News Column

The Philadelphia Inquirer Kevin Riordan column

July 28, 2013

YellowBrix

July 28--Director and choreographer Jodi Raditz and vocal-music director Collin Maier are giving notes to the kids in Summer Theater Camp.

Legally Blonde: The Musical opens soon, and all the stars in the eyes of the cast won't carry a two-hour, fully staged production of a Broadway hit.

These boys and girls must hit their marks and hit the high notes. They'll have to work it, sell it, bring it to the Grand Theatre audience.

"On any dance break, there's got to be noise. Have fun with it!" Raditz says as the performers listen quietly in the front rows of the theater in Williamstown.

"When the music starts," says Maier, "you've got to be like a cocker spaniel who hears a bag rustling."

The Grand is a glorious little playhouse with a dramatic backstory -- about which, more in a moment -- and during my visit it really seems alive with the sound of music.

In the second-floor rehearsal space, director Amy Sprouse is readying 45 younger kids for the camp's production of the junior version of Aladdin, the Disney musical.

And in the 260-seat auditorium, nearly 40 Legally Blonde cast members, including Olivia Dinter (Vivian), Alana Kopelove (Enid), and Paul Sigall (Emmett), get warmed up for a day's work.

"I've been into theater since I was, like, 2 years old," says Sigall, 15, a Williamstown High sophomore.

"My mom put in a videotape of Cats, and the next thing you know, I was singing and dancing."

"To be part of one of my favorite musicals is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me," exclaims Dinter ("like winter, with a D").

A Williamstown resident, she'll study performing arts at Gloucester County Institute of Technology starting in September.

"It's really my passion," adds Kopelove, 13, also of Williamstown, also on her way to GCIT. "I'm here to make friends, too."

Toward the back of the house, a trio of self-described "nice" stage moms watch the rehearsal.

Maria Abbruzzi's son Luke, 12, has attended camp since it started five years ago. This season he's playing Jafar in Aladdin.

"Of everything my two children have ever done, this is the most rewarding . . . for the whole family," Abbruzzi, of Williamstown, says. "The dedication of these people -- I've seen nothing like it. They are teachers, they are mentors, and they are friends."

Summer Theater Camp's goal "is to foster young talent in our area," says Lauri Hudson, a Williamstown attorney who is president of the Road Company Theater Group.

The group began renting the Grand and producing shows there in 1989. "We bought it in 2008," Hudson says. "In 2010, it collapsed."

Apparently weakened by the heavy snowfalls of the previous winter, a portion of the auditorium roof fell in.

The $1.6 million restoration took nearly three years, and the Grand reopened last winter with Hairspray. The fall season will include Assassins and A Christmas Story.

Hudson, who directed Hairspray, notes that camp graduates have won roles in the mainstage productions. The program also offers paid employment opportunities for trained professionals like Raditz, Maier, and assistant director Michelle Callaghan.

Back in the front of the theater, "we're going to run through Act II today," Raditz tells the kids.

In seconds the stage is covered with happy feet and the house fills with song.

Not every girl or boy wants to sing show tunes, but here in the still-rural suburbs is a sanctuary for those who do.

Summer Theater Camp is a place to discover and develop talent, a chance for young people and adults to collaborate in a labor of love the rest of us can enjoy.

Bravo!

Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.inquirer.com/blinq.

For information about the performances of "Legally Blonde" and "Aladdin Jr.," go to roadcompany.com.

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