Dennis DeYoung Visits: Two Theatrical Firsts Prepping To Premiere In Newtown

Rock star Dennis DeYoung has performed before millions of fans as a musician and actor; has been honored with a number one hit and People’s Choice Award for his touching ballad, “Babe” as a member of the rock band Styx; and has contributed his creative talents to full-scale musical productions.

But he told The Newtown Bee this week that one of the most touching and memorable experiences of his career occurred July 12 when he visited Newtown to sit in on a rehearsal of The 12.14 Foundation’s read-through of a brand new version of The 101 Dalmatians Musical, for which he wrote the score.

“I thought I was going to tear up,” DeYoung said following the rehearsal, which was staged at Dance Etc. in Hawleyville. “I’m in this town that I only saw and read about in the news. And here I am sitting with these children and singing my songs. If that doesn’t get you I don’t know what will.”

DeYoung said he was particularly affected hearing the local youngsters singing what he described as “the essential musical number in the production,” his song “Be A Little Bit Braver.”

“That’s the song I wrote specifically for children,” he said. “You know when you’re a kid so many of the fears you imagine are really in your mind. But when you think of these children … not so here.”

The musician spent nearly three hours in town, sandwiched between area gigs with his band. Most of his time involved monitoring a full read-through of the hour-long children’s revision of the show being prepared for four performances in early August while conferring with Director Michael Unger and Musical Director Jeff Saver. But he also took the time to sign autographs and take pictures with many of the young cast members, many of whose parents were not even born when DeYoung’s first hit “Lady” dominated the mid-1970s radio airwaves.

The familiar Disney tale with a new and entertaining plot twist was modified by Unger and DeYoung specifically for The 12.14 Foundation, which produced the extremely successful Seussical: The Musical last summer. That was the foundation’s first attempt to promote healing through the arts for Newtown’s children — especially those were students of Sandy Hook Elementary School on 12/14.

This year, along with The 101 Dalmatians Musical, much of the same core production team is operating under the watchful eye of foundation founder and executive producer Dr Michael Baroody on the world musical premier of Shakespeare’s most beloved play. That second musical, entitled A ROCKIN’ Midsummer Night’s Dream, will be adapted by producer/director Unger and Eric Svejcar who also created the score.

Mr Unger told The Bee that joining the Newtown children in this double cast production are Broadway stars Marla Mindelle (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Sister Act), Clark Thorell (Hairspray, 2012 Annie revival) and Saum Eskandani (Disaster!, A Year With Frog and Toad). The Foundation also plans to produce and release a CD of the production with Broadway Records (Matilda, Big Fish, 54 BELOW Concert Series).

Along with Saver’s talents as music director, Newtown’s own Brett Boles is serving as his associate. Jennifer Paulson Lee is the choreographer, Van Dean is co-producer, and orchestrations are by Kim Scharnberg.

As was the case with Seussical, approximately 20 Newtown students are apprenticing backstage to learn from the team of Broadway professionals participating in this production. The orchestra will also include Newtown-area parents and students.

The regional premiere of The 101 Dalmatians Musical is based on the famed story by Dodie Smith, with a book by BT McNicholl (Cabaret) and the score by DeYoung.

The production stars Kristine Zbornik (A Catered Affair on Broadway, Mamma Mia in Las Vegas) as Cruella DeVille and more than 100 local children between the ages of 4 and 13 as the Dalmatians. The production is being designed by Newtown High School students, under the supervision of Midsummer’s team of professional designers.

A ROCKIN’ Midsummer Night’s Dream will be performed on Fridays, August 1 and 8, at 7 pm; Saturdays, August 2 and 9, at 2 and 7 pm; Sunday, August 3, at 2 pm; and Sunday, August 10, at 5 pm.

The 101 Dalmatians Musical will debut Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm; with added performances Thursday, August 7, at 7 pm; Friday, August 8, at 11 am; and Sunday, August 10, at noon.

The venue for both productions is Newtown High School, 12 Berkshire Road. Ticket prices range from $22.50 to $30; they can be ordered by calling 866-967-8167 (press 1) or online at 1214foundation.org.

Additional 12.14 Foundation public activities at the high school this summer include a series of Monday Night Movie Musical Sing-Alongs, which continue on July 21 with The Wiz and July 28 with Frozen (screenings are at 7 pm, and admission is $5 at the door); Newtown Dance Concert, featuring with dancers and choreographers from local studios, July 30 at 7 pm; and “Connecticut’s Got Talent,” a talent competition for all ages, for residents of the greater Newtown community, on August 5.

Admission to The Dance Concert is $20; “Connecticut’s Got Talent” is $15 per person. Tickets for both shows will be available at the door. 

This talent contest is open to all, and Krysta Rodriguez (SMASH, First Date) will be one of the judges.

The 12.14 Foundation is a non-for-profit organization formed to encourage personal development through high-level performing arts programs. The foundation works to provide experiences that produce a long-lasting, positive affect on the way children see themselves and the world around them. It is also working towards building a performing arts center in Newtown as a living remembrance of the events of 12/14, when 20 children and six women were shot and killed inside Sandy Hook Elementary School before the gunman took his own life as police arrived on the scene.

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