Last week, I interviewed directors helming three very different local theater productions: “Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook” at Lakeside Players, “The Importance of Being Earnest” at Tremper High School” and “The Scottsboro Boys” at Bradford High School.
Toss in my interview with Kenoshan Dana Roders, starring in “9 to 5 the Musical” at the Racine Theatre Guild, and you’ve got quite a diverse range of theater offerings.
All the shows are playing this weekend, which means you still have time to catch a classic Oscar Wilde show (at Tremper), a comic family show (at Lakeside Players), a popular musical comedy (at the Theatre Guild) and a Broadway musical based on an infamous 1931 legal case (at Bradford).
All of which should make you very proud to live in a community that values the arts so much.
The fact that three of these shows feature student actors means the future looks bright for our theater scene, too.
So bright, in fact, that two former Bradford students are back on stage at their old high school, performing in “Scottsboro.”
Braxton Molinaro, a 2007 Bradford graduate, said part of the appeal of doing the show was the chance to be on stage again with David L. Murray Jr., a 2005 Bradford graduate.
“It was great to work with David again,” said Molinaro, an actor, filmmaker and composer living in Los Angeles.
In “Scottsboro,” Molinaro said his character “stands in for the political and legal system as it existed at that time.”
The legal case, which dragged on for two decades, was ignited when nine young black men — one only 13 years old — were taken off a train in Alabama and accused of raping two white women. The case went through several trials and was appealed to the Supreme Court before all the defendants were eventually exonerated.
“It’s so important to do this show,” Molinaro added, “with our political climate as it is now.”
Murray is actually enjoying two reunions with this show — he’s on stage with Molinaro again and, for the first time, he’s acting with his younger brother, Bradford senior Ben Woods.
Murray has been living and working in New York since 2009, after graduating from UW-Stevens Point with a degree in musical theater.
Both Murray and Molinaro are enjoying being on a high school stage again.
“There’s magic in high school theater,” Molinaro said. “Everyone is there because they love it, without any commercial considerations. They don’t have to worry about paying rent, and I haven’t felt that in a while.”
Denzel Tsopnang, a professional actor in Chicago, is also in the Bradford production. He first performed in “Scottsboro” with Chicago’s Porchlight Theater.
He calls this show “an extreme acting challenge and my favorite of the shows I’ve done.”
Tsopnang is thrilled the cast is almost entirely made up of African-American students.
“At my high school in Batavia, Ill., I was the only African-American kid in theater,” he said, explaining that when his school did “Big River” — the 1985 Broadway musical based on Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” — “all the other slaves in the show were white.”
He said it’s “so inspiring to be working with these kids. To see the students doing theater just for the joy of it is wonderful.”
Final high school show
For his part, Woods — who is heading to Southern Methodist University in Dallas to study theater — said “it’s unreal to be acting with my older brother. He’s the one I’ve always looked up to. He was my inspiration to go into theater.”
Before this show, Woods was not familiar with the Scottsboro Boys case.
“This show is great,” he said. “It’s teaching me a lot of things.”
Nick Daly — a Bradford senior who will study musical theater at the University of Michigan — has been acting in school shows since eighth grade and says the end of his high school career “is bittersweet.”
This show, he said, “is a challenging, exciting role. It’s a really important story, and we’re the first high school to do this show. We also piloted ‘Little Mermaid’ and ‘Freaky Friday’; it’s great all the shows I’ve been in during high school.”
He hopes to become a professional actor after college for more than just the love of being on stage.
“Theater is one of the most important tools for creating change in our society. As an actor, you literally step into someone else’s shoes, which creates empathy,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to have been in so many great shows.”
Amen to that. As a community, we’re blessed with an abundance of theater options. Now get out there and enjoy it.
Have a comment? Email Liz at email@example.com or call her at 262-552-8102.