Saturday, August 13, 2011


big, THE MUSICAL a good experience for the starry eyed at FPAC

As could be expected, the curtain call for big, THE MUSICAL, at the Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory, was met by a standing ovation. Why not? The opening night audience was filled with parents, grandparents and friends of the youthful cast. A cast who is devoting their summer to perfecting their performance skills in possible hopes of becoming the next great theatrical star.

Was it “better than Broadway” as some of the attendees gushed? Of course, not. These are pre-tweens, tweens and teens with limited experience and untapped talent. Was there a future star on stage? Possibly. Professionals have to start somewhere, and places like Fred Sternfeld’s FPAC gives them the opportunity to get training from experienced actors, directors, musical directors and choreographers.

Do some of these kids shine and display that they are above the rest? Yes. Dani Apple, a past PFACer is a case in point. I first saw a very young Dani on stage at Kalliope Music Theatre in Cleveland Heights. It was obvious she had “it,” whatever that means. She has lots of local credits, did a spot in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and she just finished another season at Stage Door Manor, one of the best national summer theatre programs. She so impressed that she was extensively written about in Theater Geek: The Real Life Drama of a Summer at Stagedoor Manor, a novel about the camp. Stage Door has produced the likes of Natalie Portman, Zach Braff, John Cryer and Lea Michell. Is Dani the next to get her name up on the footlights? Who knows.

As the former Artistic Director of Berkshire Center for the Arts and Theater International (Leysin, Switzerland), I’ve watched former campers go on to great things. Cheryl Arutt, a Berkshire find, was dubbed "queen of the After School Specials,” did hundreds of commercials, numerous television shows, and went on to win the Youth in Film Award for her performance in the film Bobby and Sarah.

I’ve also seen others decide that the Great White Way is not for them. My son, a very talented performer, who started in theatre at age 4, and was cast and cast again, decided that he’d rather be a psychologist. How does he use his theatrical talents? He sings the national anthem at the Indians’ games and does musical gigs.

I saw Crissy Wilzak in a high school production of MY FAIR LADY. She was a rose in a field of weeds. Working with her for two years and then watching her go off to Kent State for further training, it was no surprise to follow her career that included being in the original casts of CHORUS LINE, 1940’s RADIO HOUR and SEESAW, as well as television’s MORK AND MINDY.

Rex Nockingust tried out for a production of CAROUSEL I was directing. After hearing half a song and ten lines of dialogue, I sent all the other competitors for Enoch Snow, Jr. home…I had witnessed a potential superstar. He went on to play numerous parts locally and nationally, including the coveted off-Broadway role of Matt in THE FANTASTICKS.

Yes, there are those special people who, with good training and a lot of luck, reach their star goals. Was there anyone in FPAC’s big, THE MUSICAL who might reach the pinnacle? Maybe. Recent high school grad, Sean Grandillo, has, to my eyes and ears, probably the best shot. Not to say there was no one else on stage who wasn’t very good (okay grandmas and dads of others in the cast, put down the poison pens), but Sean seems to be the whole package…acting, singing, dancing, stage presence, and the immeasurable “it” factor. This is surprising as he only “found” theatre last year.

How far will Sean go? Well, he’s on the right track, having picked a solid college musical theatre program for this fall, has his presence on a YouTube site, and has the FPAC experience. Next steps…more training, tryouts, getting an agent, and stumbling on the one person who can open the doors for his future. And, believe it or not, the latter is probably the most important. For Crissy Wilzak it was going on a student trip to NY while a student at Lorain County Community College, sitting in the front row of HAIR, meeting a cast member, getting introduced to a Broadway director, and eventually getting a chance to be in his off-Broadway production of CHORUS LINE. The rest, so they say, is history.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: big, THE MUSICAL, is a pleasant summer musical experience, well fitting the educational purpose of the FPCA. It’s a nice way to see local talent in its budding stage, support their efforts, and for you, at the end of the show, to give the cast and crew the thrill of an ovation and encourage their dreams--realistic or not.