I always love it when I am “pleasantly surprised” (in quotes because I borrowed it from someone else) at the theater.
I love it even more when my expectations are exceeded.
That being true, you can imagine how delighted I was to find that the latest production by the Young Actors Workshop at the Wagon Wheel Theatre both surprised me and way exceeded my expectations which, I admit, were rather high.
It was the annual YAW show, a one-performance-only mid-season event, performed on the existing stage set and chosen for its adaptability to said set. This year directors Andy Robinson and Kira Lace Hawkins (both WW ‘12 company members) chose “Honk!” an absolutely delightful musical setting for the Hans Christian Anderson tale of “The Ugly Duckling.” With the addition of tall weeds and cattails, it worked beautifully with the "senior" setting for "Carousel."
This was the third YAW production I have seen. The first time I went was in 2010, because Elkhart Civic Theatre had done “Once on This Island” and I had difficulty believing that young performers could handle the mostly-music show.
Which just goes to prove that even I can be wrong.
It was amazing. Even more so was last year’s selection, Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” also mostly-music but ramped up to the enth degree with intertwining melody lines and tongue-twisting lyrics and absolutely no room for error.
After that, I was pretty sure that there was nothing those young people could not do, but then again, casts are different every year and strong performers come and go. And the show is put up in only 10 days, which raises the difficulty factor and makes the finished product even more amazing.
No need to worry. “Honk!” proved to be an absolutely delightful, glitch-less show. The leading players had beautifully strong voices and the ability to make fantasy characters come to life. And the chorus, all playing assorted animals, never missed an entrance or a beat
In addition, for the first time they were accompanied by a live orchestra of equally young musicians!
As well as making for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, the show offered a very heartening look at where performers, players and production staff might be coming from in the future.
Not that Wagon Wheel is the only theater that has a unit which uses young people only. There is one at South Bend Civic and another at Elkhart Civic. Have not seen an SBCT production, but judging from the excerpts presented Saturday evening during the Arts Everywhere Performing Arts Series annual program at Potawtomi Park, those young people also can hold their own. Their upcoming musical is “All Shook Up.”
Have seen several of the ECTeam (Elkhart Civic’s name for its youth theater) productions and I can vouch for their top quality. “Charlotte’s Web” was delightful and “Seussical Jr.” was outstanding! This year, the musical will be “Honk Jr.” and the play, “Ramona Quimby.”
Check the websites of all organizations for show dates, times, tickets, etc., but be aware they usually are presented for one performance or one weekend only.
Premier Arts also has performances by young people, usually the matinees of whatever adult production is on the main stage. I have never seen one (more on that later) so I can’t judge the quality.
Enough to say that whatever involves young people in the performing arts has got to be a plus, with long-lasting effects. You just may be looking at the stars of tomorrow!