Reviews of A Theatre Near U’s original teen musical, “A Beautiful Glass”
Exploring the beautiful glass of life
Have you ever considered how one might cure intentional death? That’s an odd way to put it – intentional death. That might bring suicide to mind, but as Justin Capps (Atticus Shaindlin) explains to George (Emily Liberatore),
“Suicide implies a crime …. It’s [intentional death] not a crime. Almost every time, it’s an illness that causes the act. I’m trying to cure it.”
Curing intentional death requires examining what’s behind it, which of course means exploring the attitudes and actions surrounding mental illness. That’s the central theme in A Theatre Near U’s world premiere of Tony Kienitz’s new musical, A Beautiful Glass, and it is, in a word, smashing.
The story was initially inspired by recent events related to suicide in the Palo Alto area, but as Kienitz and his wife and collaborator Tanna Herr dug deeper into the issues as part of their research, they found that many teens were disturbed by how their generation is portrayed in the media. Kienitz wanted to paint a more in-depth picture of some of the attitudes he and Herr were seeing amongst the youth in their community. In the process, he made this work a true collaboration, not only with Herr, but also with their cast and creative staff.
Throughout the process, the company helped to shape the material, including the prose, the music, the movement, the staging, all of which combine in glorious synergy. It’s a story that demands exploration of societal attitudes and biases, smashing several negative stereotypes, leaving in its wake greater understanding.
Herr and Kienitz co-direct their cast of exceptional young actors in this insightful work. Pierce Peter Brandt is the vocal director. Ali Arian Molaei does double duty as both cast member and choreographer for this production.
While Kienitz wrote the book and lyrics, the music composition was shared amongst several artists including: Andrew Lu, Annabel Marks, Peter Willits, Jeremy Samos, and Jeremy Erman. The performance band includes: Willits (drums), Samos (guitar/bass), Leanne Miron (violin/ukulele/piano), and cast member Shayan Hooshmand (piano).
The 18-member cast, aged 13-19, is led by Shaindlin and Liberatore. Everyone else plays multiple roles in this versatile ensemble, each bringing forward different nuances to the story. Beyond Shaindlin, Liberatore, Molaei, and Hooshmand, the rest of the ensemble cast includes: Alexandra Dinu, Lauren Emo, Anna Feenstra, Monica Hobbs, Elizabeth McCole, Cara Parker, Alyssa Rojas, Quincy Shaindlin, Zoe Stanton-Savitz, Mia Trubelja, Robert Vetter, Gil Weissman, Jackson Wylder, and Derek Zhou.
In a fortuitous bit of casting, Quincy Shaindlin, five years Atticus Shaindlin’s junior, plays the young Justin at several points in the story. Their family resemblance is strong making the younger Shaindlin all the more believable.
George is a student fascinated by supernovas and has a telescope setup in a remote location that she unintentionally ends up sharing with Justin. He’s quirky, even nuts by most of his contemporaries’ standards, but she becomes interested in his quest and starts helping him. The two have a connection that draws closer as the story develops. The rest of the cast takes on various roles of people, past and present, who have influenced Justin as he and George explore how to complete his quest.
The music is woven into the story, the lyrics driving the plot forward with a combination of explosive intensity, wonder, and heart. The opening number, “This Town,” brings out the anger and angst the kids feel. They are struggling to deal with the losses of friends or family they’ve endured, and the lack of understanding they see from their town. The choreography punctuates their words in sharp, stylized movements that are nicely synchronized.
The middle of the song shifts to a lilting ballad sung by Justin and George, clearly caring for one another and sharing their wonder of the stars as a portent of things to come. After they leave, the angst-ridden ensemble reprises the theme at the top to finish the number.
Later in Act 1, as Justin tries to explain to George what he’s learned in his exploration about the attitudes toward depression (a leading predecessor of intentionally dying), the company bursts forth with the song, “Good Luck With That.” The song lampoons medicine’s practice to treat or cure pretty much any ailment, save for depression. In this number, Justin is a doctor treating everyone’s ills, except his younger self when he asks for help. The song is fast-paced, the dance is frenetic and exciting, and the message is clear.
Throughout the performance, Molaei’s choreography shines. His design is varied and challenging, but the cast is on top of it, executing each move with precision and confidence, greatly intensifying the feelings expressed in the lyrics.
The title number, “It’s a Beautiful Glass,” near the end of Act 1 is especially poignant. Justin’s grandfather (played by Molaei) launches into a lovely melody sharing a wondrous philosophy of life. Justin joins him in song until, in a particularly nice display of his abilities, the grandfather rises from his wheelchair and dances a solo showing great fluidity and artistry, bringing into motion the feelings expressed in the lyrics. After the dance, the two continue in a vocal duet, bringing the song to a heartfelt conclusion as the grandfather sits back down, and Justin replaces the shawl over his grandfather’s shoulders.
Shaindlin’s portrayal of Justin throughout the story makes him human, and very likable, despite a few social quirks. He makes the audience grow to really care about him, almost as much as George does. And Liberatore’s portrayal of George is gripping. Her character’s intelligence comes through. Their scenes together are often simultaneously touching and amusing, which is all the more impressive when dealing with some very serious topics. The imagery they invoke is vivid, even before other cast members step in to act out their discussions.
There are some time shifts that occur throughout the story, but suffice it to say that the historical references used are both intriguing and enlightening, though a fair amount of poetic license is at play. Originality is evident in the unusual way that the story is told.
The set is simple – just a few benches sit stage right and stage left, along with a large upstage set piece that is rotated to either be a schoolyard bench, or a hollowed out tree for George’s telescope. The Mountain View CPA’s Second Stage theatre set up is a black box with seating on three sides of the performance area. The compact band is located upstage left.
To save space, Willits uses a cajón (drum box) in place of a standard drum kit. In addition to being extremely compact, the cajón, which originated in Peru, is perfect for small, mostly acoustic combos as it blends nicely with the other instruments without overpowering them. It can be played with hands, or brushes, depending on the effect desired.
Preshow, the band, with Hooshmand on piano, plays a number of contemporary, and jazz standards, quietly setting the mood for the performance. During the performance, there were times when only one or two instruments are used, such as solo violin accompanying a solo singer, or guitar and drums punctuating a small subset of the ensemble. Overall, the level of musicianship is high, although there is some momentary, unintended dissonance between acoustic instruments.
Some of the members of the ensemble are stronger than others, and while they all handle the movement beautifully, there are a few times when some words are lost due to lack of projection, sloppy diction, or flat delivery. Overall though, the actors still put great emotion and definition into each of their characters.
A Beautiful Glass takes a serious subject, and comes at it from all sides helping to both put things into a more accepting perspective, and driving home a message of hope, even in the face of despair. In the end, it doesn’t matter if the glass is half full or half empty. It’s beautiful, and so is this production.
What: A Beautiful Glass, by Tony Kienitz
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View and Magic Theatre at Fort Mason Center, Bldg. D, 3rd floor, 2 Marina Blvd., San Francisco
When: San Francisco, 15-17 June 2016; Mountain View, 10-11, 18-19, 23-25 June 2016
See http://atheatrenearu.org/home/2014/12/26/a-beautiful-glass/ for more information. Order Mountain View tickets by phone at 650-903-6000 or online at http://mvcpa.com. Order San Francisco tickets online at http://abeautifulglass.bpt.me/.
(Photos courtesy of A Theatre Near U – Rob Wilen)
If the thought of sitting in a theatre for a couple of hours attending a youth theatre production on the subject of suicide raises the specter of enduring a live action version of an old ABC Afterschool Special, allow me to assuage those concerns. The hallmarks of those television specials were well-intentioned but contrived scripts covering issues from teen pregnancy to substance abuse to eating disorders and casts with performers like Scott Baio and Justine Batemen. The peninsula-based A Theatre Near U, a film and theatre academy, takes a decidedly different approach. The Company’s third full production, A Beautiful Glass, examines the issue of suicide not only through the eyes of the modern teen but through history as well. Their cast consists of aspiring young professional performers who workshop all aspects of the production. Who better to consult on the feelings and means of expression of the current generation than local youth aged thirteen to nineteen, and who better to tell the story?
Justin is a gregarious young man who goes out of his way to welcome new students to his school. Georgianna is an introverted young lady who spends her evenings in a hollowed-out tree peering through a telescope in the hope of discovering a new astronomical entity. Their paths cross when Justin, also seeking a secluded area to work on his own project, plants his sleeping bag below Georgianna’s tree. After a few days of observing Justin and his somewhat odd behavior, Georgianna reveals herself to Justin, and Justin reveals the reasons for his behavior. He is seeking a cure for the illness of suicide or, as he prefers to refer to it, “intentional death.” Georgianna joins Justin on his quest, and the manner in which he performs his research and the historical discoveries he has made unfold on stage in a series of vignettes that often include song and dance.
The strength of this company’s work is the incredible level of talent involved. Lead performers Atticus Shaindlin (Justin) and Emily Liberatore (Georgianna) have terrific chemistry and vocal talent to boot. With a cast of characters including Cleopatra, Van Gogh and Sylvia Plath, the ensemble of sixteen young, absolutely committed performers give more-than-credible performances as the aforementioned characters and more. Each had their moment – which was problematical when looking at the show as a whole – with a nice mix of humor, poignancy and drama to challenge them.
In a cast this large and talented, it may seem unfair to single out some individuals at the perceived expense of others, but it would be remiss to not recognize excellent work. Standouts for me were Quincy Shaindlin (VERY funny as a young Justin), Jackson Wylder (showing nice range from an emotionally devastated Van Gogh to an egotistic Pyramus) and Ali Arian Molaei. Mr. Molaei is what is commonly referred to in the ‘biz’ as a “triple threat”, meaning he can act, he can sing, and he can dance. Most importantly, he can do them all well – very well. Whether amusingly and energetically articulating the thoughts of the luckiest/unluckiest man on earth via monologue or gracefully expressing the beauty of life through dance, Mr. Molaei’s ample talents were put to excellent use. Oh, and he choreographed the show as well – a very impressive and diverse body of work within a single show.
The problematic aspect of this show alluded to earlier in this review is its length. In wanting to give each cast member a moment to shine, the show’s running time ends up at close to three hours. As a showcase for the talents of the artists involved, I can respect the desire of playwright Tony Kienitz to provide all the material he could for the top-notch cast and there is a nice blend of humor to lighten the load of the heavy subject manner. However, as co-director (with Tanna Herr), Kienitz might have considered excising several scenes and songs without upsetting that blend. While entertaining (a bit on Shakespeare’s suicide scenes in particular), several felt as if they were there only to showcase the cast and not to further the story. Perhaps a good lesson for the young performers to learn now is that sometimes things get cut.
With that caveat, there’s still a lot to like in “A Beautiful Glass” beyond the exceptionally talented cast. The original music is excellent (with three credited lyricists and six credited composers.) It consists of a variety of styles from traditional musical theatre to alternative rock and is delivered with appropriate gusto and emotion by the cast under the vocal direction of Pierce Peter Brandt. There are also some very interesting and clever technical elements that demonstrate the ability of those elements to enhance the storytelling without distracting from it.
A Theatre Near U continues to push the boundaries of “youth theatre” in an extremely challenging and rewarding direction. Is this …Glass half empty or half full? Brimming with top young talent, A Beautiful Glass is definitely more than half full.
A Theatre Near U Presents
A Beautiful Glass
through June 25
Thurs, Fri, Sat @ 7:30 pm
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA 94041
Photos by Rob Wilen, Jackson Wylder
A Theatre Near U
Review by Richard Connema
and Atticus Shaindlin
Photo by Rob Wilen
A Theater Near U is presenting the world premiere of A Beautiful Glass with book and lyrics Tony Kienitz and additional lyric by Andrew Lu and Annabel Marks, and music by many Jeremy Erman, Tony Kienitz, Andrew Lu, Annabel Marks, Jeremy Samos and Peter Willitis. Company founders Tony Kienitz and his wife, producer Tanna Herr, are producing an original musical with an 18-member cast ranging in age from 13 to 19.
A Beautiful Glass is about teen suicide, a loaded subject on the Peninsula where, according to a report in The Atlantic for December 2015, the 10-year suicide rate for the two high schools on the Peninsula Gunn and Palo Alto was four to five times the national average. A Theater Near U helped to shape the material, including the prose, the music, the movement, and the staging, all of which combine to form an outstanding production. Co-directors Tony Kienitz and Tanna Herr helm this cast of extraordinary talented young actors.
This is the story of young Justin Capps (Atticus Shaindlin) who is trying to cope with suicides in his circle of friends. He is greatly seeking a “cure.” Also, the tale is about stargazing Georgianna (Emily Liberatore), a student who is fascinating by supernovas and has a telescope setup in a remote location near Justin, who loves to sleep outside under the stars. She becomes interested in his mission and starts helping him. The first act is a serious matter, with various young students coming stage forward to tell about their suicides.
The second act features members of the teenage cast offering a unique, inside view of suicides by portraying such historical notables as Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Vincent Van Gogh, and Lady Macbeth. This is portrayed in an entertaining manner. As one of the cast members states, “it’s kind of a comedy and kind of wacky.”
The play runs almost three hours with intermission and it could be cut down a bit, especially the first act. It has a lot going for it, especially when the company bursts forth with the song “Good Luck with That” which satirizes the medical practice to cure any aliment. Justin is the doctor and he treats everyone’s ills, but when his younger self (Quincy Shaindlin, Atticus’ younger brother) asks for help, he cannot help him.
The production contains many wonderful performances, such as Grandpa played by 18-year-old Ali Arian Molaei in the number “It’s a Beautiful Glass.” He rises from his wheelchair and dances a solo with great flexibility and imagination looking like a Martha Graham dancer, while Atticus Shaindlin with great vocal chops sings the song. Ali Arian Molaei also performs a terrific solo about Grandpa’s encounter with a bear.
Atticus Shaindlin is marvelous as Justin. He makes him human and very congenial, despite his few social oddities. Emily Liberatore gives an attention-grabbing performance and her character’s cleverness comes through. The scenes between Shaindlin and Liberatore are very poignant and droll, especially those dealing with very serious topics.
Mia Trubelja skillfully portrays Cleopatra in the second act and Jackson Wylder is pitch perfect as Vincent Van Gogh with his lively voice. Fourteen-year-old Shayan Hooshmand has thematic resonance when singing “Count What They Bless.”
The songs consisting of new contemporary, discordant alternative rock and jazz standards are intertwined into the story and the lyrics drive the plot forward. Ali Arian Molaei’s energy-driven choreography punctuates the cast’s words with strident, stylized movements.
Despite the weighty tropics of mental illness and suicide, the play with music is peppered with moments of lightheartedness and wit. This is the intention of the co-directors, since both believed that humor was important in portraying the characters as fully recognized persons.
A Beautiful Glass played at the Magic Theatre June 15-17 and will play in Mountain View at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Second Stage, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, now through June 25, 2016. For tickets call 650-902-6000 or visit atheatrenearu.org.
“Shining light on dark issues,” is an article discussing A Theatre Near U and its latest original show, A Beautiful Glass.
Published on Palo Alto Online and in the Palo Alto Weekly. Written by Anna Medina.
“Down the rabbit hole,” an article discussing A Theatre Near U and its latest original show, ‘Twas Brillig.
Published on Palo Alto Online and in the Palo Alto Weekly. Written by Elizabeth Schwyzer.
‘Twas Brillig Press Release click here
Reviews of A Theatre Near U’s original teen musical, “Body of Water”
A Theatre Near U presents the sensational new work, BODY OF WATER, starring a troupe of triple-threat teen performers. In this gritty musical drama, a group of kids escape the terrors of a civil war by hiding out in an isolated mountain cabin. Together they wait for further instructions from their parents and families. But with each passing day, as the silence from the past grows louder, their dreams for the future begin to wither and dry. Striking out on their own may be their only hope for survival.
BODY OF WATER plays June 13 – June 28, 2014 at Southside Theater at Fort Mason Center, Bldg. D, 3rd floor, 2 Marina Blvd., San Francisco.
For Press passes or to schedule an interview with the director, actors or staff, please
email Artistic Director Tony Kienitz, at email@example.com
Publicity photos are available for download.Photography is by Tanna Herr, unless otherwise noted; we request that credit be given when practical to do so. The photos we make available here are to be used for media/promotional use only.
For further assistance or special requests, please email Tony Kienitz at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: World Premiere of the intense and poignant teen musical, Body Of Water
Date: April 18. 2014
A THEATRE NEAR U PRESENTS
BODY OF WATER
Music and Lyrics by Jim Walker
Book by Tony Kienitz
Produced by Tanna Herr
Directed by Tanna Herr and Tony Kienitz
Vocal Direction by Pierce Peter Brandt
Choreographed by Kaylie Caires
SAN FRANCISCO, CA (April 18, 2014) — The Peninsula’s premier film and theatre academy for teens, A Theatre Near U presents the sensational new work, BODY OF WATER, starring a troupe of triple-threat teen performers. In this gritty musical drama, a group of kids escape the terrors of a civil war by hiding out in an isolated mountain cabin. Together they wait for further instructions from their parents and families. But with each passing day, as the silence from their past grows louder, their dreams for the future begin to wither and dry. Striking out on their own may be their only hope for survival. BODY OF WATER plays June 13 – June 28, 2014
Performances at Southside Theater at Fort Mason Center, Bldg. D, 3rd floor, 2 Marina Blvd. (at Buchannan St.), San Francisco. For tickets ($15-$20) and information the public may email – email@example.com or simply visit our website atheatrenearu.org
Producer/Director Tanna Herr says, “The experience of putting together a musical from the ground up has been nothing less than exhilarating. We have brought together teens from different schools, cities, and backgrounds to form a cohesive family of artists. We began with the question, ‘What happens when young people attempt to survive on their own in a country fraught with War?’ I am extremely proud of the answers we discovered and look forward to sharing this exciting piece of theatre with our audiences.”
BODY OF WATER has a cast that ranges in age from thirteen to eighteen. Five short years. And yet, those five years of life are universally important and unforgettable to anyone who survives them. Thirty-five to forty? You might have something fantastic happen, sure, but will forty to forty-five have the same impact? Rarely. BODY OF WATER is A Theatre Near U’s inaugural production and in it the scenario allows for teenagers to portray characters their own age and explore topics that are uniquely present in those magical, angst-filled years. Coupled with the rich and evocative music of singer/songwriter Jim Walker, the show is Generation Z’s take on Sex/Drugs/Rock n’ Roll.
This production of BODY OF WATER features the talents of (with notable past roles included):
Aaron Slipper as Bosh – (Mr. Darcy Pride and Prejudice, Prince Charming Into The Woods)
Sara Gray as Jennifer – (Tracy Turnblatt Hairspray, Sandy Grease)
Winston Wang as CJ – (Ralph Lord of the Flies, Duke Orsino Twelfth Night)
Cara Parker as Willa – (Little Red Riding Hood Into The Woods, Rosalind As You Like It)
Ido Gal as Henry – (Teddy The Homecoming, Shaw Moore Footloose)
Bella Wilcox as Vienna – (Lady Macbeth Macbeth, Dorothy The Wiz)
Ali Arian Molaei as Charlie – (Ren Footloose, Sheridan Whiteside, The Man Who Came To Dinner)
Elizabeth McCole as Cole – (Edna Turnblatt Hairspray, Rizzo Grease)
Jackson Wylder as Buster – (Nick Bottom Midsummer’s Night Dream, Willard Footloose)
Alia Cuadros-Contreras as Alice – (Penny You Can’t Take It With You, Gertrude Seussical)
Juan Santos as Leven – (Soccer Player #3 The Royal Falcon)
Jasmyn Donya Molaei as April – (Lily St. Regis Annie, Patty Simcox, Grease)
Shayan Hooshmand as Shorty – (Oliver Twist Oliver, Charlie Brown You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown)
Audrey Forrester as Emily – (Belle Beauty and the Beast, Annie Annie)
A THEATRE NEAR U’s Artistic Director, Tony Kienitz has written the book for BODY OF WATER as well as sharing directorial duties with Tanna Herr. Originally from Los Angeles where he acted extensively in film, television and stage (including a starring role in Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories), Tony, since moving to the Bay Area, has directed dozens of youth theatre productions (The Stinky Cheese Man and Footloose being two of his favorites) as well as writing two other original stage works, Firebird (premiered at The Palo Alto Children’s Theater) and The Royal Falcon (which had its debut at Chapman College).
Tanna Herr, Producer and Co-Director of BODY OF WATER is a graduate of UCLA’s Department of Theatre Arts and The American Film Institute’s Master Directors Program. Her film, Mr. Willard Swallows a Fly, received many awards (including Best Comedy Short) and accolades in a worldwide tour of film festivals. She, too, acted on screen and stage in Los Angeles before returning to her childhood home in Palo Alto. Since her return she has directed over 40 plays, both adult and youth productions, most memorably, Legally Blonde with the Sunnyvale Players and Hairspray at the Historic Hoover Theater in San Jose.
Portland based, Jim Walker, has released over 20 cds of original music under the name, JVA, on his own independent label, JVAMUSIC. This wealth of material was drawn upon to help create BODY OF WATER. Jim has scored the films, Cover Girl Murders, Redline (and many others,) and has had his songs featured in films such as Breathless, Lurkers, and Floaters. His song, Something to Remember Me By, was heard throughout the film, Three O’Clock High. Teaming with musician Tim Ellis, the duo of Tim & Jim play between 150-175 acoustic shows per year. They have opened for Crash Test Dummies, The Temptations, Warren Zevon, Little Feat, Boz Scaggs and others.
BODY OF WATER Vocal Director Pierce Peter Brandt is a recipient of two DramaLogue (Backstage West) Awards and a Goodman San Francisco Critics Award, as well as numerous accolades from critics and audiences alike for his performances in leading roles across the US and Canada in Sir Cameron Mackintosh’s original Broadway productions of “Les Misérables” and “Martin Guerre” (original New York cast), the national touring company of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” as well as in numerous productions at professional regional theaters throughout the country. As a teaching artist, Pierce is the founder of Performance Singing, which provides private training, master classes, and workshops in song acting and performance for singers and actors, he is on the faculty at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, he is an instructor at TheatreWorks, and he has taught master classes and workshops for adults and teens at theatrical institutions throughout the country.
A THEATRE NEAR U is a film and theatre academy for artistic teens eager to participate in the advanced study of film and theatre acting, directing and writing. A Theatre Near U offers training in these disciplines at a level not found elsewhere in our community. It is a place where those who take their craft seriously can work with peers equally devoted and passionate.
FOR CALENDAR EDITORS
WHAT: A THEATRE NEAR U presents the edgy and raw teen musical, BODY OF WATER starring a troupe of triple-threat teen performers. It is the story of a rag-tag group of kids who escape the terrors of a civil war by hiding out in an isolated mountain cabin. Together they wait for further instructions from their parents and families. But with each passing day, as the silence from their past grows louder, their dreams for the future begin to wither and dry. Striking out on their own may be their only hope for survival.
WHEN: June 13 – June 28, 2014
SHOWS: Fridays at 7:30 pm
Saturdays at 7:30 pm
Sundays at 2:30 pm
WHERE: Southside Theater at Fort Mason Center, Bldg. D, 3rd floor, 2 Marina Blvd. (at Buchannan St.), San Francisco.
TICKETS: $15 – $20 (opening night gala $35.00)
INFO: For additional information or inquiries email Tony Kienitz at — firstname.lastname@example.org