Tag Archives: Mia Gentile

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.

Westport Rocks The Music World

Westport may not be the center of the musical universe.

But last night, it sure came close.

Darlene Love’s first live performance in 2 years thrilled a sold-out Levitt Pavilion crowd.

The Levitt Pavilion was packed, on a beautiful evening. (Photo/JC Martin)

The singer — who turns 80 this month — gave one of the most memorable performances in the outdoor venue’s 47-year history.

Mixing her Phil Spector hits with gospel and more recent Stevie Van Zandt songs, she owned the stage with a powerful, wide-ranging voice and engaging banter.

Darlene Love in action. (Photo/JC Martin)

As befitting a former backup singer — if you haven’t seen “20 Feet From Stardom,” why not?! — she gave extended solos to a pair of future stars.

Darlene Love’s backup singers got their own star turns. (Photo/JC Martin)

Darlene Love was clearly delighted to be back on stage. And — because there are always Westport connections beyond the obvious — one of the key members of her rock-the-house band was our neighbor, saxophonist Crispin Cioe.

Saxophonist Crispin Cioe (left) is a huge Darlene Love fan. (Photo/Dan Woog)

He once called Darlene Love his “soul and inspiration.” He’s played with her for over 30 years.

And yes, they both gave a rousing rendition of that Righteous Brothers/Phil Spector song of the same name last night.

A pre-show announcement warned concert-goers that, because of COVID, there would be no dancing in front of the stage. So these fans — all probably born years after Darlene Love sang with the Crystals — danced in their own pod. (Photo/JC Martin)

======================================================

Meanwhile, an hour or so earlier and a couple of miles away, Soundview Drive was the stage for a concert of a different kind.

More than half a dozen Broadway stars sang from the front lawn of Karen Elizaga and her husband, Jay Ptashek.

Broadway stars on Soundview Drive. (Photo/Lauri Weiser)

Mixing familiar show tunes with humor — it’s not every day that cars and trucks pass between singers and audience — the singers wowed a crowd arranged in beach chairs, across the street on Compo Beach.

6-year old Chloe Silverstein, and a small part of the large crowd on Compo Beach. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Among the performers: Staples High School graduate Mia Gentile (“Kinky Boots”) and Karen and Jay’s own daughter, Sloane Ptashek.

Mia Gentile, a proud Staples Players alum. (Photo/Lauri Weiser)

Admission was free. But anyone could make (and still can!) donations to  Broadway for Arts Education. The non-profit provides arts education to underserved youth in New York, Haiti and India.

Host Karen Elizaga and her husband, Jay Ptashek. (Photo/Lauri Weiser)

Missyfit’s 2020 Hissy Fit

The last time “06880” caught up with Mia Gentile, the former Staples Players and “Kinky Boots” Broadway star had just released a stunning, Black Lives Matter-inspired version of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?

She and collaborator musician/video producer Roger Klug called themselves MISSYFIT.

“06880” loves Mia. Previous stories covered the 2007 Staples/2011 Cincinnati Conservatory of Music grad’s clever, multi-genre interpretations of the Stanley Steemer jingle, and her many stage roles back in the days when live theater was a thing.

Which brings us to her latest project.

Once again, Mia and Roger have worked together — though hundreds of miles apart — on a new take of an old classic.

Or in this case, 2 classics.

“It was cathartic for us to ring out 2020 with some punk rock angst,” she says.

They mashed up the Ramones’ “Glad to See You Go” and “I Wanna Be Sedated.” The latter song is particularly apt — you know, “20, 20, 20, 4 hours to go…”

It’s a quick leap to 2020 — the year we can’t wait to bid adieu.

So, with just about 9 hours to go … take it away, Mia and Roger!

Mia Gentile Asks: “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?”

Take Creedence Clearwater Revival’s haunting “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.” Add a ’60’s girl group vibe, with Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. Mix in Mia Gentile, the multi-talented 2007 Staples High School graduate.

What do you get?

A song that — in the days following the killing of George Floyd — manages to be both poignant and uplifting.

Mia Gentile, pitching Stanley Steemer.

That’s the genius of Mia — a former Staples Players superstar who went on to Broadway in “Kinky Boots” — and musician/video producer Roger Klug.

In 2012 they collaborated on a “Stanley Steemer” mashup video, with Mia performing that ubiquitous jingle in every genre from jazz, opera, country and Latin to torch song, punk rock, gospel and Lady Gaga. It wracked up 2 million views, and landed Mia an appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America.

Mia and Roger are back together, this time in a project called MISSYFIT.

After their first single, they recorded a few covers. One was CCR’s tune, which they decuded to take back in time.

Mia and Roger worked long distance, via FaceTime. She was on the computer in her Manhattan bedroom, listening on headphone to the backing track he’d created. He was in his Cincinnati studio, hearing Mia’s a cappella voice. During post-production he cut out the sounds of sirens (and an ice cream truck) that leaked through her window.

For reasons he can’t explain, Roger felt the need to work on “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” before other projects that were further along.

Mia Gentile, today.

Then the unarmed Black man was killed in Minneapolis. News of protests and an explosion of awareness of systemic racism in America felt like an echo of the past.

Roger and his family joined demonstrations in Cincinnati. As he described those events to Mia, they realized they had to release the song. They started to envision how a video could underline the lyrics, speaking to the civil rights movement of the 1960s as well as the resurgent demand for racial equality today.

The 2nd recording session — which included a toy xylophone — took place a few days later. Then Roger went to work mixing the vocals and producing the video. Its images of protests from the ’60s — and now the ’20 — are raw, and thought-provoking.

In retrospect, MISSYFIT’s decision to use a girl group/Phil Spector sound seems compelling. There’s a poignant juxtaposition of a bright, peppy, more innocent time, and the dark lyrics.

“Hearing about war, violence and systemic racism from the mouth of babes (so to speak) is powerful,” Mia says. “Youth continue to be at the forefront of progressive American culture.” (Click the link below to listen.)

The single has been released on MISSYFIT’s YouTube page. Reaction has been very positive.

“This song that came to us on a whim now shines a light on how music and art can hold a mirror up to society,” Mia notes.

“People have had enough. It’s time for action.”

Mia And Jack: Broadway In Bryant Park

The Staples High School-to-Broadway pipeline is well-established, and longer running than any hit show.

So it was no surprise to see 2007 graduate Mia Gentile on stage yesterday at Bryant Park. The “Kinky Boots” star was part of the weekly free outdoor concert series, in the heart of Manhattan.

What made her performance special was the photographer shooting it. Jack Bowman — a Staples Players star 8 years after Mia — was on assignment for TheaterMania.

Mia Gentile performs songs from “Kinky Boots.” (Photo/Jack Bowman for TheaterMania)

I’m sure there were other Westporters in the audience — perhaps even onstage.

And I know there are many other Mias and Jacks, waiting in the middle and elementary school wings.

(For all of Jack Bowman’s Broadway in Bryant Park photos, click here.)

Broadway Stars Warm Up Westport

If the interminable weather has got you down — and played havoc with your trips to, say, Broadway, for entertainment — here’s an “06880” special.

Last week, nearly a dozen Broadway stars came to Staples. They performed a benefit concert, helping Orphenians — the elite singing group — who head to San Francisco later this month. (They’re one of only 10 high school choirs invited to perform at a 4-day workshop with Chanticleer.)

The concert was organized by Adam Kaplan. He’s a 2008 Staples (and Orphs) alum, and already a Broadway veteran (“Newsies”).

Adam rounded up some of his most talented buddies, from the biggest New York shows. They performed spectacularly — and, in between numbers, added insights about the importance of high school theater and music. Adam and fellow Staples grad Mia Gentile were particularly compelling.

Here’s the entire show. It’s exactly the warmth we need, in this long, cold winter. (NOTE: You’ll have to click the underlined “Watch this video on YouTube” once it loads.)

If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.

 

Mia Gentile Plays “Forbidden Broadway”

Mia Gentile‘s resume includes impressive credits: Off-Broadway and regional shows; 4 years at the prestigious Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music; many awards and honors.

But things get really interesting when she lists “Special Skills”: dialects (Cockney, Scottish, Irish, Spanish, French, German); improvisational singing (jazz scat and gospel solo), and diva imitations (“i.e., Celine Dion”).

Mia Gentile

Mia Gentile

The 2007 Staples grad doesn’t even mention her role in a racy parody of a popular novel, called “Fifty Shades of F****d Up.” Or her star turn in a Stanley Steemer parody video that went viral. Mia sang that repellent jingle over and over and over again — each time in a different genre.

All of that is great training for her latest gig. Mia is one of 2 female cast members in Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging.

Right now, the show is busy adding razor-sharp send-ups of Pippin, Kinky Boots, Les Miz and Matilda, to last year’s favorites like Wicked and The Book of Mormon. Honing its edges, it opens officially on Sunday (May 4) at the Davenport Theatre on 45th Street.

It’s the type of show where Mia can play several African American roles — Diana Ross, anyone? — and land on the right side of hilarious.

Acting on a New York stage requires plenty of talent, energy, flexibility and commitment. But Forbidden Broadway‘s demands are tougher than most.

In this "Sound of Music Live on NBC" sketch, Mia plays Audra MacDonald, (right), while Carter Calvert is Carrie Underwood).

In this “Sound of Music Live on NBC” sketch, Mia plays Audra MacDonald, (right), while Carter Calvert is Carrie Underwood.

“Vocally, I’m all over the map,” Mia says. Each scene, she plays someone new. She not only has to act and sing — she’s got to act and sing like other singers and actors. She has to do it convincingly, and also with humor.

But not too much. This is parody, not slapstick.

“Vocally I’m all over the map,” Mia says. “Every number is a new costume, really a new show.”

During a manic schedule of rehearsals and preview performances, she’s learned a lot about comedy.

“You can’t prepare too much,” Mia says. “You don’t know what’s funny until you’re in front of a live audience. I just have to trust the material, and find out what works as we go along.”

Of course, Mia has prepared plenty for this role. Her career began in Westport, and Music Theater of Connecticut. She credits voice teacher Kevin Connors, Staples choral director Alice Lipson, Staples Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long, and choreographer Joanne Kahn for much of her success.

This "Cabaret Revival" sketch includes Carter Calvert as Liza Minelli, Mia Gentile as Michelle Williams playing Sally Bowles, and Scott Foster as Alan Cumming (the MC).

This “Cabaret Revival” sketch includes Carter Calvert as Liza Minelli, Mia Gentile as Michelle Williams playing Sally Bowles, and Scott Foster as Alan Cumming (the MC).

“The Staples shows were so rich, complex, stimulating, challenging and fun,” Mia says. Yet each was different. For example, Urinetown was “stylized comedy”; The Mystery of Edwin Drood taught her about improv.

At CC-M, many classmates came from performing arts schools. They could not believe Mia had gone to a public high school.

Still, nothing could have prepared the Westporter for the demands of Forbidden Broadway. Pausing in a rare free moment between yoga class and one of her 8 weekly performances (plus rehearsals), Mia says, “This show is very alive right now. We’re getting ready for Tony season, and our opening run.”

That’s no joke.

Mia Gentile Steems You

“1-800-StanleySteemer, the carpet cleaner” is not the world’s most obnoxious remember-this-phone-number jingle.

That honor goes to 1-877-Kars4Kids. Hands down.

The real Mia Gentile.

But even if you think Stanley Steemer is only mildly repellent, you won’t want to miss Mia Gentile‘s music video.

Sure, she repeats the melody over and over. And over. And over again.

But each version is only a few seconds long.

Each is sung in a different genre. There’s jazz. Opera. Girl group. Country. Latin. Torch song. Punk rock. Gospel. Lady Gaga.

Combined with dozens of costume changes, a rollicking piano accompaniment, and Mia’s versatile, vibrant voice, the result is a YouTube video that has — of course — gone viral.

It got 500 hits a couple of hours after Mia posted it on a few Facebook walls. Within a day, there were 13,000.

Now it’s nearing 50,000 hits.

Not bad for a video done just for fun. This was no guerrilla marketing ploy.

Mia Gentile, pitching Stanley Steemer.

Hopefully, though, it will bring the talented 2007 Staples grad — a veteran of Players shows like “Cabaret,” “The Wiz” and “Children of Eden,” who went on the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and earned praise for her regional theater work in plays like “Next to Normal” — to the attention of Broadway casting directors.

Or at least, the producers at a show like “Ellen.”

Mia first recorded “1-800-StanleySteemer” as a voice demo. It was a way to prove her range of styles.

Roger Klug — a very talented rock musician, writer and producer, who collaborated with her on the project — wanted her to turn her jingles into a music video.

The idea sat on the back burner while Mia auditioned in New York. When she returned to Cincinnati, though — performing every night in “Normal,” and singing in jazz clubs — she finally knocked out the video.

It took a few days to come up with costumes. But it was a fun project. Now it’s taking on a life of its own.

Mia, Mia and Mia — a ’50s girl group.

The Facebook friends whose walls Mia shyly posted the video on forwarded it along. It found its way to Reddit, Tumblr and College Humor. Quickly, it went viral.

“It wasn’t our intention to do this for casting directors, but that’s a happy byproduct,” Mia says. “Casting directors want to put you in a box. If people can see I can play a variety of types, that would be great.”

In less than 3 minutes, the video proves, Mia can sing just about any style, and perform just about any role.

Mia and Mia channel Lady Gaga.

Including a sexy woman in a sequin skirt, oozing sensuality while singing about a carpet cleaner: call Mia Gentile.

Though not at 1-800-StanleySteemer.

Click below for Mia Gentile’s YouTube viral video.)