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12.14 Foundation Summer Musicals Leave Newtown Singing

Every single person involved with this summer’s 12.14 Foundation musicals, from the executive production team led by Newtowner Dr Michael Baroody and Director Michael Unger, to the crew, cast, adult volunteers, and even those who turned out for one or all the performances of 101 Dalmatians: The Musical and A Rockin’ Midsummer Night’s Dream owe themselves a standing ovation.

The accomplishments achieved in the rehearsal spaces and on the stage of Newtown High School would have been classified as a smashing success if all involved had six months to prepare, but as the curtain opened on the final performance of the Foundation’s world premier Shakespeare musical, Dr Baroody said it best.

“It’s awe inspiring,” Dr. Baroody told the closing night audience August 10. “They did in weeks what takes months or years…with kids…and Shakespeare.”

Mr Unger offered similar sentiments moments after the curtain fell on opening night of the Dalmatians musical, as he took the stage surrounded by his huge cast exclaiming, “We did it.”

Rock musician and actor Dennis DeYoung, who wrote the music for Dalmatians and attended opening night, gave Mr Unger much of the credit for bringing more than 150 actors, singers, and dancers together in three cohesive casts — one massive group for the show he helped launch and two separate casts for the never-before-seen Midsummer Night’s Dream musical.

“This exists right now in the realm of good deeds — making the kids, parents, and community happy. He took on two projects to try and give something back to the community,” Mr DeYoung said. “It was a wonderful experience. This was something really special for the town and for Sandy Hook.”

One of the most challenging things for this reviewer, who saw all three casts, was to identify any specific high or low points of any of the productions.

The music, singing, and sound production seemed flawless; the lighting, costumes, sets and special effects were spectacular; and every single actor, from the four professional New York talents to the primary local leads to the chorus members including the 100-plus little Dalmatians, each gave 110 percent, earning the explosive applause that erupted at the end of each performance, as well as after many of the musical numbers.

Even the coordination of vending in the lobby, and the handling of ticket sales, promotion, and publicity were handled with the utmost professionalism and efficiency.

As Mr Unger told The Newtown Bee during final rehearsals, the veteran pros worked and interacted with local cast members as if they were lifelong colleagues. And the more experienced local actors and crew members mentored and inspired those less experienced to deliver something many may have believed was beyond their ability.

Some of the most interesting aspects of the 12.14 Foundation presentations included utilizing some of the major set pieces for both productions, even though the shows thematically and chronologically very far apart. The clever utilization of projections converted the Shakespearian building that anchored A Rockin’ Midsummer Night’s Dream into a backdrop that became a London park, a cozy sitting room, even a moving van and interactive map that tracked the kidnapped puppies and their frantic parents across England.

The songs in 101 Dalmatians: The Musical were also quite diverse, from the gang numbers “Break Out” and “Be A Little Bit Braver,” to the intimate and touching “My Sweet Child.” Music Director Brett Boles is to be commended for teasing out the range of emotions required to make each song a showpiece of its own.

While the music in Dalmatians was a lot of fun, the material in Midsummer Night’s Dream was quite a bit more complex, not only utilizing tight, intricate harmonies, but often being delivered as tightly timed pieces of stage business played out. Eric Svejcar’s creations bordered on genius, staying loyal to the Shakespearian dialog he wove into lyrical form within a framework of arrangements that were very pleasing to the ear.

Although the stages of this summer’s 12.14 musical are now dark, the magic moments and songs from both productions will be with Newtown audiences and cast members for a long time. Now all Newtown has to do is bask in the afterglow of its two ultimately successful world premiers, while waiting in anticipation for what the summer of 2015 has in store.

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