Stage Talk by Carol Viescas
‘Viva El Paso!’ — El Paso Community Foundation and El Paso Live present the 41st season of the summertime outdoor musical extravaganza with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through July 28, at McKelligon Canyon Amphitheatre. July 20-21 performances in Spanish. Tickets: $24 ($16 ages 2-12, seniors 65 and older and military with valid ID). Tickets opening weekend (June 15-16) are $10. All tickets available at Ticketmaster. Information: ElPasoLive.com.
Created by Hector Serrano in 1978, “Viva! El Paso” depicts 400 years of the El Paso area’s rich history.
Burges High School’s Keith W. Townsend returns for the third year to direct the 72-member cast. The show will combine many of the popular songs, dances and characters from the past, such as the iconic deer dance, with a new one.
The updated script is by Tony Award-winner Marty Martin, with music by Jim Ward, Gabriel Gonzalez and Cody Ritchey.
Theatre of the Big Bend — Sul Ross State University’s Summer Theater Program celebrates its 52nd season. Performances are 8:15 p.m. Fridays through Sundays, Sul Ross’s Outdoor Theatre at Kokernot Lodge in Alpine, Texas. Lawn chairs welcome. Information: (432) 837-8218, 1-888-722-SRSU (7778) or sulross.edu/tobb.
• Through July 1: “Bleacher Bums,” a comedy by Joe Mantegna. Tickets: $8-$10.
• July 6-29: “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” Tickets: $10-$12.
The 4th Annual Sul Ross Children’s Theatre Camp runs July 16-23 at the SRSU Theatre. First week for age 6-10, second week for age 11-14. Cost: $75.
‘Next to Normal’ — El Paso Community College Theater Ensemble presents the hit rock musical July 5-22 at Transmountain Campus Forum Theater, 9570 Gateway North, directed by Michael Bates. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.Tickets: $15 ($10 non-EPCC students and military; $7 EPCC students and staff and senior citizens). Ages 6 and older only admitted. Reservations: 831-5056.
The Pulitzer-prize winning drama, with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, deals with mother struggling with bipolar disorder.
Cloudcroft melodramas — Cloudcroft Light Opera Company’s live open air melodrama performances at 7:30 p.m. at Zenith Park’s pavilion on Burro Ave. Admission is free, but seating is limited. Early arrival recommended. Information: (575) 682-2733 or cloudcroftlightopera.com.
Summer performances are Friday and Saturday, July 6-7, July 2-13 and July 20-21.
‘South Pacific’ — UTEP Dinner Theatre, in the UTEP Student Union West building, closes its season with the Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical July 6-22. Show time is 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; non-dinner matinees are Sunday 2:30 p.m. July 15 and 22; dinner matinee is 1:30 p.m. Sunday, July 8. Tickets: $33.50 to $43.50 Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday discount dinner performances; $36.50 to $48.50 (Friday and Saturday dinner performances), and $19.50 to $29.50 no-dinner matinee performances (Ticketmaster). Information: 747-6060 or utep.edu/udt.
Set in the background of an idyllic South Pacific island during WWII, “South Pacific” follows two love stories: Nellie, a spunky nurse from Arkansas, who falls in love with Emile, a French plantation owner on the island. At the same time, U.S. Lt. Cable falls for a beautiful island native named Liat.
‘Peter & Wendy’ — Missoula Children’s Theatre will host its performance of the classic tale at 7 p.m. Friday, July 13, at Oñate High School, 5700 Mesa Grande in Las Cruces. About 60 children grades 1-12 will be cast as actors or as assistant directors or technicians as part of a weeklong theater experience. Donations accepted at the door. Information: (575) 523-6403, email@example.com or riograndetheatre.com.
Auditions are 10 a.m. to noon Monday, July 9. Tuition: $60, due upon casting; partial scholarships available.
Jewel Box Series call for submissions — El Paso Community Foundation’s Jewel Box Series at the Philanthropy Theatre, which works to foster and showcase community talent in an inspiring atmosphere, seeks submissions through July 13 for performances for its 2018-2019 season. Performances are the second weekend of the month September through May. The Foundation will coordinate with each organization/artist to produce a performance program. Submission specifications, information: Kathrin Berg, 533-4020 or epcf.org/jewelbox.
The Foundation partners with El Paso Live to ease the financial burden of producing a show in the 191-seat Philanthropy Theatre.
‘Hairspray’ — The El Paso Independent School District’s Fine Arts Department presents its 33rd annual summer musical at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, July 18-21, at El Paso High School Theatre, 800 E. Schuster. Tickets: $5 at the door. Information: 230-3500.
The musical by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, with music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman Marc Shaiman, is based on the New Line Cinema film written and directed by John Waters.
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ — Starlight Children’s Theatre of Las Cruces performs Shakespeare’s comedy with music by Felix Mendelssohn July 20-21 and July 27-28 at NMSU’s Atkinson Music Recital Hall. Showtime is 7 p.m. nightly, plus a 1 p.m. matinee July 21, and 10 a.m. children’s matinee July 27. Directed by Ginger Scarbrough with musical direction by Pamela Quiñones, the production features 28 youth actors between the ages of 5 and 22. Tickets: $10($5 students; $8 each for groups of 10 or more); available in advance at Spirit Winds, StarlightOnStage.org or at the door.
Travel to Ancient Athens and its neighboring magical Fairyland, where mortals meet fairies and magic and love potions rule the night in Shakespeare’s most famous comedy.
‘Patience or Bunthorne’s Bride’ — Gilbert and Sullivan Company of El Paso presents the comic operetta for its 49th annual production at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 21, and 3 p.m. Sunday, July 22, at the Black Box Theatre, 430 N. Main, in Las Cruces. Tickets: $15 ($12 students and seniors over 65). Reservations: (575) 523-1223. Tickets available after July 6 at tktassistant.com.
El Paso dates and venue to be announced. Information: 401-6008, GSelPaso.org or on Facebook at GandSElPaso.
‘The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940’ — El Paso Playhouse, 2501 Montana, opens its 55th season with the comedy by John Bishop Aug. 3-19. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $15 ($12 seniors 62+, students, military; $9 12 and younger). Information: 532-1317 or elpasoplayhouse.com.
After three chorus girls were murdered in the Broadway flop “Back Door Slasher,” the creative team assembles to audition for a new show.
UTEP Dinner Theatre closes season with ‘South Pacific’
The musical, “South Pacific,” holds great meaning for me. The sweet and innocent ensign from Little Rock, Nellie Forbush, was my first lead role. It was at the historic Moulin Rouge Dinner Theatre at Fort Bliss, directed by the incomparable Larry Alderete. And the social issues that the play presented resonated with me then, and, unfortunately, still resonate today.
As the final show of its 35th anniversary season, UTEP Dinner Theater brings this classic to life for the first time under the capable hands of Justin Lucero. Yes, that Justin Lucero who was just named artistic director for the 25th anniversary season of El Paso Opera.
Lucero’s first role ever was as Cogsworth in UDT’s “Beauty and the Beast.” He was so enamored with theater that he left his teaching job at Alicia Chacon International School to pursue his masters in directing from a conservatory in London. What followed was a freelance career that took him from London to Florida to Los Angeles and back to the Southwest, where he co-founded the Las Cruces-based Scaffolding Theatre Company. Last year, Lucero earned the first Cynthia Woods Mitchell fellowship in directing at the University of Houston, and has been invited back next year.
When UDT Director Greg Taylor approached him to direct last summer’s “Anything Goes,” Lucero jumped at the chance. Last year’s success brought an invitation to do “South Pacific,” which requires an operatic baritone for the male lead.
“Before it was to be announced, Greg asked Patricia Provencio (music director) and I to first assure him that we could find the elusive baritone. I asked talented Las Cruces singer/actor James Gier, whom I directed in my 2015 Scaffolding Theatre Company production of Sondheim’s musical ‘Passion,’ to come audition for us. We cast him immediately, a whole year in advance, and Greg announced the show.”
“South Pacific,” which runs July 6-22, is his second classic musical.
“Greg and many in the community know that I am keenly interested in taking classics and radically reinventing and reimagining them, which is not what the UTEP Dinner Theatre aims to do. But in order to turn a show wildly upside down, as a director I have to first study and analyze the original intent of the script and music very deeply. Working on these shows with UDT has made me realize it never was the act of rethinking a show and wowing an audience with a fresh take – it’s about isolating a story’s message and melody’s emotion and amplifying as best I could, either in a completely new way, or in a classical way.”
At its core, Lucero said, “South Pacific” is a love story.
“Our couples are military nurse Nellie Forbush and French plantation owner Emile De Becque, and young U.S. Marine Joe Cable and island native Liat. In both cases the Americans fall deeply in love but struggle to enter into marriage due to race issues. This musical juxtaposes colorful characters and a beautiful paradise landscape, with the darkness of war and the ugliness of racist proclivities.”
Taking on the female lead of Forbush is Lucero’s friend and co-founder of the Scaffolding Theatre Company Megan McQueen, who’s also a NMSU professor of musical theater.
“I’m excited that we get to spend our summer working on this together, especially because we each have such complementary serious discipline when it comes to developing character and story,” Lucero said.
Then there is the matter of the lessons to be learned from “South Pacific.”
“Because I am who I am, I couldn’t leave ‘South Pacific’ completely without a Justin stamp. A musical such as South Pacific is about race, and therefore, ‘colorblind casting’ or performer diversity is tough to navigate. I stayed as true as I could to the casting requirements of all the primary characters, except one: Bloody Mary.”
Bloody Mary is an island native who sings the perennial song “Bali Ha’i.” In that role, he cast Latina actress Eurydice Saucedo.
“In El Paso, we are sort of insulated as a community that is majority-minority. I wanted to just subtly highlight that there are many outside El Paso that see Latinos as very much ‘the Other’ and “‘lower than.’ By having a Latina play Bloody Mary, I hope our audience will reflect even deeper about the present-day state of race relations.
“We are also rehearsing extra sensitively in regards to how follow a script that paints a very racist version of this character. Roles in classic musicals for people of color are very rare, especially for Latinos. Bloody Mary’s island is populated by the American military, and she’s the one that’s seen as ‘the Other.’ I know how that feels: as a Latino living in El Paso, it’s weird for me to look at the national sentiment by many that I am an ‘Other’ myself. Seriously. This is a great moment for us to present ‘South Pacific.’”
Carol Viescas is a veteran of
community theater and teaches
journalism at Bel Air High School.
Feature storyCopyright 2018 by Cristo Rey Communications.
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