Many schools coast through the fall season on drama alone, leaving the big musicals — with their outsized casts, props, orchestras, and budgets — for springtime, when young people’s thoughts turn naturally to such things as great first-act finale songs. Not Santa Barbara High, though, where student interest in musical theater has traditionally been through the roof and where director Otto Layman and a remarkably diverse team of creative personalities consistently deliver musicals in both autumn and spring semesters. This year’s fall production is Pippin, with music by Stephen Schwartz and the book by Roger O. Hirson. SBHS stage veteran Bradley DeVine is Pippin, and the divine Camille Umoff will perform the role of the Leading Player. Christina McCarthy’s choreography is sure to be spectacular, and her UCSB colleague Jon Nathan is the show’s music director. In addition to Layman, who is now in his 20th year at the school, the other creative principals are Mike Madden (lighting), Bonnie Thor (costumes), and Rachel Short (vocal director).Read More
For every star on Broadway, there are thousands of hopefuls toiling away in summer stock, college productions, and high school shows. What keeps them going — along with the sheer pleasure they take in performing — is the dream that someday they will break through to the big-time and join their idols on stage in a full-scale Broadway production. For Dana Musgrove Costello, that Broadway dream came true. The young singer/actress is currently appearing in the season’s most popular new Broadway musical, Finding Neverland, alongside Glee’s Matthew Morrison and Kelsey “Frasier Crane” Grammer. Costello’s road to Broadway started at Santa Barbara High School and continued through the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA) in Santa Maria, which makes her a perfect demonstration for area theater kids of the fact that, yes, it can happen here, and maybe even to you.
I spoke with Costello by phone from New York recently, and then I corresponded with some of the teachers who knew her when she was here. The portrait that emerged from these conversations confirmed some of the musical theater’s most deeply felt convictions.Read More
This exciting and playful production succeeded in tearing down the theater’s well-known “fourth wall,” that invisible barrier separating the audience from the action, and it did so in multiple ways. First, there were the direct physical assaults, as when, in the opening number, Aaron Linker (who played the Music Hall Royale actor Mr. Clive Paget) and his character (the sinister choirmaster John Jasper) jumped off the stage and landed just before the front row, his leap perfectly timed to emphasize his self-assessment as “quite mad.”Read More
Surely one of the most ambitious shows to be mounted in the area this season, Big Fish is the Santa Barbara High School Theatre program doing what it does best — big musicals with lots of dancing and professional production values. Theater program director Otto Layman is the auteur responsible for this marvelously complex and layered evening, with Jessica Hambright on board as choreographer to help realize the multidimensional vision of the show’s original Broadway director, the legendary Susan Stroman. Aaron Linker plays Edward Bloom, the tale-spinning, shape-shifting protagonist, and Andrew Gutierrez is his son Will, the relentlessly practical and analytic counterpoint to his father’s slippery grandiosity.Read More
Successful Broadway shows lead eternal double lives, coming into existence first in the theater but then living on wherever and whenever its numbers are performed. As satisfying as it is to see a whole musical, there’s a lot to be said for the pleasures of a good revue, and this is an excellent one. The songs are drawn from current (Matilda, Sister Act), recent (Jekyll & Hyde, Jersey Boys, Rent), and classic (West Side Story, Grease) musicals, and they reveal the extraordinary range of talent present in the SBHS performing arts program. A live orchestra in the pit, anchored by John Douglas on piano and Lito Hernandez on sax and as music director, keeps the whole thing flowing beautifully, and the trio of directors — Grace Apostolopoulos, Malcolm McCarthy, and Claudia Fanaro — do a brilliant job of showcasing the singing, acting, and dancing of these talented performers.Read More
On a Monday in October at 4:30 in the afternoon, the theater at Santa Barbara High School buzzes with half a dozen different constructive activities. And I do mean buzzes — and constructive — as one of the most noticeable things happening onstage is a young man welding. Not 20 feet from where this safety-hooded figure solders pieces of metal, a dance rehearsal with choreographer Christina McCarthy goes on. As the dancers in their sweats practice a combination, the giant tabloid newspapers with headlines about murder and scandal sit suspended overhead; suddenly, things start to make sense. We’re in Chicago — not the Windy City, but the Broadway show, which plays at Santa Barbara High School Theatre November 1-10.Read More
This high school production of the enormously popular Disney musical was as high-tech and ambitious as any play produced in Santa Barbara this year. Otto Layman, Chris Walas, and the extraordinary cast did a wonderful job deepening and darkening the familiar fairy tale, contributing to an evening of nonstop musical fun and laughter. As Belle, Santa Barbara High’s Jana McIntyre brought a beautiful voice with a warm rich tone along with excellent acting skills to this demanding lead role.Read More