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Young Actors’ Theatre kicks off season at Sherwood

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” will debut on the boards at Sherwood Auditorium in the Museum of Contemporary Art on Thursday, Oct. 4, launching the 2007-2008 season of Young Actors’ Theatre (YAT).

This show, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s first full-length musical, will be the company’s third performance at Sherwood Auditorium, a facility becoming much loved by the actors, crew and audience.

“We’re hoping in the future to make Sherwood our home and consistently have all of our big musical productions there,” said Shane Simmons, the show’s director.

Earlier this year, YAT performed “High School Musical” and “Les Miserables” in La Jolla. Simmons said the auditorium’s equipment and acoustics are outstanding, and the setting allows the young actors to have a theatrical experience of a higher caliber than performing in a community building or school gymnasium.

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Stepping onto the stage at Sherwood seemed to inspire the performers to move beyond their amateur status.

“It’s very much an environment sort of thing,” said Donovan Hurst, 16, who plays Joseph. “It’s very professional. The sound system is amazing. The lighting is great. It gives me more room to be expressive as an actor.”

Rehearsing in front of 500 empty seats is great motivation, said cast member Jacob Gardenswartz, 11, who plays Gad, one of Joseph’s brothers, and has been performing since age 4.

“It makes us feel very fortunate to perform in front of so many people,” Gardenswartz said. “I think it brings the talent up a little because we feel so confident.”

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Knowing that everyone who walks or drives past the museum will see the show’s banner is a thrill for the kids and parents.

“It’s a very exciting place for the kids,” said Jacob’s mom, Allison Gardenswartz. “I think it encourages them to be as professional as they can.”

That level of professionalism served YAT well, considering both the show’s taxing performance and an abbreviated rehearsal schedule.

There are 45 cast members ranging in age from 7 to 20, and virtually every performer is in every scene.

“If you are part of the ensemble, you are an integral part of the show,” Simmons said. “It’s one of those productions where you can have as many people on stage as you want because they’re all part of the storytelling process.”

Most shows come together in 10 weeks, but Simmons had only six weeks to pull “Joseph” together. Auditions were held Aug. 17, and everyone who tried out was cast in the show. The students rehearsed for three hours, three times a week in addition to taking theater classes at YAT. It was a tight schedule, especially for a show where every scene is sung and choreographed.

“The kids have had to step up and be true professionals about the experience,” Simmons said. "[They] have really been focused and on point. They’re all working together, regardless of what other past or present experience they have.”

Choreographer Rickey Viloria said the show’s eclectic music went a long way in keeping the kids’ energy up. There is disco, calypso, rock and roll, and country.

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“This particular show is all singing and dancing,” Viloria said. “There’s no breaks. It’s like a big, long rock opera.”

Once the actors mastered the song lyrics, Viloria began teaching them the musical staging. His favorite number is “Song of the King,” a tune reminiscent of Elvis Presley.

“The audience will see a bit of that flavor in the number,” Viloria said. “It has amazing energy and dance steps, and even a pompadour hairdo.”

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” opens YAT’s 2007-2008 season. Each year the group does five musicals, two for junior actors, two for senior actors and one combined show. The latter production gives the younger children a chance to work with and learn from the older kids.

“It’s a bigger experience for everyone involved because it’s our biggest production all year,” Simmons said.

In addition to performing, YAT thespians are required to be enrolled in acting, singing or dancing classes to focus on personal development.

YAT was founded five years ago by Jean M. Isaac, and serves about 300 students annually. The studio and rehearsal space are located in East County, but draw young actors from the entire region.

Simmons and the cast are looking forward to opening night. “Joseph” is a vibrant, family friendly show, and Sherwood Auditorium promises to showcase YAT in a setting worthy of their talent.

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“You know this is the real deal,” Gardenswartz said, gesturing to the banks of empty seats before getting back to rehearsal. “They paid to see a good show so you have to give it to them.”

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” runs from Oct. 4 to 14. All performances will be held at Sherwood Auditorium at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 700 Prospect St. For tickets and information, call (619)670-1627 or go to www.yatsandiego.org.