Photo by Wendy Tsui
It was the culmination of over three full time weeks of hard work on the part of student actors. Thursday, July 26 The Gateway Academy presented their first of two performances of Blast Off!: A musical about going to the future and back.
After braving the cloud of cigarette smoke outside the theatre as a mom, with her daughter at her side, had a quick nicotine fix on the bone-dry grass near Gateway, the cool, clear air of the theatre was welcome on a hot summer’s evening.
The night began with a word from Ruth McIntosh, the academy’s education manager. She pointed out that all activities and performances at Gateway are subsidized. She thanked numerous supporters and donors.
Demonstrating that theatre is not only the realm of the wealthy elite, McIntosh offered special thanks to Daiso, Tangerine Bank, and the Richmond Gateway Theatre Society for providing funds to allow scholarships for those students who would not otherwise have been able to attend.
Then McIntosh said, “It’s been a whole lot of fun. They’ve worked so hard. And to the parents sit back, relax, have a great time, enjoy, Blast Off!”
With that, the show began with the entrance of a pianist who started the opening number. The peppy music heralded the enthusiastic entrance by a large number of student actors dressed as scientists with lab coats and round, black glasses.
The dance number showcased the kids’ dancing skills. While there were no words, occasionally, thunder and lightening burst through.
The young scientists talk of their proposed research projects. One says, “Cloning and ice cream cone,” while another proposes, “Making un-meltable ice cream,” and yet another wants to research how to, “Change flavour by just thinking about it.”
Then, out of nowhere comes, a voice. The group reacts.
There was also another voice, in the audience. As theatre schools teach children and families to love theatre, they also teach what is appropriate. Educating parents that a small child talking or crying loudly, in the audience during a performance, should be taken into the lobby until they quieten down.
The plot of Blast Off! was sometimes a little too intriguing to follow. What, “Boss, boss, boss,” meant and why it prompted a reaction in the actors on stage was a little unclear, but it was all in such good fun.The cast comprised the students from The Gateway Theatre Summer Academy. They were: Aaden Chew, Jack Christofferson, Ruby Farrell, Kaylee Gou, Shelley Ji, Parker Linzmeier, Emily Liu, Sophie Liu, Cici Qin, Brynn Radu, Arianna Saffari, Luke Shi, Felix Song, Morgan ter Stege, Asha Townsend, Aimee Wang, Cindy Wu, Johnny Wu, and Claire Yang.Blast Off’s playwright is Julie Casselman.
The costumes were tremendously effective and tremendously inventive showing that it doesn’t cost a fortune for kids, or actors of any age, to encourage an audience to suspend their disbelief.
The lighting was subtle but really set the mood in each scene. The sound was usually clear, even though the only microphones were at the edge of the stage.
One of the most remarkable things was the clarity of the diction in the group songs. It takes special work to make sure the audience can make out the words. The larger the group, the greater the chance for mumbles to seep in. This ensemble was crystal clear.
Having sat through my share of Grade 6 band performances, what we refer to in our family as “tuning optional” events I was so impressed with the pitch perfect performances from this group. Even though many were younger than Grade 6, their sense of pitch was admirable.
The musical numbers borrowed from a number of sources, some musicals and other popular songs, were woven together throughout the plot.
One particularly moving piece was hearing the children sing John Lennon’s Imagine. It offers a jaded heart hope for the future. It seemed to bring the evening to a natural conclusion but then, a peppy number ensued which offered a more rousing ending with the kids saving earth for generations to come.
The actors’ wide age range was well dealt with. Some of the younger performers did ensemble numbers with brief solos while the more-experienced members of the cast each had a solo number to showcase their skill as a performer.
Without photos in the program, it was hard to know whom to mention. There were definitely stand-outs in the performance. The oldest students showed their experience while a few younger members of the ensemble offered strong performances that belied their age. One younger fellow in particular sang with strength and projection near the end of the show.
The one name I was able to discover to mention her outstanding performance is Asha Townsend. She really connected with the audience, shining in her acting, singing and dancing as she husbanded the younger actors through their performances. Her skill level was such that she would not be out of place in a Langara Studio 58 performance.
The main message of the evening was that everyone was given a chance to shine. And everyone did.
Closing performance Friday, July 27 at 7 p.m. Tickets at Gateway Theatre.