Tag Archives: Staples Players

Get Back To The ’80s, Today And Tomorrow!

I had modest expectations for “Back to the ’80s.”

I knew Staples Players’ summer show would be fun. I figured I’d spend last night entertained and amused, by a typically high-quality Players production.

But the ’80s were 3o-plus years ago. That’s more than a decade before the high school performers were born. How much could they really “get” the music, the memories, the pop culture references?

They did more than get it. They blew the audience away.

The “Get Out Of My Dreams (Get Into My Car)” ensemble. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“Back to the ’80s” is one of the best shows you’ve never heard of.

It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The reinterpretations of songs — from “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Love Shack” to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and (especially) “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” — is eye-opening.

Colin Konstanty, Jasper Burke, Nick Rossi and Sam Mandelbaum cut loose. (Photo/Kerry Long)

And the little touches (embarrassingly short shorts on guys, bad hair on girls) bring you right back to the days of Pac-Man and David Hasselhof.

There are plenty of things to do today and tomorrow. Many of them can wait.

Make time — if you can — for “Back to the ’80s.” Bring the kids, even if they were born in the 2000s.

Only 3 performances remain: Today (Saturday, July 13, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.), and tomorrow (Sunday, July 14, 3 p.m.). Tickets are available by clicking here, or at the Staples High School auditorium.

Trust me (and Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes): You’ll have the time of your life.

Mia Kobylinkski and Charlie Zuckerman (Photo/Kerry Long)

Staples Players director David Roth does a star turn as the show’s 2019 narrator. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Staples Players Head Back To The ’80s

Staples Players’ summer show is “Back to the ’80s.”

The jukebox musical — a mashup of plots like “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Revenge of the Nerds” and “The Breakfast Club,” with songs like “Love Shack,” “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” plus bad hair and acid-washed jeans — is great entertainment.

Corey Palmer narrates the show, from 2019. He looks back on himself as a geeky boy in love with the girl next door, growing up and going to high school in 1984.

That’s the same year Players director David Roth graduated from Staples. So who better to play the narrator than Roth himself?

That’s one of the special twists audiences will enjoy when “Back to the ’80s” opens this Friday evening (July 12). Performances are also set for Saturday afternoon and evening, and a Sunday matinee.

Director David Roth with (from left) Georgia Wright and Sophie Rossman. When he’s not working with the actors, Roth joins them onstage. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“It’s a fun fit,” says Roth, making his first appearance on the Staples stage since graduating 35 years ago. Back in the day, he starred as the MC in “Cabaret,” and shows like “Pippin” and “I Do! I Do!” He also directed “Chicago,” and served as vice president of tech his senior year.

There have been plenty of technical advancements in the 3 1/2 decades since Roth was a student. He and co-director Kerry Long have taken Players — always one of the best high school drama troupes around — to the next, near-Broadway level.

But, Roth says, the essence of Players has not changed. “It’s still a group of people who come together to put on a show,” he says.

Remember “Love Shack”? These Staples Players dance to the B-52s’ song. (Photo/Kerry Long)

And who have tons of fun doing it. Rehearsal last week was filled with a great, talented cast of dozens — from rising freshmen to Players alum like Charlie Zuckerman (taking a year off from college, to audition) and Jill Gault (in her 2nd year of the Ithaca College acting program).

They sang and danced their way through “Material Girl,” “Video Killed the Radio Star” and “Come On Eileen.”

All are ’80s songs from “Back to the ’80s.” None of the cast had been alive then, of course.

Except director/narrator David Roth.

Not to be confused with David Lee Roth.

(“Back to the ’80s” will be performed Friday, July 12 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 13 at 3 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, July 14 at 3 p.m. Click here for tickets and more information.)

The very 80s-ish cast of Staples Players’ summer show. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Our Town’s Players

David Roth has acted in 3 productions of “Our Town.”

In 1980 — the summer he moved to Westport, as a rising Staples High School freshman — his introduction to his new town’s drama community came via Thornton Wilder’s classic play.

A few years later in college, he was cast in it again. The third time was as an adult, with the Wilton Playshop.

Kerry Long was introduced to “Our Town” as a Staples student. English teacher Karl Decker traditionally read it to his senior class.

Roth and Long now co-direct Staples Players. But in over 60 years, the nationally recognized organization has produced the play only once.

That was in 1962. Craig Matheson directed, 4 years after founding Players.

This Thursday through Sunday (May 23 through 26), Roth and Long will stage “Our Town” again.

Both love it.

“It’s brilliant,” Roth says. “It so well captures the human experiences we all go through.”

Much has changed in 57 years. Besides the auditorium, there’s now a smaller Black Box theater.

That’s where Players will stage “Our Town,” from Thursday through Sunday (May 23 through 26).

But much has not changed.

The set is spare. Props are minimal. Very little separates the audience from the actors, or both from life’s experiences.

Emily (Sophie Rossman) and George (Nick Rossi) at the soda shop. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Players’ 2019 cast wears contemporary clothing. Though the play is set in 1938 — and the “play within a play” covers the years 1901 to 1913  — Roth and Long want their audience to focus on the timelessness of the message, not its time frame.

The directors make good use of the Black Box’s intimacy and versatility. The audience sits on stage. They flank the actors, so the action happens both in front and behind.

Roth and Long have loved “Our Town” for years. They are excited to introduce a new generation of performers — and theater-goers — to it.

Mrs. Gibbs (Camille Foisie) and Doc Gibbs (Tobey Patton). (Photo/Kerry Long)

Most of the teenage actors knew of of the play, Roth says. But few of them actually “knew” it.

Now they appreciate it as much as their directors do.

That’s the magic of theater. Of “Our Town.”

And of Staples Players.

(“Our Town” will be performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 23, 24 and 25 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 26 at 3 p.m. Online tickets are sold out, but a limited number will be available half an hour before curtain, at the door.)

August Laska: A True “Broadway Bounty Hunter”

When he was in Staples Players, audiences knew August Laska as an actor. His roles included “Guys and Dolls,” “Little. Shop of Horrors,” “West Side Story” and “A Chorus Line.”

But — like many members of the high school drama program — he learned about many other aspects of theater. He directed a studio production, “Museum.” He headed up the publicity team. He watched his friends take on projects like fundraising and outreach.

After graduating in 2013, August majored in film and media at Middlebury College. He learned how to communicate with mass audiences, and discovered the connection between movies and Broadway.

August Laska

While many of his classmates joined the “Middlebury to Goldman Sachs pipeline,” he headed to Los Angeles. He worked for Snapchat and loved the West Coast, but realized technology was not for him.

A bit over a year ago, August joined Disney Theatrical Productions in New York. He enjoys his marketing work there immensely.

Thanks to his college internships in Broadway offices, an outside job recently came his way. Though he’s still in his mid-20s, August is now a co-producer.

He’s working on “Broadway Bounty Hunter.” The Off-Broadway musical — written by Tony-nominated writer (“Be More Chill”) Joe Iconis — is set to open in July.

So after his full-time, daytime gig, August spends his nights raising money to make sure that happens.

Every show needs money. There are directors, designers and creatives to hire; space to rent; sets to build — all before one ticket is sold.

There is no handbook or Wiki article on how to be a producer. August is learning by doing — and watching those who have already done it.

Fortunately, co-producing fits his skill set. And he appreciates growing up in a community that values the arts.

He’s contacting some of those Westporters right now, while raising capital for “Broadway Bounty Hunter.” (He’s also involved a Broadway show opening this summer — but he can’t share those details just yet.)

“Investing in theater is risky,” August admits. “Not every show is ‘Hamilton.’ But when it is, you make back your investment big time.

“It’s a long journey though. Its not a one-time lottery ticket.”

Show people are special people. Not everyone can act on stage.

August Laska did, at Staples. Now his action takes place behind the scenes.

But co-producers get awards beyond tickets to opening night.

“You know all those people you see on stage at the Tonys?” he asks. “They’re producers. They get a statuette too.”

Mark Groth’s Amazing “Budy” Story

If you saw “Curtains” last month — or any other Staples Players production over the past 6 decades — you were awed by the acting, dancing, sets and lighting.

But back in the day, Staples Stage and Technical Staff was separate from Players’ actors. SSTS had their own director, officers, traditions — even their own t-shirts.

Mark Groth was a proud SSTS member. He was president in 1968, the culmination of a 3-year career in which he helped construct a set with moving turntables, another that jutted out into the audience, and multimedia projectors for the original show “War and Pieces,” which ended being part of a cultural exchange program with the USSR.

Staples Stage and Technical Staff member Al Frank working backstage, from the 1967 yearbook.

Groth had 2 wonderful mentors at Staples. Both were faculty directors of SSTS.

Steve Gilbert was “brilliant,” Groth says. “He led us places we’d never even thought of. He let us come up with ideas, and do lighting, sound and staging that was way beyond high school.”

When Gilbert was on sabbatical, Don Budy took over. He was a Staples art teacher — his first job after graduating from college in his native Colorado. He was quieter than Gilbert, but equally as talented and inspirational.

Groth learned well. He and fellow SSTS member Steve Katz did all the lighting for the legendary concerts — the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds, Animals — on the Staples stage.

Don Budy (1967 Staples High School yearbook photo)

Gilbert and Budy’s influences were profound. Groth headed to Rockford College in Illinois — attracted primarily by their state-of-their-art, $12 million theater.

He majored in technical theater (and in New York one Thanksgiving break, did the lights for a Hell’s Angels-sponsored Grateful Dead concert).

Groth spent 3 1/2 years with the Army’s 101st Airborne, and the next 40 at the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry. Groth videotaped residents’ sessions through a one-way mirror, as part of their training. It was a fascinating career.

Meanwhile, when his son was in high school Groth attended their production of “West Side Story.”

“It was terrible,” he says. He offered to help the director.

For the next 10 years, he volunteered for 20 shows. Then, after he protested the administration’s censorship of one play, he was told the school’s drama program was “going in another direction.”

A month later, Kella Manfredi — whom Groth had worked with 10 years earlier — called. With a master’s in theater education, she was now the theater director at Bear Creek High School in Englewood. Would he be interested in helping?

Sure! So, for the past 10 years, Groth has worked with a high school theater program that sounds like “the Staples Players of Colorado.” They’ve done “Cabaret,” “26 Pebbles” (about the Sandy Hook massacre), and just closed “Be More Chill” (they got the license when it was still off-Broadway).

The great set for Bear Creek High School’s production of “Grease.”

Which brings us back to SSTS.

Thirty years ago, Groth’s grade-school daughter performed in a concert at Cherry Creek High School. As he set up his tripod to videotape, a staff member came over.

They looked at each other.

“Mark Groth?!” the man said.

“Don Budy?!” Groth replied.

They rekindled their friendship. Budy — now a professional sculptor, in addition to working with Cherry Creek — comes to as many of Groth’s shows as he can.

He was there a few days ago, at “Be More Chill.” More than 50 years after they first met, Budy still supports his old student.

Don Budy (left) and Mark Groth, after Bear Creek High School’s “Be More Chill.”

Groth enjoyed his academic job, and loves working with high school students. He started with a professional-type troupe at Staples, and he’s with a similar one now in Colorado.

There’s only one difference. At Bear Creek, his tech crew remains separate from the actors.

“We’re like Ninjas,” Groth says proudly. “I tell them: ‘Be swift. Be silent. Be invisible.'”

And — as Steve Gilbert and Don Budy taught Mark Groth all those years ago: Be great.

 

Pics Of The Day #698

“Curtains” — Staples Players’ murder mystery musical — wowed audiences this weekend. The choreography, sets, pit orchestra — all were (as usual) astonishingly professional, entertaining and fun.

The show continues next Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and this Sunday and next Saturday at 3 p.m. But when you see it, you’ll never get a view like this. Brandon Malin is a member of the lighting crew. He took these photos last night, from the catwalk.

Spot operators (from left) Maria Saravia, Michael Lederer and Charlie Norman. (Photos/Brandon Malin)

And here are a couple of shots of the cast:

Nick Rossi, as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi 

There’s plenty of dancing in “Curtains” (Photos/Kerry Long)

 

It’s “Curtains” For Staples Players

When the curtain rises on  “Curtains” this Friday, audiences will enjoy another superb Staples Players production.

The show — a musical mystery comedy by Rupert Holmes, with music by Kander and Ebb (“Chicago,” “Cabaret”) — is clever. Contemporary, yet with a classic old-time, homage-to-musical-theater feel, it’s a play about putting on a play.

Nick Rossi, Chloe Manna and the “Curtains” dance ensemble. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Because a stage manager is one of the key cast members, it’s time to shine a spotlight on that often-overlooked — but crucially important — role.

Players — the professional-quality high school troupe — has earned rave reviews and national awards since its founding 61 years ago. But like any Broadway show, none of it would be possible without behind-the-scenes help.

At Staples, stage manager is an enormous responsibility. Joe Xiang — a senior who earned the post this year — coordinates multiple aspects of the show. Each day he huddles with directors David Roth and Kerry Long, producer Michele Wrubel and technical director Peter DiFranco to keep everyone — and everything – progressing well.

He works with vice president of tech Karalyn Hood to coordinate set, paints and light. He oversees all 100-plus lighting cues with lighting designer Ben Wolfe, Roth and Long.

Stage manager Joe Xiang at work. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“Curtains” includes three different scene drops. Over February, Players installed pulleys — a completely new element for Xiang, and one that he’s helping oversee too.

Next year, Xiang will take everything he’s learned with Players — people skills, task management, organization, critical thinking and more — as he studies business in college. Theater, though, will continue to be part of his life.

That’s certainly true for Michael Dodd. The 2017-18 stage manager is now a freshman at Duke University. But Roth asked him to help with this year’s set design.

Dodd took the drawing originally created by David Steltzer for Players’ first production of “Curtains” — in 2010 — and made them bigger and better. It was one more contribution from a stage manager — and one more way for Players to connect the past with the present, while providing an opportunity to learn everything possible about producing a first-rate show.

Four “generations” of Staples Players stage managers. From left: Joe Xiang (Staples High School Class of 2019), Jack Norman ’17, Michael Dodd ’18, Karalyn Hood ’20. (Photo/Kerry Long)

This weekend and next, audiences will roar for the actors. “Curtains” is a true ensemble show. It’s a whodunit filled with belly laughs, a catchy score and rousing old-Hollywood-meets-old-West dance numbers.

But none of it would be possible without Players’ stage managers. How great that that “role” will finally be noticed on stage.

(“Curtains” will be performed at Staples High School on Friday and Saturday, March 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m., with 3 p.m. matinees on Sunday, March 17 and Saturday, March 23. Click here for tickets. Tickets may also be available in the auditorium lobby 30 minutes prior to showtime.) 

Emma’s Opening Act

Westporters know her as Emma Ruchefsky. The world may soon know her as Emma Charles.

The daughter of Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston — hence the stage name — thrilled audiences at Staples High School with Players productions of “Avenue Q,” “Hello, Dolly!’ and “Sweeney Todd,” and as an Orphenians singer. She’s also performed at the Levitt Pavilion and Fine Arts Festival.

Now — having finished her performance and songwriting studies early at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music — her professional career is taking off. She’s in the midst of a 12-city tour, opening for Tyler Hilton and Howie Day.

This Saturday (March 15, 7:45 p.m.) Emma returns to the area. A show with Howie is set for the Fairfield Theater Company.

She’s also just released a beautiful new song, “Comfort in the Chaos.”

Emma’s base is Los Angeles. She’s working there on original music — heard only by a few people so far. She’s excited to play it for her hometown fans.

“Finding my voice as an opener is tough,” Emma notes. “But it’s the best way to start touring in as many places as possible.”

In LA, she says, she’s coming into her own sound. It’s similar to Kacey Musgraves and Maggie Rogers — but definitely her own.

Emma Charles

When she takes the FTC stage, Emma will not be far from her Westport heart — geographically, and emotionally.

She is grateful for the opportunities Staples provided, through Luke Rosenberg’s choral program and David Roth’s Players.

Emma Ruchefsky may have changed her name. But Emma Charles is still the same warm, wonderful — and very talented — performer they (and the rest of Westport) knew and loved.

(Click here for tickets and more information on Saturday’s Fairfield Theater Company show.)

Tyler Jent Helps “Lion King” Roar

Everyone knows “The Circle of Life” from “The Lion King.”

But the song took on new meaning recently. As Greens Farms Elementary School prepared for its first-ever musical production — of, yes, “The Lion King” — it got a big boost from a very special alum.

Tyler Jent — who graduated from GFS  in 2006, and Staples High School 7 years later — returned to his alma mater to help prepare the young actors and dancers. He spent every Monday for 2 months with them — then more intensely as showtime neared.

This was way cool. After starring in more than a dozen Staples Players productions, then graduating from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Tyler launched his professional musical theater carer. He just finished a run in the national tour of “Kinky Boots.”

Tyler Jent — and a future Broadway star?

The Greens Farms kids were already in great shape. Westporter Laura Curley Pendergast — a former actress and dancer — had spent countless hours, along with teachers and many others, working with the cast and crew.

Tyler just gave them an extra Broadway boost.

“It was so emotional for me returning to GFS,” he said. “These kids are amazing. It’s been a blast helping Laura pull this show together.”

“The Lion King” opens tonight (March 7, 7 p.m.). It continues tomorrow (Friday, March 8, 7 p.m.), and ends Saturday (March 9, 4 p.m.). Tickets are available at the Greens Farms Elementary School door.

Unsung Heroes #73

It’s a stretch to call the cast of Staples Players “unsung.” They’ve won tons of awards, and the hearts of every audience that’s seen any show.

Besides, you can’t call a troupe that puts on musicals “unsung.”

The Players’ fall mainstage — “Legally Blonde,” this week and next — will be one more smash in a 60-year history of successes. Ticket sales were so brisk, they’ve already added another performance. (Click here for available seats.)

But shows like this are true team efforts. Players could not do what they do without the help of their technical crew — sets, lighting, costumes — as well as pit musicians, publicity, and everyone else who makes a production go.

Plus parent volunteers.

And of course, directors David Roth and Kerry Long.

Some of the Staples Players cast and crew get plenty of praise. Others toil unnoticed backstage, in the wings, on the catwalks or elsewhere.

All are our Unsung — and Sung — Heroes of the Week.

Georgia Wright, Justin Dusenbury, Kelley Schutte and Tomaso Scotti could not do what they do in “Legally Blonde” without the help of hundreds of others. (Photo/Kerry Long)

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)