Coming & Going: Young Frankenstein

Coming & Going: Young Frankenstein

Holy Toledo! Otto Layman and his Santa Barbara High School Performing Arts Department have done it yet again. Montecito Journal has featured Layman's stellar productions of such classics as Beauty & the Beast, Singing Is The Rain, Spamalot, The Drowsy Chaperone, Footloose (featuring an end of the show performance of the song "Footloose" by its creator, Kenny Loggins), and many other fine productions. I have often wondered in writing what mysterious ability Otto has that allows him to inspire a continuing cavalcade of youngsters bristling with unformed talent to perform at a level, dare I say, decades above their pay grade? But have yet to discover what that is.

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Hair Lets The Sunshine In At Santa Barbara High School

Hair Lets The Sunshine In At Santa Barbara High School

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Students have been working for months to get the musical Hair just right. The show opened over the weekend at Santa Barbara High School. Hair tells the story of hippies living in New York and protesting the Vietnam War. Many of the songs became anti-war anthems. The cast is made up of 29 students including soon-to-graduate seniors. The band is made up of UCSB students, graduates and professional musicians. Hair is directed by Otto Layman who has been working with teens at the school for two decades. The show runs through the weekend Mother's Day May 8.

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Santa Barbara High School Theatre Flashback

Santa Barbara High School Theatre Flashback

Have you seen the best little musical theater company in Santa Barbara? It’s filled with super talented teenagers working together with a group of remarkable professionals. It has been staging the finest American musicals for the last 20 years, almost 50 productions, everything from Singin’ in the Rain to Spamalot. This week you can boomerang back to the ’60s and see their mind-blowing production of Hair and realize how relevant and resonant that musical is for audiences today.

This is musical theater at its best; oh, by the way, it’s in a high school.

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High School Theater Bonanza

High School Theater Bonanza

Many schools coast through the fall season on drama alone, leaving the big musicals — with their outsized casts, props, orchestras, and budgets — for springtime, when young people’s thoughts turn naturally to such things as great first-act finale songs. Not Santa Barbara High, though, where student interest in musical theater has traditionally been through the roof and where director Otto Layman and a remarkably diverse team of creative personalities consistently deliver musicals in both autumn and spring semesters. This year’s fall production is Pippin, with music by Stephen Schwartz and the book by Roger O. Hirson. SBHS stage veteran Bradley DeVine is Pippin, and the divine Camille Umoff will perform the role of the Leading Player. Christina McCarthy’s choreography is sure to be spectacular, and her UCSB colleague Jon Nathan is the show’s music director. In addition to Layman, who is now in his 20th year at the school, the other creative principals are Mike Madden (lighting), Bonnie Thor (costumes), and Rachel Short (vocal director). 

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Santa Barbara High School Theatre Stages 2013 Broadway revival

Santa Barbara High School Theatre Stages 2013 Broadway revival

Originally produced in 1972, Pippin has been reworked for the 21st century in a recent 2013 Broadway revival. This new circus-inspired production, led by the charismatic Leading Player who tells Pippin’s story, opens on November 6 with a run through November 15 at the Santa Barbara High School Theatre. It’s the story of a young man, Pippin, looking for fulfillment in his life, only to find dissatisfaction in everything he tries. To prove his loyalty to his father, King Charlemagne (Quique Hernandez-Black), he goes to war, only to discover the harsh reality of war. After the Leading Player (Camille Umoff) convinces him to fight tyranny, he kills his father and takes over the throne. Finding dissatisfaction in being king, he begs the Leading Player to bring his father back to life, and she does as requested. Pippin then falls in love with Catherine (Sable Layman), a widow with a young son, Theo( Lex Siegel), and he struggles to decide whether he should settle down and pursue a peaceful life, or continue to make magic with a dazzling troupe of performers.

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From Santa Barbara to Broadway

From Santa Barbara to Broadway

For every star on Broadway, there are thousands of hopefuls toiling away in summer stock, college productions, and high school shows. What keeps them going — along with the sheer pleasure they take in performing — is the dream that someday they will break through to the big-time and join their idols on stage in a full-scale Broadway production. For Dana Musgrove Costello, that Broadway dream came true. The young singer/actress is currently appearing in the season’s most popular new Broadway musical, Finding Neverland, alongside Glee’s Matthew Morrison and Kelsey “Frasier Crane” Grammer. Costello’s road to Broadway started at Santa Barbara High School and continued through the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA) in Santa Maria, which makes her a perfect demonstration for area theater kids of the fact that, yes, it can happen here, and maybe even to you. 

I spoke with Costello by phone from New York recently, and then I corresponded with some of the teachers who knew her when she was here. The portrait that emerged from these conversations confirmed some of the musical theater’s most deeply felt convictions.

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Review: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Review: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

This exciting and playful production succeeded in tearing down the theater’s well-known “fourth wall,” that invisible barrier separating the audience from the action, and it did so in multiple ways. First, there were the direct physical assaults, as when, in the opening number, Aaron Linker (who played the Music Hall Royale actor Mr. Clive Paget) and his character (the sinister choirmaster John Jasper) jumped off the stage and landed just before the front row, his leap perfectly timed to emphasize his self-assessment as “quite mad.”

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Review: Big Fish at SBHS

Review: Big Fish at SBHS

Surely one of the most ambitious shows to be mounted in the area this season, Big Fish is the Santa Barbara High School Theatre program doing what it does best — big musicals with lots of dancing and professional production values. Theater program director Otto Layman is the auteur responsible for this marvelously complex and layered evening, with Jessica Hambright on board as choreographer to help realize the multidimensional vision of the show’s original Broadway director, the legendary Susan Stroman. Aaron Linker plays Edward Bloom, the tale-spinning, shape-shifting protagonist, and Andrew Gutierrez is his son Will, the relentlessly practical and analytic counterpoint to his father’s slippery grandiosity.

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Santa Barbara High School Theatre Captures a musical bygone Era in Business in its Spring Production

Santa Barbara High School Theatre Captures a musical bygone Era in Business in its Spring Production

The World-Wide Wicket Company takes center stage in this Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy Award-winning musical about a young window cleaner, J. Pierrepont Finch, played by Aaron Linker, who, after reading a book titled “How to Succeed in Business,” begins a meteoric rise from the mailroom to the vice presidency of advertising. Directed by Otto Layman, with choreography by Christina McCarthy and musical direction by Jon Nathan, the Santa Barbara High School Theatre production opens May 1 with performances through May 11.

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Tips, Tools & Tricks from Three Spamalot Directors That’ll Put the Python in Your Production

Tips, Tools & Tricks from Three Spamalot Directors That’ll Put the Python in Your Production

Getting in the driver’s seat for a production of MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT, the Eric Idle and John Du Prez penned Tony Award-winning Best Musical, is a true opportunity to give your cast, crew and audiences the theatre experience of a lifetime. Since launching the wide-release of SPAMALOT over a year ago, there have been hundreds of productions around the world by groups from community, high school and university theatres to high profile professional companies to a new West End production, still lighting up the stage in London. SPAMALOT is a ticket sales machine wherever it is produced for the sheer excellence of a show that has become a beloved musical classic, that never existed in the shadow of its wonderful and iconic cinema source material Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

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Music of the Night 2014

Music of the Night 2014

Successful Broadway shows lead eternal double lives, coming into existence first in the theater but then living on wherever and whenever its numbers are performed. As satisfying as it is to see a whole musical, there’s a lot to be said for the pleasures of a good revue, and this is an excellent one. The songs are drawn from current (Matilda, Sister Act), recent (Jekyll & Hyde, Jersey Boys, Rent), and classic (West Side Story, Grease) musicals, and they reveal the extraordinary range of talent present in the SBHS performing arts program. A live orchestra in the pit, anchored by John Douglas on piano and Lito Hernandez on sax and as music director, keeps the whole thing flowing beautifully, and the trio of directors — Grace Apostolopoulos, Malcolm McCarthy, and Claudia Fanaro — do a brilliant job of showcasing the singing, acting, and dancing of these talented performers.

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Response to: SBHS Theatre: A Life-Changing Experience?

Response to: SBHS Theatre: A Life-Changing Experience?

We so enjoyed reading the excel-lent article written by young Tyler Greenwald on the Santa Barbara High School theater program and its masterful director Otto Layman (On Theatre, "SBHS Theatre: A Life-Changing Experience?," MJ # 19/50). As a teacher and mentor, Mr. Layman deserves enormous praise and appreciation from this community and the young people he has inspired and guided over the years not just for the wonderful plays and musicals he produces with them, but for a much greater gift that he gives. Tyler asked if the Santa Barbara High School theater program is life changing. "Does it deliver more than just applause?" he asks. The answer to that question is a resounding "Yes!" Three of our four sons attended Santa Barbara High School.

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SBHS Theatre: Life-Changing Experience?

SBHS Theatre: Life-Changing Experience?

Every year, Santa Barbara High Schools drama program stages three “all-out” productions. These productions consistently play to full houses and earn nothing but positive media reviews making them a significant contribution to the enjoyment and pride of the entire Santa Barbara community. The recent musical of Chicago was such a success, “phenomenal” was the word used most often by audiences and critics alike to describe this production.

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A Show To Remember

A Show To Remember

I caught Otto Layman’s Santa Barbara High School musical production of Chicago last Friday night. And, it was terrific. It was better than terrific. It was overwhelmingly good. I didn’t simply “enjoy” the show, I was bowled over by it, riddled with glee, sumptuously entertained, jubilantly absorbed... you get the picture.

Let’s start with the performers: Let’s start with, say, Camille Umoff, who takes on the role of Velma Kelly (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movie version). Camille was Nancy in Janet Adderley’s Santa Barbara Youth Ensemble Theater production of Oliver! at the age of eleven. She is now thirteen and a freshman... a freshman!... at SBHS.

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Chicago Gets Remade: Santa Barbara High

Chicago Gets Remade: Santa Barbara High

On a Monday in October at 4:30 in the afternoon, the theater at Santa Barbara High School buzzes with half a dozen different constructive activities. And I do mean buzzes — and constructive — as one of the most noticeable things happening onstage is a young man welding. Not 20 feet from where this safety-hooded figure solders pieces of metal, a dance rehearsal with choreographer Christina McCarthy goes on. As the dancers in their sweats practice a combination, the giant tabloid newspapers with headlines about murder and scandal sit suspended overhead; suddenly, things start to make sense. We’re in Chicago — not the Windy City, but the Broadway show, which plays at Santa Barbara High School Theatre November 1-10.

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Cabaret, One More Time

Cabaret, One More Time

There are some who may quibble with Santa Barbara High School's iconoclastic Drama Department head Otto Layman that he sometimes chooses material that might prove too challenging, too risque even, for a high school production, but he plows ahead anyway; he knows his stu-dents perhaps even better than some of their parents. At least, Otto really, believes he knows what his thespian charges can do and which among them will rise to the occasion. And he rarely misses. His latest challenge is Cabaret, the musical, and the first of what Otto presumably hopes will be a yearly "Summer Stock" production

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SBHS Seniors Say Good-Bye

SBHS Seniors Say Good-Bye

Clayton Barry is now a Santa Barbara High School graduate, as is Elli Harb, both of whom spent four years at Santa Barbara High School and were an integral part of Otto Layman's Performing Arts Department, particularly as juniors and seniors. The two joined me out-side Pierre Lafond in Montecito's upper village to help analyze what it is that Mr. Layman does that makes him such an overwhelmingly successful director. Otto took over the Performing Arts Department at the high school in 1995, the same year Montecito Journal was launched and, coincidentally, the same year most of this year's seniors (including twins Clayton and Jessica Barry) were born (gulp).

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The Pythons Would Be Proud

The Pythons Would Be Proud

There is some pretty spectacular musical theater on stage right now in Santa Barbara in a surprising location. For the bargain price of $10, you can treat yourself to two hours of Vegas-wattage, Broadway-bound rising stars hitting it out of the park. The Santa Barbara High School Theater is staging Spamalot, lovingly ripped off (as they put it) from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, totally amped up, dressed up and repackaged into a raucous show with something on offer for everyone.

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Coming & Going

Coming & Going

King Arthur (Jordan Lemmond) and his trusty steed (Clayton Barry) set off in search of the Holy Grail in the SBHS production of Monty Python's Spamalot. Spamalot  is indeed "(lovingly) ripped off form the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail," as its publicity proclaims, but it also cribs unapologetically from Life of Brian and other Python creations.  No matter; it's all good.  In fact, from what I saw of the cast's first dress rehearsal, it's all very, very good indeed.

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The Not so Drowsy Chaperone

The Not so Drowsy Chaperone

You have no excuse for not catching the Santa Barbara High School production of the The Drowsy Chaperone; the Otto Layman directed Broadway musical plays again this weekend and it stars a number of up-and-coming Hollywood-Broadway talents, many from Montecito. I caught the show on opening night last Friday, November 9 and – this is the whole truth and nothing but the truth – my cheeks hurt from laughing so hard and so often. And I’m not talking about the cheeks I sit on. The Drowsy Chaperone features music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, all close friends who created this Broadway musical parody as a wedding gift.

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