Off the Soundtrack

Off the Soundtrack

Musical Theatre of Anthem stages non-musical The Giver

 

By Kenneth LaFave

For most of the year, Musical Theatre of Anthem (MTA) is exactly what its name indicates: a company devoted to producing shows such as Cats and Les Misérables. The MTA opened its 2018-19 season with Footloose, and will close it with Sweeney Todd. But for a sliver of days between November 29 and December 2, it will drop the music and focus only on the theater.

“MTA generally produces musicals,” explains director Laura O’Meara. “However, each year one straight play is chosen for its actors and audiences. Such productions stretch our actors to perform without all the glitz and glamour of song and dance as they focus on the solo art of acting.”

Past non-musicals have included Our Town and The Diary of Anne Frank. This season’s offering is The Giver.

“The Giver is based on the same-titled novel written by Lois Lowry about a young boy named Jonas who lives in a futuristic, idyllic society. He receives his Life Assignment at the age of 12 to be the Receiver of Memories. It is a position most honored, and through it he discovers both physical and emotional feelings beyond anything he could ever imagine. Most of all, he learns that there is power in those feelings,” O’Meara says.

O’Meara, who teaches fourth grade at Ridgeline Academy, has directed many musicals for MTA, including Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan, 42nd Street and Mary Poppins. She chose to direct The Giver for personal reasons.

“I saw an interview of the author, Lois Lowry, and in it she was asked how she came up with the idea for the story of The Giver. She explained that her father was struggling with dementia, and she wondered how our world would be if we could actually control our thoughts,” O’Meara says. “I immediately thought of my own sweet father struggling with memory challenges of his own. I could completely relate to what Lowry was saying, and I thought, ‘I just have to direct this.’”

Professional singer Shana Rebilas Bousard, a longtime Anthem resident, has performed in MTA productions and taught some of its summer classes for young people. She lauds the company for its service to the theater-loving community of the North Valley.

“I have many friends and professional colleagues who teach, act and direct at MTA, and I can state, with full confidence, that it is a wonderful organization. All involved share in nurturing and developing young talent. The founders, Jeff and Jackie Hammond, have instilled professional theatrical values in their students/performers, and they strive for and achieve high quality productions,” Bousard says.

MTA was founded 11 years ago, on the cusp of Anthem’s biggest growth. Co-founder and current producing artistic director Jackie Stewart Hammond brought a rich musical and theatrical background to the company, including a degree in musical theater from San Jose State University and training in opera at New York’s Manhattan School of Music. Under her guidance, MTA has won two ariZoni Awards, Valleywide awards given in recognition of theatrical excellence.

At first, audiences were confined more or less to Anthem. But as word of MTA’s quality spread, “we started attracting audiences of all sorts,” O’Meara says.

The company’s educational component has also grown over the years. Despite Anthem’s reputation for an older demographic, the community’s youth are a vital part of MTA’s commitment. Bousard points out, “We have quite a concentration of youth here in Anthem who are interested in pursuing a career in the arts or just the enjoyment and training of musical theatre, and they know that MTA is the place to go to receive proper training and a comprehensive musical theatre education.”

Following The Giver’s short run of November 29 – December 2, MTA’s season will continue with productions of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown; Daddy Long Legs; and other musicals. For more information on The Giver and the rest of MTA’s season, or to purchase tickets, go to musicaltheatreofanthem.org.  

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