"Through the arts, children learn … and become better people," said longtime theater director Toby Orenstein at a recent rehearsal of her Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts (CCTA) Summer Teen Professional Camp.
She spoke during the breaks of "The Addams Family — A New Musical Comedy" at Glenelg High School through the weekend.
"They learn compassion, how to give and take, how to trust themselves. That's what we're all about here at the Center."
CCTA began in 1970 as the Columbia School of Theatrical Arts with 15 students and grew to 100 by the second year. Words of praise for her work got back to James Rouse just as the fledgling drama school was looking for its own home, and Rouse offered her space in the newly developed Oakland Mills neighborhood.
When her drama school was invited to perform at Merriweather Post Pavilion in 1975, Orenstein wrote a musical revue on our nation's history. The show was an immediate hit, and the newly formed Young Columbians were invited to sing and dance at the White House and on a nationally televised bicentennial special.
Four decades later, Orenstein still follows the dream (and guidance) of Jim Rouse as she oversees the school, the Young Columbians, camps and, now, the "Addams Family" musical.
"Give these kids good teachers and a purpose to their work, and watch them soar," she said.
And, Toby's "kids" speak of her like a beloved member of their family. Carole Graham Lehan, who began as a drama student at Toby's school 40 years ago and is now theater director at Glenelg Country School, said, "Kids identify through the arts where they are given a voice, and Toby has always been there to give them that voice."
Nick Lehan, currently a lead in "The Pirates of Penzance" at Toby's Dinner Theatre and a former Young Columbian, like his mom, performed in the 2002 student rendition of "Les Miserables," the first of the CCTA summer camp shows. Kaila Friedman, a knockout dancer in the "Addams Family" monster numbers, is a CCTA student and performs as a Young Columbian, co-directed by her dad, Larry Friedman, an original member.
"There is a second generation of kids in this production," Orenstein reminds us. "Alex Bowler Franco was one of my first students at the school. Now she is co-director of Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts and has three sons performing at the camp, two in this show."
Spencer Franco, one of two leads who play Gomez in "The Addams Family," finished his freshman year at Southern Virginia University. Jackson, a senior at Atholton High School, plays a conquistador ancestor and featured dancer in the show. Brace, the youngest Franco thespian, was Gavroche in "Les Miserables" at Toby's Dinner Theater.
Helen-Hayes award-winning actor Kevin McAllister directs this summer's camp and show. Toby's longtime musical director Ross Scott Rawlings is both coach and pianist for the cast, ranging in age from 12-20.
Based on both the comic strip characters by Charles Addams and the popular TV show of the late 1960s, the plot evolves around daughter Wednesday Addams (Monica Albizo and Erin Paxson); her fiancé (Brian Nabors and Joshua Huff-Edsall); and her anything-but-normal family.
Standouts include the two Morticias (Alison Bradbury and Emily Freeman); Uncle Fester (Sam Korben), who confesses he's in love with the moon; and Grandmama (Lola Fadiran), who share's some of her life's wild secrets with 15-year-old Ray Robinson, especially devilish as Wednesday's ornery brother Pugsley Adams.
The cast is strong and there are some teenage angst numbers, when Wednesday sings "Pulled," a song about becoming normal while torturing her brother. For the adults, there's Fester's lovely "The Moon and Me," and Gomez's heartfelt "Happy Sad."
"The Addams Family — A New Musical Comedy" plays five times at Glenelg High School Auditorium, 14025 Burntwoods Road, , Thursday through Sunday, July 24-27, evening shows at 7 p.m. with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $17-50 to $20 with discounts for students, seniors and military. For information, email info@CCTArts or check the Website: hitp://www.cctarts.com.