is enough support for the dramatic arts from the district and the community to allow Will the opportunity to direct several productions a year between the middle and high schools. A former varsity baseball coach and girl’s JV soccer, he’s been working for the spiffy new Performing Arts Center for 28 years, he says. He remembers getting on the phone, “Support Measure O!”
In addition to his theater work with SLVUSD, Will runs Hooked on Theater, children’s theater for the San Lorenzo Valley & Santa Cruz County – a real community, tri-campus endeavor for elementary, middle, and high school students that operates year-round. Whether for the high school or for his private company, he tries to keep the teaching “organic,” engaging current and former students to contribute their skills, and all production work is done in-house along with parent volunteers.
Crazy for You features romance, comedy, fist fights, gun fights, dancing, singing, kissing, slapping, and mistaken identity and has its share of awkward moments for teen actors still working through the embarrassing stuff. “They feel uncomfortable kissing someone if it’s not their own girlfriend,” Will said. “I got a quick peck from them last week,” referring to rehearsal with the romantic leads, Quinn and Miranda. Quinn’s real girlfriend is one of the Follies Girls.
Miranda thinks Quinn is great, and agrees that there are moments that “definitely have their challenges.” She’s pretty sure that the show is probably going to be one of her favorites, but she won’t really know until opening night when she’s in it all the way. She, too, is active in All About Theater, and has performed with Children’s Musical Theater San Jose and Cabrillo Stage. “This production is modeled on the Ziegfeld Follies. I want costumes! I want sets! I want beauty! If you’re going to see a show, this is the show,” Will claims enthusiastically. “The cool thing is that the kids are learning to tap, learning about Gershwin. It’s got everything – from 6 to 96, you’re going to dig the show!”
Crazy for You, The New Gershwin Musical at SLVHS PAC
7105 Hwy 9, Felton CA.
March 4, 5, 10, 11, and 12 at 7:00 pm, March 6 at 2:00 pm
Tickets and more information: tinyurl.com/SLVDramaInfo
Notes From the Director
By Will Guilford
Notes From the Author
Hooked on Theater is a privately operated for-profit community project headed by Will Guilford and is not in any way associated with San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District or San Lorenzo Valley High School.
Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California and performed on stage with Children’s Musical Theater San Jose (formerly SJCMT) in the 1970s. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org