DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSON [email protected]The Dual Critics went to a fabulous show at the Foundation Academy on San Pablo Road in Jacksonville, Florida on July 28th, 2016. The show, which was repeated on July 29th, was a reunion celebration of the Youth of the Beaches Arts Guild (Y-BAG).
During 1981 – 2005, Y-BAG produced twenty-five full-scale musicals; an annual event for performers aged ten to twenty. The program began in 1980 when friends Judy Hulett and Jane Bull conceived the idea of staging a summer musical as a creative activity for the youth of the beaches. They approached Jacksonville Beach Mayor Guy Craig and Recreations Director Nancy Minton about sponsoring it, and Y-BAG was born. The endeavor was a success from the beginning, with merchants and parents contributing time and money.
The first ten musicals were done in the oceanfront Flag Pavilion. However, a change was needed after the city decided to tear down the building, as it was too expensive to continue to run. The 1991 show was at the Florida Theatre in downtown Jacksonville, and the 1992 and 1993 shows were mounted at Theatre Jacksonville in San Marco. “The Wiz” graced the stage of the Times Union Center in 1994. The remaining shows, from 1995 – 2005, were staged back at the beach, at Fletcher High School.
The Alumni reunion was organized by Judy and Jane, the original founders, as a fundraiser for the Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre (ABET). Former cast members of Y-BAG productions were contacted, and forty actors returned to participate in show. While a number of the participants came from the North Florida area, others came from California, New York, and other addresses throughout the country.Lee Hamby, who wears many theatre hats in North Florida as a designer, choreographer, actor, costumer, and director of outstanding musicals, came on board as Director. Laura Peden, the Musical Director, who is well-known in local theatre circles, has had a long history with Y-BAG. She was first an accompanist for “Hello Dolly” in 1986, was the musical director for several shows that followed, and directed “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1989. Joining the production team were Kim Cooper York and Chrissy Taylor as Choreographers, with Lights & Sound by Christina Felder, AJ LaGamella and Geoff Mullins, and Milan Alley on the spotlight.
The show featured lyrics from songs from eighteen musicals, with a number of solos and many group arrangements. The stage was the entire Foundation floor, with the participants sitting in a semi-circle of chairs facing the full house audience in the stadium seating. The actors, who were asked to wear black, were their own costumers. David Gano put together a slide show that displayed original Y-BAG programs.
The show was fabulous! And what was really amazing: Director Hamby, Musical Director Peden, and Choreographers York and Taylor worked this magic with ten hours, only ten short hours, of rehearsal! And Just to be sure the show had a little of everything, York added some nifty tap dancing to “Anything Goes.” When the second acts opened with the entire cast singing “The Colors of My Life,” a beautiful song from “Barnum,” the harmony was so spectacular, one would think this group had been singing together for years.
The reunion show had a program that listed the songs and the names of the participants, but due to the size of the cast and time constraints, did not contain past or updated biographical information. However, as critics, we have seen several of the cast members who have continued in show business on our local stages.Megan Stillson sang the solo, “Home” from “The Wiz.” We recall seeing her perform at Daytona Beach Seaside Music Theatre some years ago. Elias Hionides gave a marvelous rendition of “Maria” from “West Side Story,” then returned to dance with Morgan McCoy in “Shall We Dance” from “The King and I.” Elias previously appeared in “Rent” at Players by the Sea and “Hairspray” at Theatre Jacksonville. Joanna Yeakel sang about Horton the elephant from “Seussical.” We last saw her in “Hair” as Crissy at Players. Madaline Hionides Hill performed “Something Wonderful” from “The King and I.” She previously appeared in “The Last 5 Years at ABET a couple of years ago. Katie Swider McCloskey sang the ever popular “Adelaide’s Lament” from “Guys and Dolls.” Katie is very active on the local scene; she is a member of the Awkward Silence Comedy Troupe and will be appearing at ABET’s fall production of “Merrily We Roll Along.”
The show finished with all of the cast singing and dancing to “Summer Nights,” topped off with “We Go Together” (both from “Grease), which was followed by a standing ovation from a very appreciative audience.
The cast included: Denise Abdullah Ashlynd, Patricia Bradshaw, Ashley Reynolds Burg, John Caddell, Elyse Card, Karen Bruce Coughlin, Patti Cole Cowgill, David Gano, Heather Lane Guzzino, Dwayne Hairel, Jason Hairel, Jennifer Hairel, Helena Coram Helms, Kelly Nolan Hughes, Rachel Jones, Geannine Krueger, Shawn LaNoble, Angi Levy, Kristin Livington, Hap Lynn, Marcy Piland Moore, Mandy Walker Papenbrock, Mark Paulk, James-Michael Roddy, Erin Bradshaw Rodriquez, Chrissy Taylor, Kara Tucker, Jackie Christy Wallace, Paulette Abdullah Waterman and Amy Wilson.
Y-BAG’s contribution to theatre in the North Florida area provided twenty-five wonderful summer experiences for hundreds of kids and their many fans. Thanks are owed to originators Judy Hulett and Jane Bull, and the many participants who contributed their time and talents to the staging of this extraordinary production.