‘Band Geeks’ is a musical comedy about a pathetic American school marching band. The original concept and book were written by Tommy Newman and Gordon Greenberg. The music is by Mark Allen and Gaby Alter, who also added the lyrics.
This short season was presented by Black Box Performing Arts at the Old Mill Theatre, Mends Street, in South Perth; with the two-hour performances at 7.30 pm on Friday 5th, Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th April. Sunday also had a 2.00 pm matinée.
The scene: is the Belleview – Cuyahoga High School.
The set: mainly due to the large cast and the smallish stage size was, by necessity, quite basic. It was designed and built by George Boyd and Katherine Freind. The scenes included a locker room, a twenty-seater bus and a school field. Most of the efficient scene shifting was carried out by the cast, who, under the supervision of the stage manager Janine Zampino (who was also the show’s photographer) and her helper Orlando Tompkin-Drew, managed to set up the bus in seconds. The mass exits were smooth and free of queuing in the wings.
The rear wall cyclorama was the screen for some very appropriate, still and video shots of an American school sports field. Good work by Blake Jenkins.
The colourful lighting and sound effects were by the reliable ‘twins’, John Spurling and Don Allan.
Jennifer Mesquita Souza’s graphic design of the programme was lively, smart and projected the youth theme.
The gawky chubby tuba player, 17 yrs. old Elliot (Blake Jenkins), is discovered by flautist Laura Jane (Tayah Crothers) in the gym; he was hanging on a locker door! Because no one else will do the job, Elliot has just been elected captain of Beavers’ Marching Band, the school’s vastly underfunded musicians. Perhaps now he may be admired by his peers and no longer considered incompetent by his parents.
The music teacher, Miss Hornsby (Matilda Jenkins) reminds Elliot that he must be inspiring. A band practice is called, and the musicians arrive in their everyday clothes; the band has no uniform as finances are tight. On the football field, Elliot does a quick roll call. He finds he has a new trumpeter, a bolshie new Russian exchange student, Natalia Vosavich (Steph Shaw) from Bratislovia.
As the rehearsal begins, a handsome athletics star, Jake (Josh Spencer-Pepper), arrives; he has been forced to join the marching band for his senior year by Ms Dixon (Katherine Friend). When shown the marching snare drum T-frame he wants to leave there and then. The ever-smiling Laura is happy to coach Jake and the sassy gay Alvin (Cooper Jenkins) brings a smile to Jake.
The newly divorced and miserable school principal, Ms. Dixon, arrives. She is determined to have the best band but will not spend even a few dollars to help it. Even her poor nervous son, asthmatic Stewart (Sebastian Coe) is constantly under her thumb.
The students befriend Jake, who is withdrawn and has major domestic problems. The band’s ‘Twirler Girl’, flicks her hair and moves in on Jake; this is the sprightly attention-seeker, Nicole (Asha Vivian) – Elliot’s lifelong school crush! Ms. Dixon then announces that due to a lack of funding, she has cut the band’s use of the practice field. Optimistically, Elliot is still determined to ask Nicole out on a date.
At midnight and still in her pyjamas, Ms. Dixon discovers the band on the field. She instructs her assistant, Joyce (Kelsey Zampino) to confiscate Miss Hornsby’s staff field pass. At the weekend, the school has a big game against Waterloo, Jake old school! Jake recalls his loss of football stardom, so in frustration and anger beats out an amazing snare drum solo. On hearing Jake’s outbreak, a recruiter from Ohio State is so impressed that she invites the band to compete at the Festival of Champions.
Jessie (Aaliyah Thompson) and Jordan (Imogen Dearlove), along with the flag carriers Valerie (Maddi Thomas) and Felicia (Bianca Thomas) help organise the marching routine.
On the bus home, Laura and Elliot hit it off. Jake and Nicole snog in the back. Even the wry Natalia befriends a fellow trumpeter, the charismatic but untalented Spitz (Ashley Garner) and teaches him the joys of triple tonguing. Kyle (Liam Telcik) and fellow Goth, clarinettist Molly (Saskia Ware) sit moodily.
How will the match go? and will the band meet expectations?
There was a live band, which no room on the stage or wings, was situated in the workshop. This allowed a ‘Big Band’ sound without drowning out the actors or deafening the audience. With the school kids having to ‘play’ solos, amazingly the sync of the real musicians and the actors miming was still spot-on.
The large superb band was led masterfully by the musical director, Chadwick Beins. The musicians were: – on drums – Tayla Rattray, keyboard – Andy Li, bass – Andrew Cruz, percussion – Nathan Ng, trumpets – Samantha Marley, Helen Love, trombones – Evan Williams, Lois Mitchell, tuba – John Parker and on reeds – Selena Clohessy and Caitlin Burke.
Michaela Pavlov’s costumes started as simple day clothes, with the odd purple hoodie but soon the costumiere’s hard, labour-intensive work amazed the audience with the band’s new immaculate costumes and stunning hats. Wow.
The director Katherine Friend could have a nice easy life directing adults, but invariably she gathers talented youngsters, fills them with confidence and takes them to heights that they have never anticipated reaching. This show, like Katherine’s numerous others, has – with the aid of vocal and accent coach Mel Vivian – the singers perform with superb enunciation and soft American accents. EVERY performer was excellent and perfectly focused.
The choreography by Maddi and Bianca Thomas was outstanding. Instead of settling for simple marching and interweaving, the two young ladies have thrown in touches of foot work reminiscent of the Charleston and River Dancing. Many casts would have struggled with such routines, but these youngsters – and the cast were between 17 and 21 – were flawless. The complete cast could sing, act, dance and throw in a bit of comedy; and in Steph Shaw’s case, even a convincing foreign accent.
Not only did the lead singers give powerful performances, but their acting and chemistry was amazing. A special mention of Tayah Crothers who performed with every muscle in her body, clearly expressing her many moods. There are a few actors here who have a good chance of hitting the big time.
A magical show, pity about the short season.