By Sasha Motalygo
When a sports team (like the Golden State Warriors, for example) has star-level talent who are not in the starting lineup but still contribute mightily to the team’s success, they are said to enjoy a “deep bench.” That’s certainly the case for South Bay Musical Theatre’s upcoming production, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, which is blessed with a “deep bench” of extremely talented singers who have happily accepted chorus and ensemble roles. (Most of those in the choir are pictured above.)
I interviewed several of them recently to find out why.
It is widely known that South Bay Musical Theatre is a historical and well-regarded fixture of the Silicon Valley theatre community. But did you know that SBMT’s star is on the rise among the professional and semi-professional Bay Area theatre community as well?
SBMT has recently gained a higher profile having been recognized within the Bay Area theater industry including:
- SBMT’s BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY received a TBA-Recommended Production rating last year.
- Steve Alhoff, who is playing Phoebus in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, received a nomination for the prestigious San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award (SFBATCC) for his portrayal of Edward Rutledge in SBMT’s 1776.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is a hot property right now in theatre circles as well as fans of the Disney film, and the fact that SBMT will be producing the show’s South Bay premiere has raised quite a sensation! SBMT had record-breaking numbers at the HUNCHBACK auditions. It is with great pride that this production boasts notable Bay Area principal actors and newcomers alike who have lent their superb talents to the choir and ensemble. We would like to shine a highly deserved light on them:
Barbara Reynolds (Choir, Soprano) has a storied career in the worlds of opera, choral and musical theater. She performed in TheatreWorks’ RAGTIME, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC and JAYNE EYRE which cumulatively won a total of 13 San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards (BATCC) and 31 nominations, including Best Musical and Best Ensemble Performance. She received the Dean Goodman Award for Principal Performance as Magnolia in SHOW BOAT at Foothill Music Theatre. (Theatre nerd alert: SHOW BOAT also starred a certain Tony-Award winning hometown hero James Monroe Iglehart.) She has also received awards from the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), The Palo Alto Philharmonic and can be heard singing with the San Jose Symphonic Choir. At SBMT, she has played numerous principal roles including Mother in RAGTIME, Lily in THE SECRET GARDEN and Amalia in SHE LOVES ME.
“SBMT is kind of my home!” she enthuses. HUNCHBACK marks her 12th production with the company.
What drew her to sing in the HUNCHBACK choir? Simple: the Alan Menken score, which is her favorite among Disney movies. “I love its combination of grandiose ‘quoted’ classical themes with the more familiar pop genre,” she says. Barbara also enjoys the complexity of the vocal arrangements, often requiring her to hold her notes against the intentional discord with the alto, tenor, and bass parts. This requires very capable singers and “…we have a group of people who can handle it!” She is also luxuriating in the abundance of high notes assigned to the first (high) sopranos. “I get to hang out way-up-top a lot in this show,” she adds. “I’m having a great time.”
Walter Mayes (Choir, Bass) is widely known and respected in the Bay Area as an Actor, Director and Producer including 15+ shows at SBMT. His theatrical journey in the South Bay began when, after a 21-year hiatus, he starred as Don Quixote in SBMT’s MAN OF LA MANCHA. He has followed with interest the development of the HUNCHBACK score through the years. When asked what drew him to the choir in HUNCHBACK, he explained, “I knew our Vocal Director, Diane Milo, needed lots of voices for her choir, so I gladly accepted her offer.” Also, his son loved the movie when he was little: “He is going to be thrilled with ‘Topsy Turvy Day!’”
Mike Rhone (Frederic/Ensemble) is a Bay Area gem known for his consistently high caliber performances, which have garnered him two San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award nominations: Bernard in DEATH OF A SALESMAN at The Pear Avenue Theatre and Aaron Fox in CURTAINS at Foothill Music Theatre. His favorite roles include Javert in LES MISERABLES and Stine in CITY OF ANGELS, both at SBMT. So why this show, and why the ensemble? “I remember walking out of the movie theater after seeing the Disney movie in 1996,” he tells us, “and saying ‘this should be on Broadway.’” Mike was familiar with HUNCHBACK’S glorious score and knew that the staged musical version involved a fully voiced onstage choir; he knew he would be auditioning for the show from the moment SBMT announced it last year. Mike’s major criterion in choosing ensemble work is if he feels like an integral part of the production. “I knew this show had a fair amount for the ensemble to do, so it was a no-brainer to accept an ensemble offer,” he says. “And now I’m thrilled to be able to sing the score as part of such a large, talented musical cast!”
Will Perez (Father Dupin/Fancy Gentleman/Ensemble) is an SBMT regular. HUNCHBACK marks his 12th production with SBMT, his favorite being FOREVER PLAID, where he played Sparky. The deciding factors for Will’s participation in shows are the script, the director, the musical director, and the producer. “I personally am a Disney movie fan,” he says, “and when I found out about HUNCHBACK was coming to SBMT I just had to give it a try.” He finds the score “exciting and adventurous… Latin lyrics mixed in with English lyrics really gave me challenge. I am loving every minute of it!!”
Braden Taylor (King Louis XI/Ensemble) is a devoted member of the SBMT family, where he has been awarded the Fred Hassett and Carol Srigley (Heartbeat) Awards, the Silver Jacket, and the Gypsy Robe for SBMT’s RAGTIME. At Sunnyvale Community Players, he played Bad Idea Bear in AVENUE Q, and received the Gypsy Robe Award for RENT. He honed his choral skills at St. Andrew’s Episcopal church in Saratoga and Calvary in Los Gatos. If he has not done a show before, he will consider an ensemble role if it is material for which he has a true passion. “HUNCHBACK is one of those shows,” he affirms. “Our ensemble is full of people who regularly get leads.” He believes they, too, are truly passionate about the show and accepted ensemble and choir roles for the same reason. “When I first heard the opening number of HUNCHBACK years ago I cried,” he admits. “The vocal arrangements are amazing and so much fun to sing with everyone. To be able to perform this piece is so special. I cannot wait for it to open.”
Keith Pennings (Choir, Bass) is a long-time participant at SBMT, where he was given the Gypsy Robe Award for HELLO DOLLY. Favorite roles include Oscar in SWEET CHARITY and Chico Marx in A DAY IN HOLLYWOOD/A NIGHT IN THE UKRAINE. When choosing a show in which to participate, he considers the production first: Is it a new show? Does it have a strong director, choral director, script, music, and interesting roles? Is there is buzz or special interest around the show in the theatre community? In the case of HUNCHBACK, Keith heard that the music and choir parts were interesting and that Diane Milo was the Vocal Director. “That sold me there!” he says. “These vocal arrangements are quite complex with rich, wonderful textures. The Latin text has been a fun challenge and I am so grateful to be working with Diane Milo on this.”
Jennifer Seguin (Choir, Soprano) is a classically trained pianist as well as a singer, where she has sung in chorales spanning from Washington D.C. to San Jose. From her perspective, the music and Latin lyrics of HUNCHBACK are, in many ways, similar to other choral works she has performed: “The music takes full advantage of the eight vocal parts, weaving a rich tapestry of sound.” As to what drew her to SBMT’s production, she tells us, “The question posed by HUNCHBACK – ‘What makes a monster and what makes a man?’ – holds special significance to me. As the mother of a special needs child, the lesson that the measure of a person can’t be taken from their looks, hits home. I’ve learned that taking the time to see the beauty in another person is one of life’s greatest rewards.”
Dan Dominguez (Official/Ensemble/Lifts Captain) is a newcomer to the Bay Area, and past roles include the Major General in PIRATES OF PENZANCE. Since Dan is new to the area, HUNCHBACK provided a great opportunity to begin his performance path in the South Bay. “The show is exciting because there is a big ensemble and choir,” he says. “This score has been a challenge for me because this is the first time I have sung choral baritone. I love the big sound when you have all those great singers on stage at the same time!”
Johnny Moniz (Choir, Tenor) commands a deep knowledge of chamber chorale singing stemming from years of performing numerous chamber pieces, Gregorian chants, hymnals, and masterworks at Modesto Townsend Opera Players, Modesto Junior College Chamber Ensembles, Fresno City College’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and Las Positas College’s Chamber Ensemble. Being part of the HUNCHBACK choir “…feels like a huge culmination of the best parts of all of those pieces. It’s epic, and it never fails to leave the audience in awe of just how grand it is. To feel that power and music coming from us all, to perform it and share that with so many people…it’s just magical!” Aside from being a Disney fan through and through, HUNCHBACK’S theme of inclusion, ableism, reality, and love resonate deeply with Johnny, as he works with the disabled community in his career. “This is why Hunchback has always held a special place in my heart,” he says.
The theatre community is all abuzz about SBMT’s upcoming production of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, and we cannot wait to share it with you. Buy your tickets soon before they are all gone! Visit our website at southbaymt.com/hunchback.html or call 408-266-4734.