Merced County Times Newspaper
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TIMES PHOTOS BY JOHN MILLER

Playhouse Merced unveils new season of fabulous shows

Through thrilling live vocal numbers, dance performances, and skits representative of its upcoming productions — and with accompaniment by Musical Director Dennis Brown on piano — Playhouse Merced unveiled its dynamic 2019-20 show schedule during the annual Season Preview held at the Merced Theatre on the evening of June 1.

The entertainment was brilliantly put together by Playhouse Artistic Director Alyse Neubert and Creative Director Corey Strauss.

The event, previewing the Playhouse’s 26th season, consisted of vignettes performed by 80 community members.

The shows for the new season coincide with the theme: “Some Folks Dream of the Wonders They’ll Do.” The include:

• Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

• Heathers

• Disney’s Frozen Jr.

• Cats

• A Christmas Carol, a live radio play

• Men On Boats

• Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical

• Fun Home

• Scruff Turbo and the Children of the Future

• Bright Star

• God of Carnage

• Disney’s Tarzan

Describing the new season during an interview with the Times, Neubert said, “All of our shows except for ‘Joseph [and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat]’ are new to the area or at least a regional premiere.  ‘Cats’ is well-known, but has never been done at Playhouse.”

One of the highlights of the evening was Cinnamon Simpson (who played Ursula in Playhouse Merced’s “The Little Mermaid”) performing “At Last” from “Bright Star,” which will run from May 22 to June 7, 2020.

“Bright Star” is a Broadway musical inspired by true events, set in North Carolina. It is the story of a woman at two points in her life — 1945 to 1946 when she had become an established magazine editor , and 1923, when she was growing up wild and carefree in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It focuses on her mysterious connection with a man named Billy. The musical’s  Grammy-nominated score was written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.

Another highlight of the Season Preview was Elyse Boyd singing “When I Grow Up” from “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical”.

“Matilda” is about a precocious 5-1/2-year-old girl with abusive parents who finds a way to stand up against bullies and embrace her own inner strength.

An additional highlight of the evening was a skit from “Men On Boats.” The drama will run from January 3 to 19, 2020. It is described by the Playhouse as a “true-ish” history of John Wesley Powell’s 1869 expedition. Powell is famous for a three-month river trip down the Green and Colorado Rivers known as the Powell Geographic Expedition, in which 10 intrepid male adventurers, financed by the U.S. Government, set out to survey one of the last remaining pieces of the American frontier.

An interesting twist is that the theater piece has no men on boats.

Neubert said, “I am thrilled that the roles will be played by an all-female cast. This show is especially exciting for me as I grew up with the myths and legends surrounding John Wesley Powell.  Growing up, my father was a river guide, and to be able to bring this story of larger than life characters to our Playhouse stage is a dream come true.”

Also impressive during the Preview was the performance of a song from “Disney’s Tarzan,” “You’ll Be in my Heart,” by Nicey Rae Irby, Jesse Stofle, Corey Strauss, Katy Uyeno, Isaiah Flores and Myisha Reed.

“Disney’s Tarzan,” which will run from July 17 to August 2, 2020, is based on the story, Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Disney film, “Tarzan.” In the story, Tarzan, who feels loyalty to the gorillas who raised him in the jungle, meets and falls in love with Jane, whose entourage is planning to kill the gorillas.

During the Season Preview, interspersed between performances from upcoming shows was the presentation of an amusing video entitled “Debunking Season Subscription Myths,” in which Neubert starred in a comedic skit showing hilariously absurd reasons patrons came up with for why they wouldn’t purchase a season subscription.

Also entertaining was a video of the Playhouse Merced Conservatory kids with their endearing descriptions of what they love about being a “Playhouse Merced kid,” such as, “You can be yourself” and “It’s my home.”

Neubert explained, “I wrote the scripts for the videos based on an idea that the Board had and put my own spin on them, and the team from Takapa Media based in Modesto was so wonderful.  They filmed and edited the videos, took our ideas and ran with them, and brought it up to the next level.”

During the evening, guests learned that Beth Fauerbach Christensen, former Playhouse Merced Education Director, will be returning to California and to Playhouse Merced from New York City in the near future.

She is originally from Atwater.  After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Dance from California State University, Long Beach, she served as the Education Director at Playhouse Merced from 2001 to 2005, and then moved to New York City where she continued to teach ballet, tap, and jazz, and became involved in choreographing and costuming off-Broadway.

After many more accomplishments, she met and married Josh Christensen, who will be joining her at Playhouse Merced.

Neubert said, “Beth is an educator, choreographer, director and actress, and we are thrilled she will be joining the Playhouse team.  She will mostly be teaching dance and running our Education Department.  In addition, Josh Christensen, her husband, is joining our team as the new Technical director.  We are excited to have them both working with us and to have their talents back in our community!”

Proceeds from the Season Preview are used to fund Playhouse Merced’s programming.

The final play from the 2018-19 season, “David’s Season”, will be the tragedy “Othello” by William Shakespeare, directed by Haike Hambley, which will run from June 7 to 16.

For further information about Playhouse Merced’s 2019-20 season or to purchase tickets, those interested can contact the theater box office at 452 W. Main Street in Merced at (209) 725-8587.

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