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Young performers ready to take their place on stage

The Singer’s Theatre draws in talented young actors, both local and from outside the region, for its senior intensive program. This year, the theatre company will shine a light on a relatively obscure musical called Whistle Down the Wind.

Five Woolwich-based actors – 19-year-old Jasmine Thuroo, 18-year-old Carmen Read, 17-year-old Parker Merlihan, 15-year-old Paige Beatty and 16-year-old Julia Raza – join a group of 32 other cast members who sing and dance their way through the upcoming performance this weekend.

“It’s a rock opera,” explained Amanda Brunk, producer and music director. “It’s got a very rock n’ roll sound – you’ve got quite a bit of the Jesus Christ Superstar sound to it. Other parts are more like Phantom of the Opera,  a little more classical sounding. It does cover a lot of different styles within the show; it’s really unique that way.”

Audiences may recognize a wide range of music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, from beautiful melodies to explosive rock music, as well as radio hits, including “Tire Tracks and Broken Hearts,” and “No Matter What,” with lyrics by Jim Steinman, recorded by the likes of Meatloaf and Bonnie Tyler.

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The story, based on a novel by Mary Hayley Bell, takes place in 1950s South America, where 15-year-old Swallow is shocked to find a mysterious man hiding out in a barn. When she asks who he is, the man replies ‘Jesus Christ,’ and it’s as though all of her prayers have been answered.

Swallow and the town’s other children promise to protect the man from the outside world, but the townspeople are determined to catch the fugitive hiding in their midst. Former EDSS drama teacher and director Gord Davis said there are several valuable messages to take away from the performance.

“Part of the message of the whole play is that how much better, maybe, the world would be if we listened to children instead of trusting everything to the adults,” said Davis. “It’s all about that mob mentality and the harm that it can do.”

The cast is made up of young performers between the ages of 14 and 24 from across Ontario – members of the group come from Stratford, Toronto, Burlington, Brantford, Etobicoke. In previous years, participants have come as far as Calgary, British Columbia, and New York.

It’s known as the ‘intensive program’ for a reason: actors have just 10 full days of rehearsal at the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts in Kitchener before putting on the final show.

“I think the reason anyone comes back is because they love the process and they love the end result, and of course, with the lovable Gord and Amanda always heading the ship,” said Merlihan.

“It’s part of the charm of the Singer’s Theatre. It’s very rewarding when you finish the two weeks and get everything done. There’s a lot of community that’s built, too; everyone knows each other.”

Davis added he sees many cast members return year after year to participate in the intensive programs, watching them grow as actors.

“We have a junior intensive as well, so it’s been interesting now that some of the junior kids are into the senior. So that’s satisfying, too,” said Davis. “This has been a particularly strong group, this group of people. It’s an incredible thing that these kids do.”

Thuroo, Merlihan, Beatty and Read, for example, are all returning cast members, having participated in the Singer’s Theatre production of Heathers: The Musical in 2018. But even for newcomers, the experience is always very welcoming.

“I’ve never done this before, this is my first time and already I feel like I know everybody so well,” said Raza. “You just feel like a part of something really great. It’s good for confidence, experience, and doing something fun in the summer.”

Whistle Down the Wind hits the stage August 16 (7:30 p.m.) and August 17 (2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.) at the Conrad Centre. Tickets can be purchased at the door at 36 King St. W in Kitchener or online at www.ticketscene.ca.events/24982.

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