Despite all the negatives of this past year caused by something none of us would have ever thought possible, it seems that there occasionally can be found some silver linings. Such was the case for the Lima Central Catholic seniors who bonded and delivered a terrific play, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” on last month’s second weekend.
As for the T-Bird silver lining, for the first time in the history of Veterans Memorial Civic Center, a high school was able to use Lima’s grandest stage for a class play. As to how a venue that has seen scores of professional Broadway-caliber performers present their talents many times over the 30-plus years the facility has been open, the play’s producer, Jim O’Neill, points to two factors.
“The CEO of the Civic Center, Abe Ambroza, was so gracious in granting us the opportunity to use Crouse Performance Hall,” O’Neill said. “Because of all the COVID concerns, he had openings, and, second, he was willing to work with us in securing a workable price.”
O’Neill and his wife, Chris, managed to put together quite a production team, actually a dream team, comprised of local people with a plethora of experience in the arts and also an abundance of expertise. Joe Warnement, who has numerous theatrical credits, including his having played both Charlie Brown and Schroeder in two different productions, was the play’s director, so his knowledge of the play was intimate.
Orchestra director Chad Stearns also has both a variety of theatrical credits on his resume and, as managing partner at Modo Media, he had the technological expertise to record several rehearsals of the 46 rehearsals over 70 days from two different angles and then send video of them to the seniors via Google. In this way, the young actors and actresses could study and learn from their performances on a level that those who took part in school plays last century could never have imagined.
LCC’s band director, David Buckholdt, with a wealth of experience both performing and directing pit orchestras, served as the music director. Providing excellent support was assistant music director Noah Phillips. Father David Ross also lent his expertise by serving as vocal coach, and Vicki Moening filled the role of production assistant quite well.
As for the dancing, so vital in a musical, Lyn Mulcahy, assisted by her daughter Meghan, provided choreography direction. Lyn has been studio owner and instructor at Lyn’s Academy of Dance in Elida for the past 27 years.
Also providing valuable wing support were Noelle Warnement as dance captain and Beverly Steele as production stage manager. Many more worked behind the scenes on set design and construction, costume design, sound and lighting.
LCC Principal Stephanie Williams has profound gratitude for all who worked with her seniors, which comprised one-third of the class of 75.
“I’m so grateful that Dr. O’Neill and Chris were able to assemble so many talented people to guide our seniors in this production,” Williams said. “Certainly, in these tough times, so much has been canceled or dramatically modified, so to be able to put on a musical in front of a live audience on such a grand stage was wonderful.”
As for the crowds, according to Jim O’Neill, “We averaged 330 per show. With a maximum, based on Gov. DeWine, of 25 percent of the normal capacity of 1,700, which would have been 425, we were pretty pleased with that average. The first night showed the more robust house, with 367.”
When I asked O’Neill about the time commitment for all involved in the play, he laughed.
“Well, I didn’t really keep track, but just in terms of total rehearsal time, it was easily over a hundred hours,” O’Neill said. “And, for the production team, it’s much more than that when you factor in creating and painting set pieces, arranging the venue, securing the play rights, planning rehearsals and other duties.”
The process began the day before Christmas vacation commenced with a kickoff luncheon, an event made special by Father Dave Ross, a noted culinarian, who prepared his famous Italian pasta and sausage. Then, the group watched a video of a big city high school performance of “Charlie Brown.”
Says O’Neill, “I told the kids after we finished watching the performance that that was the bar I wanted them to exceed.”
Adds Ross, “Over the course of the weeks that I was able to provide a modest amount of vocal coaching, the cast members really excelled, far beyond my expectations when we first began.”
As for the takeaways for the students, O’Neill feels they were indeed manifold.
“The whole experience was such an exercise in class cohesion and team building, skills they’ll certainly use no matter what field they pursue,” he said. “They certainly gained a good deal of theatrical knowledge, such as an appreciation of physical space, the terminology used in theater and the methodology of acting, projecting, articulating and memorizing. For most, it was an introduction to dance styles, posture and movement, and Lyn (Mulcahy) did such an amazing job with the choreography.”
And, as for the play selection, O’Neill feels “Charlie Brown” had so much to say, especially to the youth about the insecurities and frailties of young people and the importance of kindness and acceptance.
Next week, I’ll be taking you with me to opening night and tossing some well-deserved roses to those who made the show so successful.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.