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Stage West Summer Youth Theatre to Perform SpongeBob Musical

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I would imagine that directing a group of budding actors ages seven to 17, with varying experience, would be akin to herding cats. In the upcoming show “The SpongeBob Musical,” director Angela Gluchowski does a masterful job of pulling it off. One would imagine that she has to be a combination stern drill sergeant, patient teacher, and sympathetic mother. At the rehearsal I attended last Thursday, Ms. Gluchowski handled all three roles well.

Considering this was their first complete run-through, the cast of twenty-eight did remarkably well. The show involves singing, dancing, and acting, along with physical comedy. Several of the actors had many lines to memorize, while others had to remember blocking, timing, as well as when and where to enter and exit. The students took it seriously but were having a lot of fun at the same time.

Cam Kennedy has the lead role of SpongeBob. At thirteen, Cam is mature beyond his years. He has an air of professionalism and spoke his lines with few errors, and has a great singing voice. It’s not surprising since Cam has been acting for six years. He started out with Live Oak Theatre, another local theatrical troupe.

Cam remarks, “I saw their production of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ I walked out of the theatre, walked up to the artistic directors, and said, ‘I’m doing this.’”

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He has acted at several venues with adult actors. Among the shows he’s been in are ”Into the Woods;” “A Christmas Story,” in which he played the lead; and “Newsies.”

When it comes to future roles for Cam, there are two he’d like to do, both of which are in rather obscure plays. He’d like to play Orpheus in “Hadestown,” a modern-day musical based on a Greek myth. He’d also like to play Anatole in “The Great Comet of 1812,” another musical based on a segment of “War and Peace.”

With his experience, love of theatre, and enthusiasm, it’s not surprising that Cam wants to pursue a career in theatre. So, start watching the Tony Awards in about ten years, and you may hear his name mentioned.

Seventeen-year-old Joseph Johnson plays Patrick, Sponge Bob’s best friend. He’s been acting for two years. Joseph had an elective course in high school and chose drama, however he wasn’t really eager to act until one of his teachers talked him into it. His first play at Weeki Wachee High School was “Mama Mia.”

Playing Patrick was the most enjoyable thing about being in the show because “I get to be the fool.” He got to have a solo, which stretched his skills and gave him a sense of accomplishment.
Two plays that are on Joseph’s bucket list are “Fiddler On the Roof” and “Cabaret.” In both, he’d like to play the lead.

Like Cam, Joseph wants to have a career in acting. From being a reluctant actor, he’s now vice-president of his school’s theatre class.

Julia Arner is Sandy in the play. She’s 17 years old and has been acting since she was in sixth grade. As she explains, everyone who was in theatre at her school was “cool,” and she wanted to be part of that group. “Then I realized I really liked it,” she remarks. Julia has been in a number of plays, including “The Addams Family,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and “Godspell.”

Learning her lines was the most challenging part of the show, as is the case with most actors who have big parts. “Meeting Kevin [one of the main actors] and being able to act with my best friend, who plays Pearl, was the best thing about being in the show,” Julia states. Her dream play is “Xanadu,” and she would really like to be in that show. Another play on her bucket list is “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a musical comedy about a group of quirky teenagers who compete in a spelling bee.

Kevin Grumbley is 17 years old and plays the part of Squidward. When he was little, his mother noticed that he was always singing or performing, so she enrolled him in dance and theatre classes. He did his first musical at age six.

“Ever since then, I’ve just fallen in love with the art,” Kevin remarks. Among the plays he’s been in are “Matilda,” “Shrek,” in which he played Donkey; and “Lend Me a Tenor.” The most challenging thing about “The SpongeBob Musical” was learning to tap dance for a solo because “I am not the strongest tap dancer.”

The best thing about the play was meeting new people since this was his first show at Stage West.

As Kevin is close to graduating, he has started making plans to apply to various colleges and major in Dramatic Arts. This entails more than just filling out an application. He must record a video in which he sings two songs, does two monologues and a dance number as part of a pre-screening process. After that step, he’ll do live auditions at whatever schools like his videos.

Angela Gulchowski is the person who pulls this whole thing together. She has had acting experience but has never directed before and admits that directing is much more difficult. “As the director, every character, set piece, prop, lighting cue, and stage movement reflects on you and your vision. You have to build the show from being words on a piece of paper to life on stage. It’s very challenging but also extremely rewarding when it comes together.”

Angela does not have anything to compare directing children versus directing adults, but from her experience acting with adults, she feels that a lot of the time, young people are more passionate about the content of the shows they are working on, especially when it’s a fan favorite such as SpongeBob.

“Because of this, the kids bring a lot of joy to the stage and have a different level of appreciation for the content,” she states.

Ms. Gulchowski’s biggest challenge has been overcoming the physical limitations of their set versus a Broadway stage. For example, in portraying two of the characters climbing a volcano, they couldn’t use ladders suspended in the air for safety reasons. So, they had to be creative, and the audience had to use their imagination.

She definitely wants to direct again but prefers a non-musical play. One that is on her bucket list is “Almost Maine.”
“It tells wonderful stories about love in all different phases. It tests the actor’s ability to convey different stories that all have a similar theme as typically the show is cast to have the same actors portray different characters,” she remarks.

If the small portion of the show I saw last week is any indication, Ms. Gulchowski should be in her element with any show she directs.

For those of you who think “Sponge Bob Square Pants” is just a silly comedy for children and preadolescents, think again. The play contains satire on politics, the media, global warming and human behavior, as well as some clever puns. The costumes and sets are colorful, and the acting, singing, and dancing are first-rate.

“The SpongeBob Musical” opens on July 28th, and there will only be three performances−7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday, 2 pm on Sunday. You can purchase tickets online at www.stagewestflorida.com or by calling the box office at 352-683-5113. Stage West Playhouse is located at 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd. in Spring Hill.

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