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Why Elton John’s AIDA by YPT was so good…If I do say so myself May 3, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Theatre.
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Audiences saw one fine production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA presented by Young People’s Theatre at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre last weekend. In fact, it looked better than most community and high school productions in the region….but why?

First — talent — YPT is a pay-to-play young people’s organization that draws some of the best young talent in the tri-county area. Cast members came from Ann Arbor, Dexter, Chelsea, Tecumseh. Pinkney, Hamburg, Brighton, Canton, Plymouth, Northville….I might have missed a few. That allows the group to choose the best of the best. Sure, it was still a few guys short, but with 10 other musicals being present concurrently around the area, we were still lucky to get the great talent we got.

Second — money — the budgets for YPT’s musicals easily approach 20K per production — three times the budget of Ann Arbor Civic Theatre musicals, for instance. As a result, the shows look and sound spectacular:

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Third — top notch staffing — from Ron Baumanis directing, to Brian Buckner’s musical direction and Sadie Yarrington’s musical direction, everything about this staff is professional — including lighting designer David Pickel (who also serves as one of the Lydia Mendelssohn house managers) and stage manager Meredith Tierney. Ane Richter is the producer for the shows. This comes at a cost — the professional staff is all paid. But you get what you pay for. If you want a professional-sounding orchestra, you pay them. If you want professional artistic direction, you pay for it. (This is where my SSDC membership kicks in — the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers is my theatre union, and it assures you are getting the finest direction in the profession, and not just community-theatre level direction.)

Fourth — material. Young People’s Theatre is just that. It’s musical theatre for young people, it’s not “children’s theatre”. If I see one more production of Jack and the Beanstalk or The Emperors New Clothes presented by 14 year olds I will explode. High School and Middle School students are already looking for professional theatre development. Those who are interested in theatre as a profession deserve exposure to good adult works. In the past few years, YPT has presented Aida, Jekyll & Hyde, Grease, Joseph, Annie, Fame, One on This Island, Guys and Dolls, Into the Woods and many others. If you get great material to work with, you normally get great talent auditioning. Couple that with a great production and artistic staff and you get youth theatre that isn’t children’s theatre.

Fifth — family. YPT was started by families more than 30 years ago. It continues to incorporate family members across the board, from building sets, costumes, and props, to working backstage and behind the scenes. Cast parties and events include families throughout, and one of the most frequent comments heard around YPT is “this was the first thing our family did together since our kids were in elementary school.” It’s a fun and supportive experience for everyone involved.

I’ll leave you with a few more photos from AIDA today…and happily gloat about another fine musical theatre production by YPT last weekend, one I’m very proud of having directed, and one for which I am thankful for all the talented kids, parents, and artistic professional staff.

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