Tag Archives: Caley Beretta

“Disney’s Descendants” Rises On Staples Stage

As Staples Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long searched for a spring show that would feature plenty of actors, and engage young audiences — more important than ever, as the troupe emerges from many COVID-imposed restrictions — they did not have to look far.

Caley Beretta — a 2010 graduate and former Players president — now works as manager of creative development for Disney Theatrical Group. She worked with writer Nick Blaemire on “Disney’s Descendants: The Musical.”

The comedy features songs from the Disney Channel original “Descendants” fantasy adventure film, and its sequels. (If you don’t have a young kid: The plot lines involve the teenage children of Disney characters Maleficent, the Evil Queen, Jafar and Cruella de Vil,)

“Descendants: The Musical” came out near the beginning of the pandemic. So it did not go through the usual pilot process, in which school drama troupes try it out, then offer feedback for producers to tweak. (Staples Players has done that before, most notably with “Newsies.”)

Beretta offered the untested show to her alma mater. Players will be the first group to use live orchestrations.

It will also be the first to host a production team from Disney. They’ll see the show, complete with an audience.

Staples Players ensemble in “Did I Mention?” (Photo/Kerry Long)

But that’s not the only connection between Disney, “Descendants” and Staples.

Last week Blaemire and Beretta came to Westport. They described the creative process to Players, answered questions, watched the actors perform 2 numbers, then worked with the cast on specific scenes.

In addition, a camera crew interviewed several Players, for Disney to use in marketing.

Caley Beretta and Nick Blaemire, on the Staples stage. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Blaemire described his parallels between the fairytale storyline, and serious social themes like belonging, heritage, citizenship, and the complexities of good and evil.

Blaemire and Baretta inspired the young cast and crew, as they prepared for the opening curtain April 1. The show runs for 7 performances, the first 2 weekends in April.

“Descendants” has been fun — and challenging — for Roth, Long, choreographer Rachel MacIsaac and technical director Jeff Hauser.

“So many times, we do plays that have been done so many times before,” Roth explains. “The chance to do one that no one has seen is rare, and exciting. We are staging scenes completely on our own. That’s very energizing.”

“The Evils.” From left: Chloe Manna, Ben Herrera, Quinn Mulvey, Jayden Saenz).(Photo: Kerry Long)

Sets, dancing and stage movements are not the only things they’re figuring out. The song “Goal” takes place during a sports event — but it’s a sport that does not exist.

Roth and Long created it entirely from scratch. Then they choreographed, and fit it on the stage.

“The kids and adults are very excited,” Roth says. “We like the story line, the music, and taking iconic villains to a new level.”

Roth praises the set too, designed by professional Jordan Janota. The show moves between 2 worlds, offering a different set of challenges to the tech crew and lighting designers.

Roth and Long’s goal was to find a show that appealed to their actors, and young audiences — both of whom have missed the rhythm of regular Players shows during COVID.

Beretta delivered, big time. Walt Disney would have loved this story.

(“Disney’s Descendants: The Musical” will be performed on April 1, 2, 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m., and April 2, 3 and 9 at 3 p.m. Click here for tickets. Proof of vaccination and/or testing is not required. For the protection of the cast and crew, masks are encouraged in the auditorium.)

Staples Players ensemble in “Rotten to the Core.” (Photo/Kerry Long)


Stop The Presses! Staples Players’ Fall Production Is “Newsies”!

Just when you think Staples Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long have no more theatrical tricks up their sleeves — they stage a new one.

Every spring, they gather their cast and crew together to announce the following fall’s mainstage. It’s highly anticipated — but brief and straightforward.

A couple of weeks ago, Roth got an email from Disney Theatricals. The company handles all Disney productions — “Lion King,” “Mary Poppins” and “Newsies,” for example.

A few years ago, Roth and Long enjoyed the latter show on Broadway. As a recent production though, they never imagined it would be available.

Caley Beretta, as a Staples senior. (Photo/Kerry Long)

But Disney’s email — prompted by 2010 Staples grad Caley Beretta, who now works there as a creative development coordinator — posed an intriguing question: Would Players want to pilot a production of “Newsies”?

If so, the highly respected high school troupe would give Disney feedback on what worked well (and did not), and provide video and photos. Disney executives would see the show, and use Staples’ experience to revise their production. It will then be released to other amateur groups to stage, beginning in the fall of 2018.

The process for selecting a show usually takes much longer. But Roth and Long love “Newsies.”

‘”It’s a true story about the 1896 newsboys strike,” Roth notes. “It’s incredible how kids working together forced Joseph Pulitzer to not take advantage of them. It really is a show about kids. And it’s an ensemble show, which is great too.”

This being Staples Players, there’s a strong connection to the Broadway version. Adam Kaplan — Staples ’08 — played Morris Delancey and a newsboy (and understudied for lead Jack Kelly).

Adam Kaplan (left) and “Newsies” fans (called “fansies”).

Long had a great idea: Kaplan could announce the play to Players.

Last Friday morning, she contacted him. He quickly filmed a video, and sent it over.

That afternoon, Players gathered in the auditorium. Roth had said all day, “I am not announcing the show.”

Technically, he didn’t.

The video began. Kaplan insisted there was no specific reason he was chosen for the task. Meanwhile, he coyly showed his “Newsies” t-shirt, held up an album cover and walked over to a poster.

It was a clever performance — and the audience of actors quickly understood. They laughed and applauded. (Watch Players’ reactions in the upper left of the announcement video below.)

Soon — after this month’s “Peter and the Starcatcher” Black Box, and July’s production of “Working” — they’ll turn their attention to “Newsies.”

Roth and Long are already thinking ahead. They know they’ll integrate more girls into the show. “There were actually female newsboys back then,” Roth says.

And Kaplan will help in some way — with talks, workshops, whatever.

Those details will still be worked out. Like all shows, it’s a work in progress.

Stay tuned for more news.

(“Peter and the Starcatcher” will be performed May 25, 26, 27 and 28. Online tickets are sold out, but a limited number of standby seats may be available at the door, 20 minutes before curtain. Click here for show times.)

Gina Rattan’s Sweet Tooth

Staples Players — the award-winning high school theater troupe — teaches teenagers how to act, sing, dance, direct, run lights, and do a thousand other putting-on-a-show-related things.

Including how to raise funds and publicize events.

Once they graduate, many Players alums move on to bigger stages: college, regional theater, even Broadway itself.

But they don’t leave Westport behind. Sometimes they get a chance to return home, show off what they’ve done.

And yes, raise funds for their next project.

Gina Rattan

This Friday (June 29, 8 p.m.) Gina Rattan and Caley Beretta present a fund-raising concert at Toquet Hall. Proceeds benefit the world premiere of “Sweet Tooth,” a 1-act play opening at the New York International Fringe Festival in August. (It’s about 2 very smart high school seniors about to become step-siblings.)

Gina — a former Players president — directs “Sweet Tooth.” She’s been resident director of Broadway’s “Billy Elliot.”

As if she doesn’t have enough to do, Gina is directing another world premiere this summer. The musical “How Deep is the Ocean” is presented by the New York Musical Theatre Festival. It opens July 12.

This Friday’s fundraiser features current and past Staples Players, singing Broadway and pop standards. Performers include Sally Eidman, Haley Bond, Max Stampa-Brown and Eva Hendricks. Broadway’s Liz Pearce (“Billy Elliot”) will also appear, and a raffle with be held for an actor coaching session with Gina.

“The Staples Players community has been a constant source of artistic inspiration for me for years,” Gina says.

“After a year on a Broadway musical, I’m using the leadership skills and artistic direction I first learned at Staples to produce and direct “Sweet Tooth.

“I’m so excited to be breaking out on my own as a director with a world premiere, but self-producing is daunting. We have to raise all of the money to put on the show.

“I have to raise capital for costumes, scenery, lights, marketing, venue insurance, fire-proofing costumes and scenery — and paying all the artists.

“I’m so excited that current and former Staples Players are coming to their artistic hometown to lend their time and talents to a team of former Players. I couldn’t be more honored and excited for Friday.”

(Tickets for this Friday’s concert are $20 for adults, $15 for students. For more information, email caleyberetta@gmail.com. To donate to “Sweet Tooth” via Kickstarter, click here.)

We (Heart) For The Heart

If you were near the cannons at Westport’s 4th 1st of July fireworks — or clicked a link on “06880” — you were entertained by For the Heart, Westport’s fresh-faced, energetic and mega-talented teenage singing group.

But as great as they sound, their back story is even more inspiring.

Six years ago, Bedford 7th grader Caley Beretta was enjoying Music Theater of Connecticut.  She’d made new friends from throughout Fairfield County.  “We wanted an excuse to get together and sing,” she recalls.  On a whim, they called Westport Health Care Center (formerly Mediplex), and offered to perform.

They sang songs from their favorite musicals, like “Wicked” and “Rent.”

“They loved it, but we had no idea ‘Sound of Music’ would be better,” Caley laughs.

For the Heart -- 2011 version. (Photo by Kerry Long)

They had such a good time — and the feedback was so great — that Caley and her friends googled more assisted living facilities in the area.  They created a song list, borrowed sheet music from MTC, rehearsed in her basement — and before long For the Heart “was legit,” Caley says.

First Night 2006 was their 1st non-elderly show.  The crowd loved them — especially 9-year-old additions Melissa Beretta and Cara McNiff, who sang “Matchmaker.”

For the Heart kept singing.  In 2009 Chris McNiff and a few others went to college.  Caley followed the next year.  Before leaving, she brought in new members.

The newcomers suggested Jake Landau as music director.  Caley calls the rising Staples junior “incredibly talented and dedicated.  He wowed us.”

The 12 members — including Stapleites Amanda Horowitz, Tyler Jent, August Laska, Grace McDavid-Seidner, Michelle Pauker, Emily Ressler and Clay Singer, plus Fairfield Ludlowe’s Steve Autore and Fairfield Warde’s Johnny Shea — form what Caley calls “For the Heart 2.0.”

Like a proud parent, she calls the current group “much more polished.” And, she says, “we now do the right songs for each audience.”

They’ve also amped up their performing schedule.

Right before Christmas, they made a memorable visit to the Westport Health Care Center.

They caroled room to room.  It was an intensely personal experience, at an extremely vulnerable time for the elderly men and women.

Their smiles — and the reactions they get at all their shows — are what keep the For the Heart kids gonig.

A Christmas appearance.

After one performance, a woman told the teenagers that, long ago, she’d been an opera singer.  When the group sang “Anything Goes,” a man said he once directed the show.

(As with all performers, they can’t always please everyone.  One person was very offended that they didn’t know “Go Tell it on the Mountain” at Christmastime.)

One of For the Heart’s most memorable gigs was at a Bridgeport after-school program.  The children sang along with Disney songs — and when the teenagers came off the stage to join them in the audience, the youngsters went wild.

This year, the group hopes to sing for new audiences.  Children’s hospitals are high on their list.

Working around active teenagers’ schedules is not easy.  But — despite commitments to their theater and choral groups, schoolwork, SAT courses and the bajillion other things kids today do — the members make For the Heart a high priority.

They sing 15 to 18 selections each show — and they learn new songs for every performance.  The fireworks marked their 40th concert.

So how much money does For the Heart make?

Not a penny.

Every show is free.

In fact, they pay to perform.  Sheet music purchases are a collective effort.

They carpool, to save gas.  They borrow music stands.  And, they note, both MTC and Staples Players director David Roth have been very helpful.

They’ve talked about a fundraising concert at Toquet Hall.  But, Caley says, “what’s great is that this is not about money.  It’s to do a show, and make people smile.”

“It’s all about the joy,” Amanda says.  “It’s just fun.  It makes me happy.”

Grace is gratified by the audience’s smiles.  “It’s so great when they sing along, and then ask us to come back.”

“It’s so great to talk to some of the elderly audiences,” Melissa adds.  “We hear their memories, and they tell us about when they performed or went to the theater.”

Caley knows that many of her talented performers will go on to accomplish great things, in a variety of venues.

But, she says, “it’s nice to get applause on a high school stage, or sing in a big concert, and 2 weeks later get up with your friends, and perform in jeans in some cafeteria.”

Those performances truly come From the Heart.

(Click below for a few of For the Heart’s greatest hits from the recent Compo Beach fireworks show.)

Teens Tackle ‘Children’s Hour’

The Children’s Hour” — Lillian Hellman’s ground-breaking 1934 play about lies and lesbianism — was banned in Boston, Chicago and London.

It’s an intense, multi-faceted challenge for any director and actor.

Which makes it a perfect vehicle for Staples Players’ last studio production of the season.

Caley Baretta — the senior director — is drawn to the show because of the realism of the characters and script.  She’s taken every directing class at Staples, and has assistant directed many mainstages and Black Box plays.  This is her first effort as head director.

“I wanted something with meaning — no song and dance,” she says.

She’s gotten her wish.

In addition to the subject matter and emotional journeys the characters undergo, there’s another challenge:  All but 2 of the cast are freshmen and sophomores.

“For some of them, it’s their 1st real show,” Caley says.

“That’s exciting for me — not limiting.  Their energy and drive are amazing.”

Caley cried when she got her cast together, to show Staples Players director and drama instructor David Roth.

“Directing is my passion,” she says.  “I’m so grateful to have this as my first chance to really strut my stuff.”

Next year at Northwestern University, Caley will major in drama — with a concentration in directing.  She’ll double major in education or psychology.

“To be a director, you need to know more than theater,” she explains.

When “The Children’s Hour” opens tomorrow, Caley’s grandparents will be in the audience.  They live in Florida, and have never seen a show she’s worked on.

Odds are strong this won’t be their last.

(“The Children’s Hour” is presented tomorrow [Friday, May 28] at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, May 29 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.  Click on www.StaplesPlayers.com for tickets.  Click here for Matt Van Gessel’s superb trailer.)

Act One

Staples Players is known for many things: spectacular mainstage shows.  Innovative Black Box productions.  Last spring’s amazing 50th anniversary reunion.

Less well known is the One Act Festival.

This year’s event — the 10th annual — continues an intriguing tradition.  Students take charge of every aspect:  They find 1-act plays; they cast them, design sets, create costumes, and of course direct them.  All students are members of David Roth’s Directing class.

This year’s show features 17 1-acts — comedy, drama, you name it — by writers as diverse as Edgar Allan Poe, Dorothy Parker and J.D. Salinger.  None is longer than 10 minutes.  They’ll be presented Saturday (5 and 8 p.m.) and Sunday (5 p.m.).  Not every play will be staged at each performance.

One Act participants (clockwise from upper left): Peter Molesworth, Max Samuels, Greg Langstine, Caley Beretta (Photo by Kerry Long)

For 3 years, senior Caley Beretta has served as an assistant director for Roth.  This weekend she steps onto the stage — for her 1st time at Staples — as an actor in “The DMV Tyrant” (a comedy, of course).

“It’s so much fun being on the other side of things,” she says.  “Other people who are usually on tech have gotten the chance to act as well.  One Acts gives everyone the opportunity to try something different.  That’s awesome.”

“DMV” is the 1st real directing effort for actor Peter Molesworth.  The junior “loves the atmosphere of working with a small group of actors.  There is a dynamic present when working with students your own age.  They have respect and sympathy for the work you put in, and everything else going on outside of rehearsal.”

He adds:  “It’s also fun to see Caley — who has always been in a directing or leadership role — step down into the actor’s shoes.  They fit her flawlessly.”

Peter appreciates playwright Christopher Durang’s simple script.  “It leaves so much room for interpretation,” the novice director says.

Junior Max Samuels is directing “Normal.”  The set is very simple; the subject matter, deep (a father-son relationship).  “It has a great ending that will make the audience teary-eyed,” Max promises.

Junior Greg Langstine chose to direct “The Audition” because it’s a comedy.  “I put myself in place of the audience,” he explains.  “Laughter is the best way to go.”

Peter Molesworth calls the One Act Festival environment “very nurturing and open.  It gives underclassmen an opportunity to shine, either on stage or directing.

“One Acts are pure fun,” he adds.  “It’s Staples Players at its root.  It’s up close in the Black Box, and incredibly vulnerable for a lot of people.  It’s so much of ourselves that it’s sort of frightening.  That also makes it so exciting.”

(For ticket information, click here.)