Altoona Community Theatre is opening its 2009-2010 season with Neil Simon's nostalgic comedy "Brighton Beach Memoirs" for four performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 26, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27, in the Mishler Theatre, Altoona.
"I think the Neil Simon name will draw a lot of people," Operations Manager Steve Helsel said. "And it's the beginning of the season, so I think people are looking forward to getting back to the theater."
Set in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1937, the coming-of-age comedy focuses on Eugene Morris Jerome, a Polish-Jewish teenager who experiences puberty, sexual awakening, and a search for identity as he tries to deal with his family, including his older brother Stanley, his parents Kate and Jack, as well as Kate's sister Blanche and her two daughters, Nora and Laurie, Helsel said. The show opened on Broadway in 1984, introducing a young Matthew Broderick to audiences in the lead role for which he won a Best Featured Actor Tony Award. A broadway revival will open in October and run in repertory with Simon's "Broadway Bound."
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Hard-working father Jack Jerome (Rich Volpe) must deal with his teenage sons — 17-year-old Stanley (Cory Jones, left) and 15-year-old Eugene (Jordan Miller, right) — competing for his attention in the Altoona Community Theatre production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”
"I think it's thought of as one of Neil Simon's greatest works," Helsel said of "Brighton." "A lot of people thought it showed a huge development in his writing. It showed people he was capable of writing something with heart, but that was also amusing.
"It's by pure coincidence that we're doing a title that's also being reviewed on Broadway," he added. "But it kind of shows that these shows still have relevance to audiences today."
Director Rolando Ramos described the play as "a story about a family trying to keep it together through hard economic times and a lot of emotional turbulence ... with WWII as the background, of course."
If you go
What: Altoona Community Theatre presents Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs"
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Sept. 26 and 2 p.m. Sept. 27
Where: Mishler Theatre, Altoona
Admission: Tickets are $15 each (plus box office fee) and can be obtained by calling 944-9434 from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.
More information: Visit www. altoonacommunitytheatre.com
"There's a line in the play that says, 'You inherit a family but you also inherit their problems,'" he said. "I think that's right, buy you also inherit courage, love, strength and understanding. I think anyone who comes to see this will get a sense of that from this play - or see their own family reflected in the characters."
Ramos, who moved to Altoona from New Jersey 10 months ago, is a part-time Integrative Arts professor at Penn State Altoona. He's making his directorial debut with ACT.
"First and foremost, I want them to have fun - enjoy what they're doing. So I bring a laid-back atmosphere to the rehearsals," the 28-year-old said of directing the seven-member cast, which includes kids ages 12 through 16. "But it's also important that they understand what they're saying to each other. I want to make sure there's a connection there as a family - that they understand what it was like to be alive in 1937 in Brighton Beach."
Jordan Miller, a ninth-grader from Altoona Area Junior High School, leads the cast as young Eugene Morris Jerome, a 15-year-old obsessed with girls and baseball. He's making his ACT debut with the show.
"Am I nervous? Oh yeah," the 14-year-old said. "I really wanted this part. When I first found out about this play, I watched it on YouTube, then I read the script ... I could really relate to it, and I just really liked the character.
"I have five brothers and with the whole girl thing - I just kind of draw from my own life experience," he said. "It's not just Eugene messing around. It's all about the other family members, too. Each and every one of them has their own problems to deal with."
Kate Kale Wolf of Ebensburg plays Kate Jerome, the boys' warm-hearted but formidable mother, and Rich Volpe of Altoona plays Jack Jerome, their hard-working father. Wolf has acted in ACT's "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean," and "Steel Magnolias." Volpe's ACT roles include Oscar Madison in "The Odd Couple" and Detective Abe Van Helsing in "Dracula: The Curse of the Silver Scream."
Ramos, who dubbed "Brighton" a "dramedy," said the play is slightly cutting edge and is suitable for kids ages 13 and older.
"There's a little bit of language, and the boys have a little sex talk," he said. "It's always up to the parent, but I don't think it's a show kids younger than the teen years would enjoy."
Laken McKeel, 13, of Ebensburg plays the part of teenager Laurie Morton, a girl with heart problems "who reads a lot of books and studies a lot."
"It's been really fun. We've had a great time so far," the eighth-grader from Central Cambria High School said of rehearsals. "I like meeting new people and I think it's fun to act like someone you're not. Well, I like to read, but not as much as she does."
Laken played a fairy in CLP's 2008 production of "Sleeping Beauty."
Lisa Balasco, 16, of Altoona, is in the role of Nora Morton, Laurie's older sister, a girl "who wants what she wants, and knows how to get it." She played Agnes Smith in ACT's 2007 production of "Sleeping Beauty."
"I really wanted to be in another ACT show, but they didn't really have a part for someone my age - but this one did," the Bishop Guilfoyle High School senior said. "This play is very funny but at the same time, very dramatic. I just hope people like it."
Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.