Tag Archives: Jacob Heimer

Coleytown Company Stages Silver Anniversary Celebration

The list of names associated with Westport’s local theater company is impressive:

  • Rock star songwriter Justin Paul (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman”)
  • Playwright/screenwriter (“Braking Upwards,” “Dogfight”) Peter Duchan
  • Broadway veterans Mia Gentile and Jacob Heimer
  • Composer/performer/teacher/choir director Chris Coogan
  • Former Broadway performer Amiee Turner
  • Professional set designer Jordan Janota
  • Wesleyan University theater professor Robin Mazzola
  • Former off-Broadway and film actor Ben Frimmer
  • New York Theatre Company’s “New, Emerging, Outstanding Composer” Clay Zambo
  • Professional actress Haley Bond,

What is even more impressive is that the local theater company is Coleytown Company.

All those talented, experienced men and women have worked on — or are currently involved with — the middle school’s theater program.

As Coleytown Company celebrates its 25th anniversary, it’s time to shine the spotlight on this impressive institution in our midst.

As with any theatrical project, Coleytown Company has had its ups and downs.

In the 1990s, then-principal Jim Welsch asked 5th grade teacher Frimmer to reimagine the middle school theater program. Up to that point, it was a club with a parent helping out once a year.

Staging shows ranging from “Fiddler on the Roof” to “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Frimmer created an environment in which young actors, singers, dancers, artists and tech kids can learn and grow.

Drew Andrade dances, accompanied by (from left) Eliza Walmark, Rima Ferrer, Emma Schorr. Cece Dioyka, Drew Andrade, Ava Chun, Kathryn Asiel, Keelagh Breslin in the 2019 production of “42nd Street.”

Recently, Coleytown Company has weathered a tough few years. Mold shut the school in 2017. CMS students headed to Bedford Middle School, losing their auditorium. Shows continued, but with a lessened sense of community.

Then came COVID. Like theaters everywhere, the middle schools’ stages went dark.

Last October, Coleytown Company returned with “All Together Now!,” a 15-song musical revue.

Now it’s all the way back. “The SpongeBob Musical” — the Company’s first full-scale musical in 3 years — debuts Friday, April 8 (7 p.m.). Shows continued Saturday, April 9 (7 p.m.) and Sunday, April 9 (1 p.m.).

The community’s help has been impressive. Middle school art teacher Linda Kangro, for example, leads a tech crew whose students actually design and build sets themselves.

Janota — the professional scenic designer working on an upcoming Netflix feature film — and her 18 students have used recycled materials donated by the community to create a coral proscenium, and platforms to build a “volcano.”

Remy Laifer and Jacob Leaf in the 2013 production of “Peter Pan.” The set was typically professional.

Coogan has spent over a decade directing the Coleytown Company pit orchestra. He loves this age group, because “they’re just discovering their voices, capabilities, bodies and acting abilities.”

This is Turner’s 4th show with Frimmer. Her focus is on getting students comfortable with their bodies after lockdown, and “helping them get used to being brave, loud and big with their physical movement.”

Zambo serves as vocal coach, when he is not writing or directing shows and ballets. Because “SpongeBob” was written for adults, he has done “some judicious editing.” But, he says, he works with middle schoolers the same as with professionals: “Keep it light and fun, take the work seriously, and try to bring out the best in everyone.”

Coleytown Company’s “Addams Family” brought out the best in everyone. The 2015 cast includesd (clockwise from left): Anella Lefebvre (Morticia), Georgia Wright (Gomez), Maggie Foley (Wednesday) and Oscar Hechter (Pugsley).

Wesleyan professor Mazzola — a costume-maker for 25 years, who met Frimmer 4 years ago — describes the upcoming show’s costumes as embodying “friendship, individuality and joy.”

That joy has been a hallmark of the experiences of former Coleytown Company actors, many of whom went on to success with Staples Players in high school, then beyond.

Duchan was in Frimmer’s first production: “Peter Pan.” He calls Frimmer’s accomplishments “extraordinary.”

Ben Frimmer (left) directs Emily Desser, Imogen Medoff, Shanti Wimmer and Nina Driscoll in the 2018 production of “James and the Giant Peach.” (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

Over the years, Paul, Gentile and Heimer have all returned from the Broadway stage to help Frimmer and their alma mater. In 2018, Company staged Paul’s “James and the Giant Peach.”

Bond calls CMS “a breeding ground for budding creatives. As a professional in the entertainment industry, I constantly cross paths with my middle schoolmates. They’ve grown up to be writers, actors, directors, filmmakers, technical engineers and designers.”

Current student performers echo the praise.

Haley Forman — Sandy in “SpongeBob” — says, “the theme of the play is working together. The students and staff are bringing that to life.”

Eli Abrams, who plays Perch Perkins, agrees: “I really like that you get to meet all these new people that are doing the same thing as you. If you need help with something, you can always just call them.”

Haley and Eli may or may not follow fellow CMS actors Justin Paul, Peter Duchan, Mia Gentile and Jacob Heimer to Broadway.

But they’re sure in good Company.

(For tickets to “The SpongeBob Musical” and more information, click here. Hat tip: Jordan Razza)

Coleytown Company: “All Together Now!”

Broadway was not the only theatrical casualty of COVID.

Student stages were also darkened by the pandemic. For Coleytown Middle School — which was simultaneously shuttered by mold — 2 entire grades lost opportunities to learn how to audition for, rehearse, light, costume and stage a show.

Not to mention all the lost revenue, which pays for the next Coleytown Company production.

Music Theater International wants to help schools like CMS get back on their feet.

The licensing agency — which usually charges hefty right fees — created a 15-number musical revue they’re offering free. (They hope, of course, that directors who like the songs may do an MTI show in the future.)

Coleytown Company director Ben Frimmer loved the idea. But — in typical directorial fashion — he wondered: How can we make it different from all the other schools that are doing it too?

MTI is licensing “All Together Now!” for one weekend only. Several area groups are also producing it then — along with 5,500 schools and theaters, in all 50 states and over 40 countries.

Frimmer realized it would be difficult to get middle schoolers to learn 15 songs in just 2 months. He also realized he has plenty of Broadway friends who could help.

His first call was to Coleytown Company choreographer Amiee Turner. A veteran of Broadway’s “Will Rogers Follies” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” she said she’d love to perform.

Broadway veterans Mia Gentile and Jacob Heimer — both CMS alums — were happy to come back too.

More than a decade ago, Jacob Heimer and Mia Gentile starred in Staples Players’ “Urinetown.” Both have gone on to professional success.

Company producer Stacie Lewis — the mother of a CMS grad, and a current student — said she’d sing. She reached out to others.

Quickly, Frimmer had a cast: 10 Broadway performers. Six songs featuring Coleytown 7th and 8th graders. And speaking roles for First Selectman Jim Marpe and Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice.

“All Together Now!” is set for Saturday, November 13 (7 p.m.). There’s a livestream option, for anyone unable to be at CMS’ new auditorium in person. (All audience members eligible must be vaccinated.)

As with any show, there are challenges. COVID is one. “If someone has a sniffle, they can’t come to rehearsal,” Frimmer notes. “At any moment, we might have to switch out a performer.”

And because Coleytown had not hosted a performance in 3 years, there was no wood to build sets, or tools to build them with. Lights and props had been removed during the school’s renovation.

On top of which, the current 7th and 8th graders had no Company experience . Frimmer started fresh with everyone, teaching everything from how to audition to how to perform. (Plus: The date MTI chose is earlier than usual for a CMS show.)

But, he says, “they’re all really excited. They’re working together to create live theater. Amiee, Eli Newsom (our musical director) and I are challenging them with high expectations. They’re rising up to meet them.”

Click here for tickets. Revenue helps pay for sound, lights and other Coleytown Company costs — including this spring’s show, “SpongeBob Musical.”

Oh, yeah. They have to pay for licensing rights then too.

Jacob Heimer Is Beautiful. On Broadway.

Jacob Heimer was a Barry Mann fan — even before he knew the songwriter’s name.

Growing up in Westport with eclectic musical tastes — he loved everything before, during and after the Elvis era — Heimer listened to the radio, and rummaged through his dad’s record collection.

“You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling,” “Walking in the Rain,” “On Broadway” — he knew them all.

At Staples High School, Jacob’s band Sally’s Place (named for the popular record shop, owned by the beloved and influential Sally White) covered “I Love How You Love Me” — a 1961 song produced by Phil Spector, co-written by Mann.

Heimer was a talented musician and actor. At 13, he was part of the the Barrington Stage Company’s professional production of “Falsettos.” His Staples Players credits include “Oliver!,” “Merrily We Roll Along” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

David Roth, Alice Lipson, James Andrew, Kevin Connors — all were huge influences on Heimer.

“I have ADD. Focusing is not easy,” Heimer says. “In theater, I could direct my energy really positively. Being in the performing arts helped my grades. And I had incredible support from everyone in my life — especially my family and teachers.”

More than a decade ago, Jacob Heimer and Mia Gentile starred in Staples Players’ “Urinetown.” She’s gone on to a Broadway career, in “Kinky Boots.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

In “Falsettos,” the youngster told an older cast member that he wanted to be a professional actor. Along the way, Heimer said, he’d probably wait tables.

“Don’t have a backup plan,” the man advised.

After Staples (Class of 2006) and Syracuse University — where he took advantage of the superb Shakespeare Globe program — Heimer searched for work.

His first paid Equity gig was a young audience’s show in Florida. Then he landed an “off-off-off-off Broadway” role in an “odd production about displacement camps, with puppets,” and had a lead in “Gold Star,” an indie movie with Robert Vaughn.

Jacob Heimer and Robert Vaughn.

Cast in a Shakespeare production, he met his wife Iris, a talented actor. (She changed careers, and now works at the Center for Reproductive Rights.)

Five years ago, Heimer auditioned for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” It took a while, but he landed ensemble roles — and understudy for Barry Mann — in the first year of the jukebox musical’s national tour.

(Collage courtesy of Staples Players)

Thanks to his early introduction, Heimer knew more about Mann than he knew he knew. But after getting the role he read “Always Magic in the Air,” a book about the talented young songwriters who cranked out hit after hit — for solo artists, girl groups, rock bands, you name it — in the tiny, windowless rooms of Broadway’s Brill Building.

Heimer gained plenty of insights into Mann — including his relationship with Cynthia Weil, and “his own neuroses.”

Heimer calls the show “brilliantly written.” But after the tour ended, he and Iris headed to Italy for a vacation. On the last day — in a beautiful cave city with no cell reception — Heimer got a text from his agent. Could he play Barry Mann again for 2 months — on Broadway?

“It’s icing on the cake,” Heimer says of his current gig. He’s on stage through September 29. Ben Jacoby will resume the role in October, when the show closes after 6 years.

Making his Broadway debut a couple of weeks ago was “exhilarating,” Heimer notes. More than a dozen family members came to opening night.

“This is the most supportive group I’ve ever worked with. I was petrified — even though I knew the role. The cast didn’t know me. But they didn’t care that I wasn’t doing it like the guys before me. They welcomed me in.”

Playing Barry Mann in the Stephen Sondheim Theatre is a fantastic experience, Heimer adds. “This place was built for intimate music.”

With his long involvement with Barry Mann’s (and Carole King’s) music — even if he didn’t realize it at the beginning — does Heimer have a favorite song in the show?

Jacob Heimer (3rd from left) with the cast of “Beautiful.”

“The lyrics of ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ are so sensitive and vulnerable,” the King/Gerry Goffin tune.

“Singing ‘Walking in the Rain’ as a duet with Cynthia Weil is definitely a highlight.

“And ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ is such a great song.” Mann wanted to release it himself, Heimer says, but the Animals heard it and made it one of their anthems.

So: Has Heimer ever personally met the man he plays on stage?

Absolutely.

Barry Mann is “alive and well in California. He’s a very sweet guy.” He’s seen “Beautiful” a few times — including the Los Angeles opening, where he met Heimer.

Barry Mann (3rd from right) and Jacob Heimer share a laugh. On left are Sarah Bockel (who played Carole King) and Alison Whitehurst (Cynthia Weil) on tour.

“He told me something that made me laugh out loud,” the actor says. “I’m keeping it to myself.”

On Broadway.