The 1980s echo in `True Colors'

Minus Reaganomics, Genelg High debut musical recalls a decade's energy

November 10, 2006|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

As the cast of the musical True Colors danced energetically on the Glenelg High School stage and sang the theme song from the movie Flashdance, director Sue Miller was swept up in the excitement.

"Take your passion and make it happen," she told the mostly teenage group at a rehearsal Wednesday. "You need to tell the audience you only have one chance in life. Take your passion ... whatever it is, and do it."

The musical, which includes actors from several area schools, is the passion of Miller's son, Greg Leader of Columbia, who wrote the show using more than a dozen popular songs from the 1980s.

"The '80s were so fun and so colorful and so vibrant, it just works well on the stage," said Leader, 33, whose musical will debut Thursday at Glenelg.

He said successful musicals like Mamma Mia and Movin' Out were built around the songs of one artist or group. He thought focusing on a decade would be more fresh and give him more room to choose songs that fit the story rather than writing the story to fit the songs.

With nods to The Breakfast Club and Dirty Dancing among, other influences, the plot involves an interracial and cross-class romance that blooms after a girl invites a boy with breakdancing skills to her classical dance class. The two are aided by a dance teacher who survived the Holocaust and undermined by the girl's close-minded mother as they learn lessons about love, tolerance and self-expression.

Leader said he hopes the more serious elements will mix well with interludes of music that is fun and familiar. He secured the rights to more than a dozen tunes made popular by artists including Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Gibson, Lionel Richie and REO Speedwagon as well as some lesser-known artists with single hits. (Carl Anderson and Gloria Loring's "Friends and Lovers" is sung at a key moment, as is Toni Basil's "Mickey.")

Leader, who has a full-time job as a vice president of sports for USA Radio network, has Broadway in his sights for his pet project. But, he said, he knows a show has to start with small steps.

"Fortunately, I have a family that is very, very involved with the arts," he said.

During the 18 months Leader revised the show, Miller had her drama students at Glenelg do a read-through. Leader's sister, Beth Leader, did the same when she was a director at Reservoir High School. His aunt, Toby Orenstein, owns Toby's Dinner Theatre and offered comments and workshop opportunities.

The next step was to get it on stage. So Miller started the New Works Theatre at Glenelg, which she hopes will produce new musicals like True Colors every few years. The school is helping underwrite the production along with donations and ticket sales.

Much of the True Colors cast comes from Glenelg, but Miller opened auditions to the community as well. Lead actor Jamel Cole is a senior at Randallstown High School.

The show also called for skilled breakdancers, so Leader tracked down Anti-Lok-Breakz, a community breakdancing group that is largely an offshoot of the Oakland Mills High School breakdance club. It also includes students from Wilde Lake High School and Howard Community College.

Once the 60 members of the cast came together, they were asked to do a series of workshops to establish their characters and their relationships.

"These characters have never been portrayed before," Leader said. "You've got to create your own role."

Kassidy Sharp, 17, has the female lead role and was excited by the process.

Most musicals have film and Broadway versions for guidance, she said, but in this case "it's completely us looking into the characters. It's exciting to be the person that developed [a role]."

Sharp, a senior at Glenelg, also said it is unusual for high school students to work with castmates from other schools. When the actors pretend to be friends or in love, "usually you already know them," she said. "It's another challenge."

The musicians have also had a creative role to play turning pop songs into theatrical ones.

Musical director Cedric Lyles and the rest of his six-member band were handed recordings - many of which never had accompanying sheet music - and did a lot of rearranging and playing by ear.

"We had to teach it to a bunch of teenagers and make it sound good," said Andy Honeycutt, the vocal director.

Lyles said what he likes about the score is "everything tells the story. We're trying to get the kids to understand you have to embody it [when they sing] and tell the story."

The show has been a learning process for everyone, but Leader says the performance will be a great reward for months of work.

"It's very much like labor," Leader said. "It is so exciting. We are so close to the birth of a new show."

Performances of True Colors will be held at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16, 17 and 18 at Glenelg High School, 14025 Burnt Woods Road. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. Reservations: 410-313-5528 during school hours. Information:

high school theater season

It's play season at county high schools. Here is the schedule:

Atholton: Harvey - Nov. 10, 11 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 12 at 3 p.m.

Centennial: The Odd Couple, female version - Nov. 15, 16, 17, 18 at 7:30 p.m.

Glenelg: True Colors - The 80's Musical - Nov. 16, 17, 18 at 7:30 p.m.

Hammond: Arsenic and Old Lace - Nov. 10, 11 at 7 p.m.; Nov. 11 at 2 p.m.

Howard: The Music Man - Nov. 16, 17, 18 at 7:30 p.m.

Long Reach: Night of January 16th - Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 2 at 7:30 p.m.

Marriotts Ridge: The Good Doctor - Nov. 16, 17, 18 at 7 p.m.

Mount Hebron: The Miracle Worker - Nov. 11, 15, 16, 17, 18 at 7 p.m.

Oakland Mills: Cheaper By the Dozen - Dec. 1, 2 at 7 p.m.

Reservoir: And Then There Were None - Nov. 17, 18 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 19 at 2 p.m.

River Hill: Noises Off - Nov. 15, 16, 17, 18 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 18 at 2 p.m.; Nov. 19 at 3 p.m.

Wilde Lake: Gorey Stories - Nov. 16, 17, 18 at 7:30 p.m.

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