The cast of Souza's ‘The Secret Garden' revealed

| 22 Feb 2012 | 01:27

Highland Mills - As you may have read, the Souza Scholarship for the Performing Arts is again sponsoring a musical show this summer, “The Secret Garden,” to be at presented at the picturesque Palaia Vineyard’s outdoor stage on four consecutive evenings, Aug. 5 through 8, starting at 8 each evening. What you may not know is that this is the 30th anniversary production of this long-running local scholarship organization. “This scholarship, established in the name of late and beloved Monroe-Woodbury music teacher and performer Bob Souza, has been supporting the performing arts for 30 years now. We’ve given away well over $300,000 in awards and have produced countless shows and musical concerts,” said longtime Souza chairman Bob Curtis. “But what is most encouraging to me, in terms of the continuing longevity of this creative group, is the young people who have, quite literally, come to its rescue in the last three years.” The result of some fortuitous brainstorming by director and Souza member Maureen Burt, Curtis, and vineyard owner Jan Palaggi, a plan was hatched in 2008 to begin doing summer shows at the winery. Burt assembled a cast of talented young actors and singers for “Godspell” that year, which was so successful that the group mounted “Brigadoon” at the vineyard last summer. But the beneficiaries of all this serendipity and long, hard work are the young people themselves, who both perform in the shows and are sometimes recipients of the scholarships. Here’s what some of the fine, multi-talented young cast of Souza’s “The Secret Garden” have to say about the Souza summer experience. Chris Jones (Archibald Craven): “I have been in every Souza show since “Godspell,” and I just keep coming back for more. Each show is a new experience and a new character to get to know and form a bond with. The one thing that keeps me coming back is the companionships that are formed during rehearsals. Also, I had many discussions with the director, Ms. Burt, who has an amazing thought process about the entire show. Every scene, line, and word has a purpose, and it definitely helps to create a character when you know the motivation behind the words.” Olivia Melendez (Mary): “I absolutely love performing, especially for the community. It’s always great to be able to see people you know enjoying the show. Even if I don’t pursue a career in the performing arts, I’m sure that I will continue to be involved in it somehow. Also, I was thrilled when I found out that I would be playing the role of Mary in this year’s production. Playing a younger character is something new for me, but with the help of Ms. Burt and the rest of the cast, I have had such a great time growing into the character.” Daniel Koenig (Fakir): “My feeling about theater is that it is a great thing to do in order to have fun and express yourself. I have been performing for as long as I can remember, and the thing that brought me back from last year’s production of “Brigadoon” is the chance to work again with such an amazing cast of people. For me, performing is always a blast! It lets the performer be whoever they want to be, with no judgment from anybody.” Angela Palaggi (Rose, costumer for the show): “While I have been performing for a very long time, it wasn’t until I went to college that I figured out exactly what I wanted to do. I am currently going into my final year at Muhlenberg College, majoring in theater (costume design) and art history. I plan on making a career out of it, hopefully. I love theater, and I think community theater is both a place to experiment and to discover what I love about theater, and continue to do it with people I know and love working with.” Michael Tarasoff (Captain Albert Lennox): “Ms. Burt and Mr. Wing’s musical and theatrical guidance is what brings me back to the program year after year. I hope to pursue the arts in both music education and theater, while continuing to work at my own acting career. Performing to me is the most fun thing anyone can do; it gives me yet another way to express myself.” Benjamin Abraham (Lieutenant Shaw): “In terms of community theater, I find that there is a much more relaxed yet focus environment, since everyone who auditions truly loves being part of the production. It brings all sorts of people together to create something greater than themselves.” Jessica Crover (Claire Holmes): “I learned about the show from Ms. Burt and auditioned at Monroe-Woodbury Middle School. I have been performing many years and love the feeling when I am singing on stage. I enjoy working with Ms. Burt, Mr. Wing, and the rest of the support crew. In “The Secret Garden” I play the part of Claire Holmes and love working with the rest of the cast. I hope everyone enjoys the show.” Dana Searing (Colin Craven): “Community theater is such a wonderful experience. For me, it’s being on stage, but for other creative groups, there’s set design, stage management, lights and even the audience. Performing has helped me discover who I am. And I’ve learned that the more diverse theater experiences an actor has undergone, the more they will be prepared for the challenges that await them.” Erik Bjorkman (Ben): “It is an honor to be a part of the Souza Scholarship production. Working with Ms. Burt has been one of the best experiences I can ever ask for. As a recipient of the Souza Scholarship, it is with great pride that I give back in the name of someone who loved music just as I do. Also many of the kids who are in the show have been an inspiration to me for years, and now I get to work with them and it is just a dream for me.” Adam LaSalle (Dr. Neville Craven): “The score to this show is unlike any other. Its sound alone is stunning, but its intricacies musically are what truly make it a unique and memorable piece of theater. I’m humbled that I’m able to be apart of this production and sing this score alongside such an exceptionally talented cast. It truly is an ensemble show and makes you appreciate the community of actors you’re lucky enough to work with.” If you go Souza’s “The Secret Garden” is scheduled for four performances at Palaia Vineyard’s outdoor stage on Route 32 in Highland Mills on Thursday, Aug. 5; Friday, Aug. 6; Saturday, Aug. 7; and Sunday, Aug. 8, at 8 p.m. each evening, although earlier arrival at the vineyard is encouraged. Tickets are $10 for adults, children and seniors. For more information about Souza’s “The Secret Garden” performances and tickets, call 845-782-0453.