Forest Hills is bursting with talent. But in the world of theater, often simply having talent isn’t enough.
It takes the imagination and dedication of seasoned theatrical writers, composers, librettists, musicians, and players (and their families) to give wings to the kind of talent living in the children of Forest Hills. And with the latest production of Space Pirates, the Garden Players have done it again.
For the past 10 years, and this year is no exception, the Garden Players, under the direction of Betina Hershey, have presented an entirely original, funny yet touching musical starring roughly 70 local kids. This year Hershey, who collaborated on the premiere of Space Pirates with longtime co-creator Denver Casado, and Gwynne Watkins, added a new twist to the original musical. As if one professional level production with all original music, lyrics, choreography and direction wasn’t enough, Hershey created two completely separate casts.
I had the pleasure of seeing the show (performed by the Red Cast, as opposed to the Blue Cast), which takes the audience on an adventure, from the perspective of humans who are learning about history. After lamenting about boring objects of yesteryear in a tightly harmonized song called “Old Stuff”, they suddenly find themselves adrift on an alien spaceship which has been attacked by space pirates.
The Pirate Captain, played by Nathan LoPinto, took the stage with a commanding presence as a young baritone in the making, with some surprising vocal tricks up his sleeve in the song, “Detection”.
Other highlights include performances by Clare D’Amato and Michelle Garcia, playing the roles of Taylor and Gabby in the song, “That’s What Aliens Do”. D’Amato’s parents showed their support for their daughter’s landing a principal role in this year’s production. “I like that Garden Players is community-based, it’s original, and it’s always so organized and put together,” her mother said. “I just cannot believe how Betina pulls this off!”
One cannot assume that corners will be cut simply because the show is made up of kids, and there is no question Hershey holds the Garden Players to the highest possible standards, with varying styles of music and choreography, including an audience favorite, the jazzy “If You Want To Be A Pirate”, featuring Sophia LoPinto as Zargon, Devan Saez as Jolar, Susan Kuzma as Barrt, Noemie Goodstein as Jackie, all backed up by a chorus of Pirates.
Lauren Elizabeth Solla, a Garden Players veteran of five years, who played the Museum Director, shared the stage with Garcia (Gabby) for the powerful duet ballad of the show, “Gabby Knows It All”, in which they lament that being the smart ones does not always make them cool.
“I love to sing and act, and Garden Players gives me the chance to let myself loose and I love it,” Solla said after the show.
However, it turns out the smart characters save the day, when they use the historical objects, earlier referred to blithely as “Old Stuff”, to rescue the humans and their alien friends from their plight against the pirates, and return the humans safely home.
Although the true magic of the Garden Players (GP) is the players themselves, one cannot help but notice the creative and innovative production values of the GP shows. The designers of the costumes for the aliens deserve special recognition with their creative and highly effective use of tin foil and CDs.
In the audience, Dylan Pardo was attending his first ever Garden Players performance to cheer on his friends, saying he has heard a lot about the GP and he wants to join himself. And there’s no question that GP productions appeal to a wide audience. D’Amato’s grandfather, who traveled to Forest Hills to see his second GP show, commented on the high professionalism and talent in these young children. I, too, brought a guest on the opposite end of the spectrum for her first ever GP show. One year old Gracie Dailey sat on my lap, captivated, from start to finish.
Like I said, the Garden Players have done it again. Gracie and I cannot wait to see what Hershey and her collaborators come up with next year.
Alena Gerst is a performer, yoga instructor, therapist and author of A Wellness Handbook for the Performing Artist.