Local teens from 13 to 19 years old are rehearsing four to five times a week for three hours each evening to bring us "Catch Me If You Can: The Musical," based on true events in the young life of Frank Abagnale. The actors, singers and dancers will have rehearsed at least 160 to 200 hours before the first performance Oct. 30. A cast of 32 youngsters, they work tirelessly perfecting their vocal, dance and ensemble routines, selling tickets, constructing stage sets, and promoting the show with performances at the County Fair and all around town.
San Benito County! These kids will make you proud.
Since early September, I’ve watched snippets of rehearsals over time, coming away impressed with the level of professional training underway. This year’s guest creative director John Newkirk has “shape shifted” wide-eyed teens into disciplined apprentices who take on constructive criticism then improve their delivery every time. Newkirk’s style is as energetic and demanding as it is respectful of each child’s unique talents and budding sense of self. Newkirk calls himself “a maniac about theater” who can “bring something out of kids they didn’t know they had.” He sets the standards for the young cast and for himself, for example, requiring prompt arrival at 6 p.m. and promising to do the same. And so he has done.
Producer Kristy Burchard tells me guest directors like Newkirk enrich the local productions, particularly impacting youth who return to perform year over year. His work in theater spans from creative and musical director to lead roles such as Quixote in "Man from La Mancha." Most recently he was vocal director for "The Little Mermaid, Jr". with the Pacific Repertory Theatre in Carmel.
Choreographer Lara Lichten with the San Benito Dance Academy has also worked her magic, wrestling with 32 teenagers to coordinate their dance moves on a rather small stage at the Granada, the 105-year-old theater designed originally for silent movies. No matter. The performers are learning to be aware of their bodies in space and perfecting blocking–that is moving for the proper dramatic effect, ensuring sight lines for the audience, and working with the lighting design of the scene.
I’ve also witnessed how these same teens happily take on critiques to refine their delivery as well as offer up useful feedback on their peers’ performances. This is serious business, an experience to build self-esteem, confidence, and team skills. After a month of intense work, they had already formed a clan of actor colleagues, a tribe, a team.
The upcoming performances of "Catch Me" in late October and early November follow a 15-year history of San Benito Stage Company productions including youth, teen, and family musicals as well as adult cast comedy dinner theater. You may remember earlier productions like "Les Misérables" and "The Odd Couple." The nonprofit San Benito Stage Company is supported by volunteers, memberships, sponsorships, and grants from the Community Foundation for San Benito County and other donations. You may want to think about volunteering in some capacity. See www.sanbenitostage.org.
I checked in with a few veteran performers from Kids Rule, a summer theater camp, the San Benito Stage Company, and the drama courses at San Benito High School. Mia Kaanapu who said she “grew up” with Kids Rule several summers before auditioning for "Catch Me" says she feels a little more confident about walking across a stage but still gets nervous. Thrilled to be a part of community theater, she says she’s “the motel manager, stewardess and part of the ensemble dance group.” In fact, many participants play multiple roles and so extend their time on stage as well as challenge their memory skills for the bit parts, song lyrics, and dance routines. Mia’s mother Maria Kaanapu tells me that it was Burchard who was “an inspiration to my daughter and encouraged her to try out for the plays. My daughter never forgot that and worked hard and was prepared for the second audition. Her support is what helped her make it through the nerve wracking audition with confidence!”
Cast in the role of FBI agent Branton, Roberto Nolasco is taking a third year of drama at San Benito High School. Nolasco is an aspiring actor who was discovered at Mars Hill while performing with Comedy Sports, an improvisational group. As a freshman, he says,“I was confused about what I wanted to do in the field of theater and film. Set design? Directing? I discovered that acting was the fun part.”
Eighth-grader Francesca Giannotta from Tres Pinos School said she was “a little intimidated” the first day of rehearsal since she didn’t know anyone. Yet, she adds, “they took me in and treated me like family . . . I feel fortunate to be a part of this amazing show and can't wait for opening night so that we can share our hard work with the community.”
Identical twin brothers Brandon and Cam Burchard star as Frank Abagnale Jr. and Sr. Or is it the other way round?
The Story Line for the Fall Production
Based on the hit film and the incredible true story, "Catch Me If You Can:The Musical" is the high-flying comedy about chasing your dreams and not getting caught. Seeking fame and fortune, precocious teenager Frank Abagnale Jr. runs away from home to begin an unforgettable adventure. With nothing more than his boyish charm, a big imagination and millions of dollars in forged checks, Frank successfully poses as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer – living the high life and winning the girl of his dreams. When Frank’s lies catch the attention of FBI agent Carl Hanratty, Carl pursues Frank across the country to make him pay for his crimes.
With only a little bit of fantasy, the story line runs true to the actual events of this amazing teenager’s life story. To maximize your enjoyment of this teen production, I strongly encourage you to see the PG-13 film version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. I also recommend listening to the real Frank Abagnale—all grown up—who presents on FedTalks 2013. Long since reformed, he recounts his teenage years impersonating a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer and his later role with the FBI. Amazing.
Performances run Friday and Saturday evenings and two Sunday afternoons, Oct. 30, 31, Nov. 1, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14. Friday and Saturday start time is 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Show tickets are available at Postal Graphics, San Benito Bene or from any cast member. For more information go to www.sanbenitostage.org or call 831-636-0122.