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CHS Theatre presents FOOT Auction, prepares for season

The Claremont High School Theatre Department will present their annual Friends of Our Theatre (FOOT) Auction on Tuesday, November 18 and Wednesday, November 19 at 7 p.m. at the Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont.

Students from the musical theatre class will perform selections from the musical “Matilda” in an evening of music, dancing and unique auction items. This event will serve as the start of the Theatre Department’s 2014-2015 theatre season.

Tickets are available online at the CHS ASB web store for $7, or at the door for $8. To purchase tickets and for descriptions of specific auction items, visit the CHS Theatre web store at chstheatre.cusd.claremont.edu, or call the Claremont High School Theatre at (909) 624-9053 ext.30463.

The Theatre Department’s budget is approximately $165,000 a year. Costs include costumes, royalties—like the nearly $8,000 charge for the right to perform their end-of-the-year musical—and additional production staff. It is only with the community’s involvement that the students are able to stage the high-quality shows produced each year.

After the Foot Auction, the CHS’s Theatre Department season will be up and running, beginning in the first week of December with the high school premiere of “Coney Island Christmas.” Critic Travis Michael Holder calls the dramedy, which was commissioned by the Geffen Theater and written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Donald Margulies, “a sweetly heartwarming story with a lot to say about how life could be better through understanding and tolerance for one another.”

It’s got all the stuff of a holiday classic, according to CHS Director Krista Elhai.

“It’s a flashback of a great-grandmother telling her granddaughter about the first play she was ever in,” she explained. “She’s an immigrant from Poland, an orthodox Jew, and she’s cast as Jesus Christ in the Christmas play, and she doesn’t want to do it.”  

Next up, in February, comes a production of the “Miracle Worker,” the story of teacher Annie Sullivan’s fight to reach the deaf and blind Helen Keller, who would grow up to be a famous author, activist and lecturer. In April, the theatre department will present “The Jungle Book” as its annual children’s show.

Also on tap for this action-packed school year is a modern retelling of “The Odyssey.” The season will culminate with a production held at Bridges Auditorium of “The Adams Family,” a “magnificently macabre” musical comedy that made its Broadway debut in April 2011.

The story, created by Jersey Boys authors Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, sounds like a blast, as described on the musical’s website: “Wednesday Addams, the ultimate princess of darkness, has grown up and fallen in love with a sweet, smart young man from a respectable family. A man her parents have never met. And if that weren’t upsetting enough, she confides in her father and begs him not to tell her mother. Now, Gomez Addams must do something he’s never done before—keep a secret from his beloved wife, Morticia. Everything will change for the whole family on the fateful night they host a dinner for Wednesday’s ‘normal’ boyfriend and his parents.”

The Theater Department has more good news to share besides its vital season. The bills from the renovations of the Don F. Fruechte Theatre For the Arts, which opened with a ribbon-cutting last March, were recently reconciled, with pleasing results, according to Ms. Elhai.

“Because some of the bills came in under budget, the district was able to buy us all-new curtains, which were installed in September,” she said. “It has also approved a very, very large sound upgrade. We’re hoping to start on some of it in the next two weeks and finish in December.”

There’s no doubt about it, Claremont High School has an intensive theater program. Most high schools present only two or three shows per year. The five shows planned for this year represent “a small season” for CHS theatre, Ms. Elhai said. An unprecedented 540 students are enrolled in CHS theatre courses.

The theatrical fervor is a good fit for the culture-loving community of Claremont. It has also lead to many thespians finding their niches in the entertainment world.

CHS alumnus Michael Krieger Alden is serving as producer for “Disgraced,” a show that opened on Broadway a couple weeks ago. Another Claremont High School thespian, John Lee Beatty, is scenic designer for the same production. Another notable member of the Wolfpack, Eli Bolin, gained rave reviews for his score of the musical “Found,” which just closed in New York.

Closer to home, two of Ms. Elhai’s protégées, Amy Gillette and Stephanie Inglese, are in “Jekyll & Hyde,” which runs through November 2 at the Candlelight Pavilion. In a recent StageSceneLA review, Ms. Gillette, who plays Dr. Jekyll’s long-suffering fiancé Emma, was praised for her “exquisite legit soprano.”

Between multiple classes and productions and her post as adviser to CHS’s Comedy Sportz improv club, Ms. Elhai sometimes feels short on time. She never, however, feels lacking when it comes to teens who can fill a role—either onstage or backstage—with verve.

“We’ve got just great kids,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed with the talented and neat freshmen, we’ve got some really great transfer students and we’ve got some kids at CHS who I’ve never seen, like some senior boys who are really standing out in the children’s theater class.”

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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