(Back, l to r) Souma Hayakawa (Gangster), Chantal Roe (Coyote), Emily Seff (Snake), Liam Alford (Owl), Skye Sholty (Vinny), Sage Wild (Gangster), Myanno Miller (Hawk). (Center, seated l to r): Gabbi Beauvais (Hazel)and Betsey Lee (Cy).
Not since Billy Portmans Seventh Son has Topanga Elementary Schools Spring play been blessed with such an original production whose very title, Chinchilla Sunrise, is beguiling.
What does it mean? Is it about a rodent? A dawning? A drink? Not knowing is half the fun.
Just before the opening night performance, the actors scurryied about, watched over by volunteer wranglers.
A group of excited cast members were eager to explain their characters. Costumes, gray with ears, must be mice.
Were monk mouses, answers Maude.
Monk mouses ? You mean youre a combination of monkeys and mouses?
No, Lily patiently corrected.
Are you chipmunk mouses?
Were monks. We follow the Great Chinchilla, explained Maud.
Oh, monks, as in religious monks?
Written and directed by kindergarten teacher, Roger Harrell, with music and lyrics by Dinah Englund and John Adams, Chinchilla Sunrise is a tale of adventure, courage, friendship and marshmallows.
Harrell says that he actually experienced clever mice remove marshmallows from his desk and, with great skill and diligence, relocate them to another part of the classroom. This incident became the inspiration for the play and, with proper rodent admiration and appreciation, he adds, I was and still am very impressed. This is their story.
Sasha Luczy as the Library Mouse went for the old marshmallow trick and got caught in the trap.
The packed house was filled with excitement as the lights went down.
Evita Rose, sitting on the floor, eagerly awaiting for the play to begin, was unable to contain herself.
Im five, she announced.
Valentina Silardi settled in at the keyboard to accompany the young and talented Rising Star Performers as they warmed things up with a magical and merry number from, Seussical, directed by Jill Williams.
Then the terrific trio, under the direction of Pete Snell with Paul Eckman and Debra Dobkin, started the music and the play began.
Ah, the world of Topanga Elementary School at night! Who knew it was so alive with such enchanting critters?
The opening song and dance, When Youre A Mouse, which seemed to be performed by an enthusiastic cast of thousands, made us all wish for whiskers and tails.
The plays inspired choreography was by Kristy Beauvais, founder of Focusfish Aerial Circus.
Ben Silbar and Dylan Williams as brother rats, Runn and Dunn, are a comic pair extraordinaire. Enjoying themselves immensely, they captured the classic balance of wit and stoogery.
Evita Rose laughed a lot.
Being rodents of good will, the brothers and their colorful crew of mice take on the task of helping a small, lost hamster who is trying to find her way back to her owner.
Although the hamster is small, there is nothing little about the performance of Gabbi Beauvais as Hazel. With the confidence and poise of a seasoned trouper, Beauvais is a natural, reminiscent of a young (dare I say it?) Ethel Merman.
The fun song, Junkalunka, celebrates the goodies students leave behind in the classrooms. The cast sang, danced and bandied about large junk food props.
Assisting Hazel on her journey are Nina Lowry, charismatic as Coach Harriet and Nina Richeda as likable lovely Nickey. A charming tap dance performed by Augie Isaac, India Schmitt and adorable Mikayla Williams was a big crowd pleaser.
Appreciative mention is also given to all the poisoned mice who so well captured the condition of feeling unwell. It was dizzying just to watch.
Silanchi Erickson adroitly rolled out of the way of the dropping curtain and Lily Levy and the library mice were properly studious and nerdy.
Of course, every play must have a villain and a proper antagonist, The Exterminator, complete with Austrian accent, appears as a shadowy figure portrayed by a shadow puppet.
The Exterminator is out to eliminate the rodents by whatever dubious methods he deems necessary and the whole Topanga animal kingdom comes together to fight his dastardly deeds.
In contrast to the gentle, funny mice, is a gang of rat outsiders who roam the wilds. These tough rodents played by, Betsy Lee, Jamie Mazur, Tal Magdish, Slater Anton and Jamal Speaks, were a sure hit of the night with their rebel attitude and vibrant song, Stanky Rat.
The ethereal Shadows was beautiful to watch with amazing aerial acrobatics and everyone in the scene worked together wonderfully to create the mysterious moonlit mood. One could almost hear the frogs croaking.
Another memorable segment was the Meeting of the Four Families, conducted by the astounding and powerful performance of Liam Alford as Owl. In his Godfather-like turn as the leader of the animals, Alford along with his assistant, Vinny, played with understated strength by Skye Sholty, enable Hazel to search for the elusive, all- knowing Great Chinchilla.
Emily Seffs Snake was enchantingly hissable and Myanno Miller shined as Hawk. Chantal Roe was a fearsome, glamorous coyote, as well as a graceful dancer, nicely supported by her coyote mate, portrayed by Souma Hayakawa.
Finally, Hazel arrives at the school science lab and is met by the mice that make up the order of the Great Chinchilla.
As Brother Francis and Sister Julie, always capable, talented Augie Issac and Macayla Loomis, with her pretty voice, have fully developed their fun, wacky and devoted characters. All of the Monk Mice were properly faithful followers.
Then we meet himself, The Great Chinchilla, played by Dominick DAuria.
Beneath his beautiful fur, he is a charming, down-to-earth seeker of truth who learns a truth about himself. His poignant good-bye song sung to a mirror, is all the more moving with Skye Sholty as his reflection, in this duet with a silent partner.
At last, brave Hazel finds her way and is able to save all the creatures from the Exterminators forbidden poison.
Upon her return to her family, she meets Hunter, a new hamster, who just happens to be a boy, a cute boy by the way, played by Henry Miller, who, with a nod and wink to the audience, suggests, Maybe well start our own colony.
There were also between-the-scenes blackouts as curtain comics and actors pulled off jokes and one-liners in front of the curtain.
Dylan Williams (left), as Dunn, and Ben Silbar (right) as his brother rat, Runn, try to decide how to help Hazel (center), a small, lost hamster, played by Gabbi Beauvais, who is trying to find her way back to her owner.
Even though there might have been a dropped line, late entrance or a forgotten bit of business, it is to their credit and that of the director that the performers remained unfazed, stayed in character and improvised when they needed to. What pros!
As impressive as many of the individual performances were, what remains the stellar achievement of, Chinchilla Sunrise was the great camaraderie of the cast and crew. That is, of course, also the message of the play.
Speaking of camaraderie, the palpable feeling of goodwill started from the top in the persons of producers Jill Williams and Sue Schmitt. Their dedication is as fierce as that of the Monk Mouses.
Together, they have once again produced something that will always stay with every child that graced that stage on an April weekend in 2012.
Thank-you Roger Harrell for giving us a beautiful sunrise.
Assistant Directors were Catherine Luczy and Carey Campbell. The fanciful sets were created by Lisa Roumain-Smith and the set constuction crew. Steve Smith was Technical Director, Light Design by Teal Brogden with Audio Design by Mark Fedorowycz. The clever costumes were designed by Kerrie Peterson and assistant designer Cheryl Torrey. Vocal Coaches were Kelly Lowry and Donna DeLory.
Stage management, (what a job) was by Martin Schmitt and Paula Sholty with help from the student and parent Stage and Prop Crew. Make-up and hair were by Destiny London and Catering was expertly managed by Kristina Rocco-Levy.
Roger Harrel would like to thank his writing group, the Sarah Fulton Group, for its help in the projects development.
Thanks, too, go to Principal Nicole Sheard, acting coach Ben Meyerson, Piper Norwood and Shawn Rhodes, and to the hundred volunteers who came together