Nancy Sasso Janis
Naugatuck Teen Theater has been serving local teens for over 20 years and always attracts the best high school talent to appear in their two annual productions. This year they opened their season with a wonderful production of the classic ‘Guys and Dolls’ under the direction of Broadway actress and Waterbury native Marissa Perry. NTT veterans join several students in their debut on the St. Michael’s stage to bring a very professional-looking show to the borough.
Ms. Perry is understandably proud of each and every one of these talented teens and writes that she has witnessed them becoming “more confident, well rounded and pointed actors” during the three month rehearsal process. “I know I have done my job here, not by the lights, sounds, staging, choreography and costumes, but by the extra sprinkle of passion each of them are carrying in their back pocket for theatre and, most importantly, for themselves.” Congratulations to this talented actress on her directorial debut. The students clearly adored her and for some of them, she is their theatrical idol. Ms. Perry was assisted by NTT Chairman Bob Rosa, Artistic Director Sarah Donovan and Technical Director Daniel Wagoner.
From the minute Nicely-Nicely Johnson (played to perfection in a perfectly loud suit by Joshua Viltrakis) enters the stage, the packed opening night audience knew that it was in for a treat. “Fugue for Tinhorns” as sung by Mr. Viltrakis, Billy Nicol as Benny Southwest and Christian “CJ” Janis as Rusty Charlie sets the bar pretty high for the other musical numbers. The pieces that follow were just as well-executed, but “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” was probably my favorite.
Alexander Niatopsky, a homeschooled HS junior, turned in an amazing performance as Nathan Detroit. Terrific comic timing made the audience love him and he looked the part in his fabulous purple suit. Kudos to this young man on knocking it out of the park. Equally as strong was the talented Alex Tenbrink as the dreamy Sky Masterson. Mr. Tenbrink, a senior at Naugatuck HS, sang well and charmed the young ladies in the audience.
Jennifer Beveridge, a junior at Watertown HS who played Annie Golden in their Halo Award-winning ‘Leader of the Pack,’ strongly played the General Matilda B. Cartwright and had a memorable moment at the end of one number. Kayla Kusy, who is already a senior at NHS and a NTT veteran, did a beautiful job with her solo as Sister Arvidia. Ashley Velleco, a senior at Ansonia HS and ECA, was a hoot as (the male) Lt. Brannigan. From his Irish brogue to his pot belly, the lawman was an audience favorite.
The two leading “dolls” were most impressive. Lauren Stango, a sophomore at Pomperaug HS, was perfectly cast as the perpetually engaged Miss Adelaide. Her pinpoint comic timing and big voice helped make this Adelaide most memorable. Kristen VanDerlyn, a senior at Watertown HS, was both lovely and lilting as Sarah Brown and it was a treat to hear her soprano notes being used. A strong actress with an amazing voice, this young performer will go far in whatever she chooses to pursue. Ms. VanDerlyn is currently in rehearsals for ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at WHS, where she will play Beauty to Mr. Viltrakis’ Beast.
The Hot Box Girls/Mission Girls included City Hill Middle School student Anna Conforti, Miette Deschenes, NHS junior Kathleen Dowling, NHS senior Megan Jennings, Katelynn Lamprey, and NHS freshman Sydney Lauer. Lindsey Rosa, a junior at Woodland, played Mimi and served as dance captain. WAMS freshman Dania Fedrick (Martha,) NHS sophomore Hanna Zeliantsova and Emily Wilcox were in the ensemble.
The teamwork of the guys in the cast was most evident in the classic “Luck Be a Lady” number. The young men rocked their colorful zoot suits and fedoras as they sang and danced (and ran) their hearts out. It was a joy to watch for this mother of boys. Jacob Boudreau, a senior at NHS and an NTT veteran, appeared as a crap shooter. Matthew Goggin, a junior at NHS and another NTT veteran, played Liver Lips Louie, while Jakob Kelsey, a Nonnewaug HS sophomore making his NTT debut, played Harry the Horse. NHS freshman Quentin LeBrecque stood tall as Big Jule.
Joshua Rodis, a junior at Watertown HS, made his NTT debut as Joey Biltmore and Master of Ceremonies at the Hot Box. Eric Canfield, a seventh grade student at Waterbury Arts Magnet School, also played a crap shooter. And “CJ,” who is now a senior at WAMS, came out of the NTT pit to get up on the St. Michael’s stage for the first time to play Rusty Charlie. The comments from other audience members were that he seemed right at home on this stage and his mother was very proud of him.
Aurora Montenero was in charge of the colorful and wonderful period costumes and Jason Truby designed the lighting. Ms. Perry did the cute choreography and Jeremy Hutchins was the Music Director who conducted the small pit orchestra. Mr. Hutchins will be serving as music director at Long Wharf for the third time for the very funny “Sister’s Christmas Catechism.” The teens worked together to pull off the mostly quick set changes. There were some sound issues on opening night, but the actors managed to plow through and project when necessary.
Folding chairs had to be added to the house to accommodate the crowd (unofficially 112 strong) that came out on Saturday to support the teens. Celebrities that I saw included Lauren’s mom and dad Melissa and Chuck Stango, Marianna Vagnini and her sister Trish Torello, Naugatuck’s BOE chair David Heller, Seven Angel’s stars James Donohue and Mandy Leigh Thompson, and lots and lots of proud parents...like me.
Remaining performances of NTT’s ‘Guys and Dolls’ A Musical Fable of Broadway based on a story and characters of Damon Runyon with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows are Sunday, Nov. 8 at 2:00, Friday, Nov. 13 at 8:00pm, Saturday, Nov. 14 at 2:00 and 8:00pm. Doors open 30 minutes before each show and tickets can be purchased at the door.
Photos of the members of the cast by Robert Rosa