Posts Tagged Ryan London Levin

Kelly and Ryan of Jefferson Township Speak Out!

Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant is the show Twin Cities theatergoers and critics can’t get enough of! This bold, irrelevant musical satire opened on Park Square’s Boss Stage on June 21, and audiences have been raving about it every since. The story centers on protagonist Frannie Foster Wallace, an angsty Millennial who returns to her small town after living in the “Big City” and must re-define what it means to truly succeed. Through side-splitting humor, catchy songs and zany dance moves this dynamic new work touches the heart and inspires a deeper appreciation for the joys of small town life.

We reached out to actors Kelly Houlehan and Ryan London Levin, who play Frannie and Liam, in the musical, to talk about their experiences as a performers in this wildly entertaining story and how the play— with its edgy, evocative themes— may be the beginning of more theatre that appeals to audiences under 30.

Actors dressed in grocery store uniforms. They look devious.

Ryan London Levin and Kelly Houlehan. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

Now that you’re performing the show regularly before a live audience, is there a different energy to the songs?

Kelly: This show really has a fifth cast member — the audience! In a comedy like Jefferson Township, we can really feel the energy of the audience as the show unfolds. Plus the Boss Stage is so intimate. People who have seen the show often ask if it’s exhausting to carry a full musical with only four actors and my response to that is no. The energy of the audience carries us through the show; you can tell how much they want to see what will happen next, so you just let it overflow out of you.

Ryan: I tell ya, it feels so good to have this show in front of people! Doing the show in rehearsals can be a bit daunting because we don’t really know how the public will react. We had some idea during the Minnesota Fringe run, but the show is longer now and characters have been developed more — we cut jokes and added jokes, fixed and shuffled plot points, and added songs. Now that we’re open, hearing people laugh and cheer the characters on is incredibly rewarding. One night we had the entire audience laughing so hard you couldn’t hear the song.

There’s been a ton of buzz about Jefferson, why do you think audiences love it so much?

Ryan: The music is incredible. Keith Hovis is not only a clever lyricist, but also a wonderful composer — all the songs are super catchy and energetic. It’s not your typical style of musical theater either (it’s a mixture of pop, rock, folk, and country) and I think it’s musically accessible to everyone; audiences leave with a different tune stuck in their head. I also think the show is a great escape from the stressful world we live in. Sure, it has commentary on Millennial life, but the struggles of being young and trying to achieve success is the story of every generation. The show is pure joy and the characters are lovable and relatable. Anyone of any age can find something to take away from Jefferson.

Kelly: The piece is just really good! The music is phenomenal. The characters are funny, heartfelt and are pushed to grow. The story is interesting and surprising and the comedy is intelligent.  A lot of theatres only produce dated musicals, and a modern musical about modern people and the issues they face is incredibly exciting and relatable (even if you’re not a Millennial). Hopefully, we’ll see more work that tells new, contemporary stories.

 Talk about any special moment you’ve had with an audience member since the opening?

Kelly: This show surprises people. They often aren’t sure exactly what they’re getting themselves into when they sit down, but by the end they’ve been on this journey with these four characters and now they know them so well and they love them! The most common response I get is, ‘Wow! I’m blown away and I’m coming back and bringing my — parents, sister, boyfriend, daughter, best friend’, etc. They just love it.”

Ryan: HA! I’ve had a lot of special moments with the audience while performing the show. The Andy Boss Stage is great because it’s so intimate, which allows the actors to connect with everyone easily. My character goes through a wild journey and it’s not hard to see and hear all the reactions of the room. I LOVE seeing people react to the crazy stuff I do on stage, but by the end of the show I can see people tear up which is really sweet. As silly as this show can be, it also has a ton of heart. Sometimes we even get choked up singing the closing number of show.

Watch this studio session of Kelly and Ryan singing Sparkling Junior Champion.

Jefferson Township runs through July 28. Tickets at https://bit.ly/2HLGzZ0.

Interview by Rebecca Nichloson

Small Town Talent Show Turns to Mayhem

Small Town Talent Show Turns to Mayhem

SMALL TOWN TALENT SHOW TURNS TO MAYHEM in

JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP SPARKLING JUNIOR TALENT PAGEANT

World Premiere Musical Comedy

 Park Square Theatre’s summer fare kicks off on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage with the world premiere of Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant (June 14 – July 28, 2019), with book, music and lyrics by Keith Hovis. Described as Avenue Q meets The Book of Mormon with a little bit of Heathers mixed in, this newly created irreverent, hummable, and heartfelt musical reflects the quirks of small-town life. In 1997, a contestant died onstage and permanently ended the popular local talent pageant. Twenty years later, Frannie Foster Wallace still blames all her failures in life on losing out on the chance to become Jefferson’s Sparkling Junior Champion. That is, until she gets the chance for a rematch with the surviving contestants.

The work, which had its first stage of development as part of the 2017 Fringe Festival, will be directed by Park Square’s Laura Leffler. “When I saw Jefferson at the Fringe, I was elated,” says Leffler. “Here was this hilarious musical with a story that really is as heart-wrenching as it is heart-warming, and it was just shimmering with potential. There was this lightning energy in the room, and I wanted to bring that to Park Square. It’s been so rewarding to workshop the piece with Keith and the performers over the last nine months. The music is fun, catchy, and down-right gorgeous.”

The original cast of Zach Garcia (Travis Hernandez), Kelly Houlehan (Frannie Foster Wallace) , Ryan London Levin (Liam Ackermann), and Leslie Vincent (Valerie Hutchinson) returns in the new full-length version with added songs and plot twists. “When Keith and his cast came to the theatre a year ago to give our staff (most of whom are under 40, if not under 30), a sample of the script and a few songs, they laughed until they had tears in their eyes,” says Executive Director Michael-jon Pease. “We knew we had to take on this sweet story that speaks to today’s young adults. Regardless of generation, so many of us can relate to those moments when you feel like you’re not getting where you want to go in life and remember back to that ‘on top of the world/endless possibilities’ feelings of childhood.”

The production team for Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant includes Ursula Bowden (Set Designer), Mike Kittel (Lighting Designer), Jake Davis (Sound Designer), Brian Pekol (Music Director), Antonia Perez (Choreographer), Foster Johns (vocal coach), Abbee Warmboe (Properties Designer), Tyler Olsen-Highness (FX Designer), Hannah Holman (Dramaturg), Rubble&Ash (Co-costumers), Laura Topham* (Stage Manager) and Jared Zeigler* (Assistant Stage Manager). Sophie Peyton is the Assistant Director. *Member, Actors Equity Association

Ticket prices: Previews: $25-$37. Regular Run: $25-$60. Discounts are available for seniors, military personnel, those under age 30, and groups. Tickets are on sale at the Park Square Ticket Office, 20 W. Seventh Place, or by phone: 651.291.7005, (12 noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday), or online at parksquaretheatre.org.   #PSTSparkle

CALENDAR INFORMATION

Previews: June 14 – 20, 2019

Opening Night: June 21, 2019

Regular Run: June 21 – Jul 28, 2019

Tickets: Previews: $20-$37; Regular Run: $25-$60

PARK SQUARE THEATRE, 20 W. Seventh Place, Saint Paul

Ticket office: 651.291.7005 or www.parksquaretheatre.org

PHOTOS by Petronella J Ytsma parksquaretheatre.org/media/photos/

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PARK SQUARE THEATRE. 20 W. Seventh Place, Saint Paul. Ticket Office: 651.291.7005. www.parksquaretheatre.org

What’s Behind JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP?

Developing a new play – or a MUSICAL – is an exciting and complicated process filled with rewrites, workshops, edits and additions! We asked Keith Hovis, the playwright and composer of Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant, on stage in June of 2019, to tell us more about the concept and creative process behind this new full-length and still-developing show!

You can hear a full sing-through of the show with Keith and the cast at a Workshop Presentation on November 1st, at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $10 (including a Free Drink!) and are on sale HERE.

#JeffersonSparkle


line illustration of a tiara crown - dark burgundy on bright plum background

I started writing Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant at one in the morning after I’d hit a massive writer’s block on another project. I had the actors, a director, and a production date (the 2017 Minnesota Fringe Festival), but inspiration was not striking.

Sitting at my keyboard I just started playing music. Four chords over and over, until I heard a chorus. What emerged over the next couple hours was the song, “Sparkling Junior Champion,” in which two former classmates, now in their 30’s, decide to revive their small hometown children’s talent competition.

Leslie Vincent and Kelly Houlehan. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

This absurd premise, serves as the jumping off point for the show. At its core, Jefferson Township is about finding your way when you’ve hit an age where you’re told you should already have a plan in place. It’s about going home – that place where you grew up and helped shape your identity and values – and suddenly realizing you feel like an outsider in your own community. It’s about realizing that success and happiness come in many forms, and sometimes you need to open yourself up to possibilities you never considered before.

It’s a comedic, heartfelt exploration for anyone who has ever felt lost.

A scene from the Fringe Festival production of Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant.

The original Fringe Festival version was an hour of fast-paced, farce-like comedy, peppered with moments of reflection. Expanding the piece to full length provides an opportunity to flesh out the characters and add more commentary on the pressures we face on a daily basis whether personal, societal, socioeconomic, familial, or generational.

I placed the show in a small town because I don’t feel like that is a population commonly reflected on stage; and when they are depicted, it is often through the lens of being simple, hard-working folk. Growing up, I was fed a narrative that having big dreams and being successful meant having to leave my hometown. It’s only as I’ve gotten older that I realize how false this narrative is.

Even now, as we near the election, I am amazed at all of the think pieces about rural America. What they want and how they might impact who is elected. In a world that has gotten more and more divided, this rural/urban split ignores that fact that no matter where you live, everyone wants to do their best. Have a family, succeed in their career, maybe buy a house, and who knows, possibly retire someday. These wants are universal. The reality is that people are people, no matter where you live. Crazy, right?

Writing Jefferson Township has reinforced how proud I am of where I came from. Yes, even if I still try to avoid awkward conversations with former classmates each time I go back to the Coborn’s in Princeton. I’ll just blame that on being slightly introverted.

It has also made me realize how lucky I am to have found my chosen community here in the cities. My new small-town community tucked in an urban landscape. And even more lucky that a few members of that chosen community, my cast – Zach Garcia, Kelly Houlehan, Ryan London Levin and Leslie Vincent – get to be on the journey of bringing Jefferson Township to Park Square.

Keith with the cast. From left to right: Ryan London Levin, Leslie Vincent, Keith Hovis, Kelly Houlehan, Zach Garcia. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma.

I am excited to share my musical with Park Square audiences. I hope they laugh and are moved in equal measure. As we head into a public reading of the current draft on November 1, I am looking forward to seeing how people respond. I want the production in June of 2019 to be the best it can be, and I know this feedback will be essential for continued development of the show.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my keyboard!

Keith Hovis as a playwright and composer based in Minneapolis. He can currently be seen onstage at the Southern Theater in A Morbid History of Sons & Daughters, an original, ensemble-created musical presented as part of the Twin Cities Horror Festival.

Richard Cook: Boy with An Artistic Bent

“It’s just a run-of-the-mill story,” theatre professionals will often claim whenever I ask how they’d found their calling. But make them keep talking until dusty memories get re-aired, bringing back to light those personal details that, of course, reveal an extraordinarily unique journey. The response to my question from Richard Cook, who retires from a 43-year career with Park Square Theatre (38 as Artistic Director) after this season, was no exception. Luckily, he did keep talking.

“I was a boy with an artistic bent,” Richard began, “who grew up in a literate household in northwest Iowa. My mom was an English and Business teacher; my dad, a tenant farmer. Our house was always filled with magazines–professional journals, farming magazines . . . .

We raised livestock–mainly hogs–and lots of corn and beans. At first, we lived in a little house with no indoor plumbing until I was four. Then the landlord added an indoor bathroom. It was a truly rural existence, but what I remember is that our living room always had a piano which my dad–a great musician and singer, my older brother and I played.”

Richard Cook with Stage Manager Lindsey Harter during a rehearsal for The Diary of Anne Frank
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Growing up as a farm boy, Richard experienced hours of sitting behind a tractor, riding up and down the crop rows. These potential periods of grinding boredom were, for Richard, “my time to think about my reading or what I wanted to read.” During breaks, he’d pull out the Steinbeck novel or Reader’s Digest tucked under his seat.

“I’d also sing while driving the tractor,” Richard said. “Barbara Streisand tunes. I saw her first television performance on Johnny Carson. I loved her theatre tunes–storytelling tunes! I had a crush on her and knew her body of work from top to bottom.”

Richard attended what he described as an “extraordinarily sophisticated” school. Living near a Strategic Air Command headquarter during the Cold War, many of his classmates were world-traveled Air Force “brats” whom Richard recalled as being “very ambitious, competitive and talented so kept us local kids on our toes.” Unsurprisingly, science and technology were also well-funded at his school.

Discussion between Richard Cook and actors Sulia Altenberg and Ryan London Levin
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

“Theatre was almost nonexistent,” said Richard, “but we did have a terrific music room and band instructor. The choir master was also good. We held exceptional concerts and had a very competitive marching band.”

During his formative years as a teenager, three people deeply impacted Richard’s life: the local Methodist minister and his wife as well as his high school English and Speech teacher. The couple took Richard under their wings, the intellectually curious minister serving as a mentor and his wife sharing her interest in art and music. His teacher was that “cool person” who comes along just at the right moment in one’s life.

“She was a character,” Richard fondly recalled. “She had a hot little sports car and bouffant hairdo. She was the smartest, most articulate and sophisticated person I’d ever met, and she passed on to me all the speech and theatre techniques that she could.”

While attending the small liberal arts college of Morningside in Iowa, Richard planned to study theology to go into the ministry but was, instead, seduced away by theatre. He remembers the college as a “hothouse” for him and how he’d seek every opportunity to perform. Then as luck would have it, the University of Iowa was developing its first MFA in Theatre while Richard was a senior at Morningside and recruited him into their new program.

“I took the path of least resistance,” Richard admitted.

Little did he know then that may have been his last chance to do so for a very long time.

Richard’s official retirement date is September 1st, on his 70th birthday. “I am confident that there is an afterlife,” Richard joked, “and I’m excited to find out what it is.”

What If?

Sulia Altenberg (Anne Frank) and Ryan London Levin (Peter Van Daan) in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

What if an English teacher had her class read The Diary of Anne Frank?

What if she’d asked permission from the principal to do an experiential lesson with her students?

What if that lesson involved deeming half the class to be superior to the other half?

What if the superior half got to reinforce their superiority through constant criticism and punishment?

What if the students skulked into class the following day wondering what would happen to them next?

Laurie Flanigan Hegge (Mrs. Frank), Robert-Bruce Brake (Mr. Van Daan) and Charles Fraser (Mr. Dussel) in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

What if the teacher explained that they’d been part of a social experiment?

What if the “inferior” students got angry and upset?

What if they were mad that they wouldn’t get their turns to switch roles to become the tormentors?

What if there had only been one student of color in the room, and she was Japanese American?

What if this story is true?

***

Different approaches to teaching The Diary of Anne Frank can yield surprising, but no less valuable, insights for both teachers and students alike. Park Square Theatre itself supports teachers with comprehensive study guides for its student matinees that are loaded with contextual information, suggested classroom activities and numerous resources. Our study guides are lauded for their grade-appropriateness and usability, as they are created by educators for educators. They are also living documents, continually being re-evaluated and updated for relevancy, as well as inspiring tools for deep engagement and inquiry. 

Access the study guide for The Diary of Anne Frank here.

Just as Anne Frank’s diary has been a staple in American school curriculum for decades, the play has been one of Park Square Theatre’s longest running productions viewed by thousands of young audience members for decades. This season, don’t miss its limited performances for general audiences on April 19, 22, 26 and 28 (tickets and information here).