Charging forward as boldly as the sounds that made New York's Tin Pan Alley famous, The Golden Chain Theatre is following up it's original hit thriller, "Jack the Ripper" with another original piece. This time, instead of delving into the depths of 19th Century London, the historic theater located on Highway 41 just north of Oakhurst has fired up the jazzy sounds of the Great American Songbook.
Combining original music with classic songs from the 1910s, 20s and 30s, "The Ladies of Tin Pan Alley" is a full-blown musical written by two area residents, church worship leader and pianist James Mierkey and the multi-talented Jennifer Piccolotti.
Telling the story of one young woman, Mable Connelly (played by Lyric Piccolotti) who journeys to Tin Pan Alley to make it as a songwriter, the musical takes a page from history as it chronicles the difficulties women had pushing past the social barriers to achieve their dreams of success in the entertainment world.
Like her real life counterparts, Kay Swift, Ann Ronell, Dana Suesse and Dorothy Fields, Mable faces the challenge of being taken seriously by the male dominated establishment that wants to make her into a singer or dancer while taking advantage of her songwriting ability.
In reality, women like Swift, while immensely talented, were often overshadowed by men. In Swift's case, this meant that even though she was the first woman to score a hit Broadway musical (1930s Fine and Dandy), most at the time credited her romantic partner George Gershwin as being the "real" writer of her songs.
As time went on, these women proved they were the talent, all by themselves. Dorothy Fields worked as an extremely successful songwriter up until the 1970s, chalking up her biggest hit in the early 60s with the show Redhead which won five Tony Awards including Best Musical.
"I was really inspired after working on last year's musical revue, "I Can't Believe it Didn't Win a Tony," and working with all the women in the show," said Director Jennifer Piccolotti. "I wanted to do something that would scratch the musical itch, but also really fit in historically with the mission of the theater. Delving into the Tin Pan Alley era, fit the bill."
The "Ladies of Tin Pan Alley" features some the finest songs written by these remarkable women, including "Sunny Side of the Street," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Ain't Misbehavin," ""I Got Rhythm," "Ain't He Sweet," and "Pick Yourself Up," skillfully woven into the storyline.
But the production also features two original songs composed by Mierkey of the acclaimed Yosemite Jazz Band, several members of which are providing the live music for the show.
"Because I'm pretty entrenched in traditional Jazz, that's part of my world, it wasn't hard to compose in this genre." said Mierkey who also plays the role of Joe Fielding in the production. In a case of art following life, Mierkey composed the song "I Dream Alone" with lyrics by Lyric Piccolotti, mirroring the story in the musical where Mable wrote the lyrics and Joe composed the music.
This is Lyric Piccolotti's first contribution to an original musical and carrying the lead role has been a challenge for the 16-year-old who attends Minarets High School.
"There was a lot to memorize and getting to know my character kind of came after that," said Lyric. "At first Mable seems plain and simple, but she's actually complex."
Lyric said it has been great to work with her mother as director.
"It's great she's a lot of fun and we all have too much work to do to have any diva moments."
Director Piccolotti said out of the 21 cast members, 10 have never been seen on the Golden Chain Theatre's stage.
"It's so exciting to have so many new faces in this production," Piccolotti said.
A lot besides music went into creating the feel of the period of "The Ladies of Tin Pan Alley" took more than just the music. Getting the diverse accents and costume right was important to creating a feel of traveling back in time. Sarah Persson, Golden Chain board member, studied photos of the era to get the look of the ladies just right.
"Thankfully we had several of the flapper style dresses in stock already, but we had to do some shopping and quite a bit of sewing to get the fit and feel perfect," Persson said.
This musical is quite the family affair as well. Sixth grader Joseph Piccolotti joins his mother and sister on stage. Seventh grader Amber Persson, playing the paperboy Kid O'Malley also joins her mother Sarah. Amber's desire to act is responsible for Sarah getting involved with the Golden Chain in the first place.
"I'm just one of those people that helps ... I ended up being the backstage mom, helping all the young actors and the costumes."
Pastor Paul DePledge, playing Archie the stage manager also joins his daughter Chloe playing "Smudge."
Having so many families, combined with Jennifer Piccolotti's leadership style has brought a palpable warmth to the set.
"Jennifer is a 'yes' director who will listen to your suggestions and let you try them before making her own recommendations," said Tawni Rae Jackson, playing Bea. "She really lets you create your own character."
With sparkling dance numbers and highly polished musical compositions, including a competition-level barbershop quartet piece, "The Ladies of Tin Pan Alley" raises the bar for quality productions by the Golden Chain, a great addition to the melodrama's the theatre has been known for. "The Ladies of Tin Pan Alley" provides a trip down memory lane for the older generation, while at the same time being a really cool introduction to classic songs of the past for younger people.
Board member Sarah Persson was enthusiastic about the direction Golden Chain is going with its selection of work.
"I really like what we're doing right now ... while I really love the melodramas like Dark Deeds and I think there is room for all of it, the community is really enjoying the directions we're moving in right now."
Jennifer Piccolotti encourages the community to come out and see the uplifting production.
"The Ladies of Tin Pan Alley is a nostalgic celebration of the classic songs of yesteryear," Piccolotti said. "Beautiful songs that have withstood the test of time woven into a sentimental story, that will be sure to have you humming one of your favorites as you walk out of the theatre."
"The Ladies of Tin Pan Alley" opens Friday
The production will be performed Nov. 8-10, 15-17, and 22-24. Friday and Saturday performances, 7 p.m. Sundays at 1:30 p.m. The live band that accompanies the show will be playing half an hour before curtain time at each performance. Tickets ($12 for general admission, $10 seniors and $6 for children 12 and under) are available at the box office or advance reservations, (559) 683-7112, goldenchaintheatre.org.