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In ‘Newton’s Cradle,’ Local Teens’ Portrayal of Real-Life Issues No Act

The original musical, created with input from local youths, spotlights amazing talent and an important message.

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Newton’s Cradle, an original musical, was created with material from the young cast members’ experiences and observations. (Rod Lathim photo)

Out of the mouths of babes? Not exactly, but even better — out of the mouths of our community’s teens comes Newton’s Cradle. Opening Thursday night at the Center Stage Theater and running through the weekend, it is an original musical created from material from the cast members’ experiences and observations.

Written, directed, produced and otherwise midwifed by Rod Lathim, Norma LaTuchie and Peter McCorkle, the musical is the culmination of the Patricia Henley Foundation’s Summer Youth Theater project. While the adults provided the experience and guidance, deftly shaping the whole, the amazingly high-energy and expressive teens themselves are the glowing stars of this show.

While fresh and energetic, they are anything but naïve. Themes of loss, pain, identity, relationships and the details of our complicated modern lives were touched on with great insight. These kids have admirable chops — singing, dancing and acting while exposing truths about themselves.

Staging and choreography were imaginative, with good use made of video to portray a teacher (also played by a teen) in front of his class, with students in chairs facing the screen. In an even more clever construct, when called to the front of the class, they walked offstage and onto frame in the video, and then returned to their seats.

Some musical numbers were set to well-known operatic pieces from The Ring. Carmen and The Barber of Seville, with others to original tunes, all with original lyrics and to beautiful live accompaniment by a five-piece combo stage right.

Lyrics were, at times, laugh-out-loud funny, such as iPod God. Many songs, including Drama Drama, outlining the perils of junior high, came across sincerely, and yet somehow tongue-in-cheek at the same time — not an easy task.

Then came songs such as Cesar Franco’s I’m Steppin’ Out and Hector Ruelas’ Where You Are Loved,” that plumbed unexpected emotional depths, and brought to mind stirring and reflective numbers from A Chorus Line and Rent.

Beyond emotional depth was Miranda Poett’s Up On a Cloud, relating painful loss at an early age. Sung simply but with great power, this song could have left only the most stone-hearted audience member unaffected and dry-eyed.

Placed near the end, Melanie Thomas’ solo, Sugar Cookies, gave her a chance to camp it up in a feather boa-trimmed apron while singing about her delight in baking. With her Anne Hathaway-style smile and a thousand-watt stage presence, Thomas managed to bring on a burlesque-flavored number with a purity and innocence one might not imagine possible.

Other numbers also highlighted cast members’ many talents, such as Alexandra Mauceri’s deft hand with balloon animals, and Billy Spencer’s ability not only to create elaborate ice cream concoctions but to twirl a baton like nobody’s business.

It was truly inspiring to see these energetic young people using their creativity, their truth, their humor and their humanity to present a picture of their lives to a larger, older and perhaps more jaded world.

The show both opened and closed with the lively, yet searching, “Does It Matter Who I Am?” After seeing this show, I can only answer yes. Yes, it does.

Show times are 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday at the Center Stage Theater, upstairs at Paseo Nuevo. The show is rated PG-13. For tickets and information, call 805.963.0408 or visit www.centerstagetheater.org.

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