Thursday, April 28, 2016

Michael Brogen

Part II of a four-part series on the grandkids' musical theatre debut in Oliver!

I know the challenges of working with amateur child actors in community theatre. I have been mauled backstage between scenes by orphans in Annie. I have repeatedly straightened the babushkas of a village full of little Russian peasant girls in Fiddler on the Roof.

I know the challenges of getting little ones to maintain focus and meld into the collective spirit of the show. That's why I greatly admire the young woman who directed Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie (and all those less important characters) in their recent production of Oliver!

"Go home and think about the part you will play," she told them when the cast first assembled. "What was your life like before you came to the orphanage? How did you end up here? How do you feel about what happens here? Write down your character's story. Give yourself a name."

"Give yourself a name"--BINGO! That's all it took for Sooby, a third-grader, to grab pen and paper and fabricate a history for the character she would play. She named him "Michael Brogen," and here, in Sooby's own words, is his story:

"I used to have a family, but my parents could not afford to feed me. They thought that the work-house was just a cozy orphanage, so they sent me there. Well, I didn't think I would mind it there, but, boy, I was wrong! This place is pure torture!

As an aside here, let me say that I had to chuckle at Sooby's use of the phrase "pure torture." It is one of her favorites. Over the years I have heard her use it  to describe many situations which, though they appear quite trivial to the untrained sensibility, take on life-and-death proportions for her.

It may be the way her brother behaves during a play session, or the fact that lightning is keeping us temporarily out of the pool. Whatever the case, I was amused to see the "pure torture" mentality follow Sooby into her new incarnation as Michael Brogen. Here, by the way, is Michael in all his glory:

Indeed, Michael sang, danced, and picked pockets with the best of them, and he even had a down-center-stage solo line in "Food, Glorious Food." All eyes focused on him as he projected his line clearly and enthusiastically for all to hear.  "What, then, is the question?" he sang out, and, oh my, his Googie was so proud!

Great job, sweet Michael. Keep up the good work. I wish you many, many opportunities to shine onstage and to experience the wonderful camaraderie that comes only from being a cast member in a musical classic like Oliver! 

Good luck at your next set of auditions. But--hey--just a bit of advice. Maybe you'd better wash your face first.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Somewhere on my list of Top 10 Most Fun and Rewarding Parenting Experiences would have to be the time Cookie, Teebo, and I became villagers of the little Russian village of Anatevka in a community theatre run of Fiddler on the Roof. Though the kids were just eight and five that year, it was a great chance for them to experience the way poignant family drama and masterful music come together to create a two-hour onstage miracle.

Twenty-six years later, what went around back then has made another circle. This time I got to be in the audience watching and listening as Cookie sold roses and Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie took on the roles of orphans and thieves in a community theatre production of Oliver! I attended on April 15 and 16.

No, once was not enough. I had to make a weekend of it and see every ounce of cuteness twice. Proudly, I wore my new sweatshirt that says "My Grandkids Shine Like Stars"--and sweatshirts do not lie. Although anyone could see that the kids--ages eight, seven, and five--were truly the stars of the show, the production was certainly not hurt by excellent casting, wonderful set and costuming, strong vocals, and a phenomenal five-piece orchestra.

I saw the show the second weekend of a three-weekend run, when most of the bugs had been ironed out and the cast had jelled into a comfortable ensemble of 1850s Londoners. Based on the novel of the same name by Charles Dickens, the musical transported its audience to a bleak landscape wrought with poverty, disease, hunger, and an ominous criminal element. It was a place where kids went to bed hungry and were spirited away from workhouses to learn the art of  picking pockets.

This writing introduces a series of four blog posts devoted to the kids' experience as actors and singers in their first stage production. For each of the next three days, I will feature one of them, along with some observations about each one's unique experiences with the show.

Here is a preview of what you will get to read about in the next several posts:

Now, sit back, and enjoy the show!