Thank You from Thank You, Mr. Falker

30 05 2011

Thank you to all who attended and supported the new family musical Thank You, Mr. Falker over the past three weeks at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre!

By the numbers, we reached at least 1500 audience members over the course of our run: 6 public performances and 4 school shows. Thanks to our kickstarter campaign and a grant from the City of Santa Monica and the Santa Monica Arts Commission, we were able to donate many tickets to underprivileged youth in the area. We had an incredibly diverse audience, from young children to grandparents, from families in need to unexpected celebrities like Jennifer Garner and William H. Macy. I was particularly thankful to share the show with my librettist Andrew Bentz visiting from VA, my family visiting from NC, and my fellow LA theater critics and friends. Your feedback and support means more than you will ever know.

More important than the statistics, though, I think our production had a tangible impact on the audience members and the production team alike. Patricia Polacco’s book Thank You, Mr. Falker is probably not a natural choice for a musical. It is the story of a little girl struggling with dyslexia until an inspirational new teacher helps open up the world of literature. But thanks to the incredible work of the cast, creative team, parents, and other volunteers, I hope … and I truly believe … we created something special on that stage. A show enjoyable for both kids and adults. A show that advocates for the importance of arts education without being too didactic. A show in a classic musical theater tradition that builds a strong sense of ensemble.

At least these were the ideals that we aimed for. And in fleeting and beautiful moments, I think we actually achieved them. Just look how much fun our kids had warming up before every performance. I wish I had this sort of creative community at their age:

I was lucky enough to sit in the middle of the audience for the closing show yesterday. There was a little girl in front of me, probably 7 or 8 years old, perched on the edge of her seat during the entire musical – enthralled by the kids singing and dancing together. There were children around me who sounded out the words along with Trisha and shared in her triumph of finally learning to read. And the talkbacks and the conversations I have had after each and every performance often exceeded the joys of the show itself.

This was the first live theater experience for many children in our audience. Whether these young audience members become theater practitioners, regular theatergoers, or just more empathetic individuals for having seen our show, it is fulfilling to have been a part of something with the potential to positively, tangibly shape someone’s life. I know the experience of collaborating with such a talented, dedicated production team has positively shaped my own.

So what’s next? I’ll be catching up on a few theater reviews in the next couple of weeks, then I am off to Israel with Emanuel Azenberg and friends for a (much-needed) vacation. Sadly, I will be missing the excitement of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, TCG Conference, and RADAR L.A. in June … but I will be back reviewing in full force by July! Again … thank you, all.

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Student-produced musical ‘Thank You, Mr. Falker’ makes debut

16 05 2011

Student-produced musical ‘Thank You, Mr. Falker’ makes debut

Thank you, Andrew Froug, for the great write-up in The Daily Bruin. If you haven’t seen Thank You, Mr. Falker yet, join us! I will be attending all remaining shows and would love to see you there!

Dates: May 14 – 29, Saturdays and Sundays at 11am

Venue: Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405

Tickets: Available online at https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/1221 or by calling 310-828-7519. $8 for adults, $6 for children 12 and under.

Press: If you are interested in reviewing this new family musical, please contact the box office at MWTboxoffice@gmail.com or 310-828-7519.





Press Release: Thank You, Mr. Falker

8 05 2011

Fellow critics and friends, my new family musical premieres next weekend! One reason I have been quieter on the critical scene lately is because I have been music directing my LA premiere Thank You, Mr. Falker, part of the LA Festival of New American Musicals. I would love to see you there!


Music by Sarah Taylor Ellis
Book and lyrics by Andrew Bentz
Directed by Lane Williamson
Music direction by Sarah Taylor Ellis
Choreography by Christopher Albrecht
Produced by Mary Morra & Jennifer Polhemus

Trisha has a talent for drawing, but when she tries to read stories she loves, the letters appear all mixed up. She hides her disability from teachers and classmates until the arrival of Mr. Falker, a gifted teacher who makes the ultimate difference for Trisha. A humorous, poignant new musical best enjoyed by ages 5 to 105.

Dates: May 14 – 29, Saturdays and Sundays at 11am

Venue: Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405

Tickets: Available online at https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/1221 or by calling 310-828-7519. $8 for adults, $6 for children 12 and under.

Press: If you are interested in reviewing this new family musical, please contact the box office at MWTboxoffice@gmail.com or 310-828-7519.

Hear a preview of the show and our talented cast, which features 5 adults and 10 amazing children, at soundcloud.com/staylorellis. (You can also hear an imaginary overture to CYCLOPS on my soundcloud, because I have a ridiculously diverse musical theater personality.) Feel free to contact me with any further questions (staylorellis@gmail.com), and I hope to see you soon!





Kickstarter: Thank You, Mr. Falker

8 04 2011

“Stories are like honey, flowing through my mind …”

When I first learned to read, every book seemed to open onto a new, fantastic world. Patricia Polacco’s popular children’s book Thank You, Mr. Falker is all about the pleasures of the wide world of literature. But it also reminds us that for some, learning to read is a challenge. Thank You, Mr. Falker is an autobiographical account Polacco’s struggles with dyslexia: the kids who teased her at school, the family members who stood by her side, and the teacher who helped her to triumph and become a world-renowned children’s book author and illustrator.

As of May 2011, Thank You, Mr. Falker is also a new family musical!

When I am not reviewing theater or working on my PhD at UCLA, I am a music director and a musical theater composer. (All that ample spare time …) My librettist, Andrew Bentz, is a current law student at UVA with equal penchant for crafting a debate or a song. We met at Duke University and have been writing musicals together ever since. Our latest project is a musical adaptation of Thank You, Mr. Falker for the Morgan-Wixson Theatre, which was workshopped in summer 2010. The world premiere production (May 14 – 29) is part of the 2011 LA Festival of New American Musicals.

The Morgan-Wixson’s award-winning Youth Entertainment / Education Series is free for all participating children; the cast for Mr. Falker includes 10 amazing kids, as well as 5 talented adults, fostering a special intergenerational bond in rehearsals. In addition to community shows, YES also invites school groups for special weekday matinees. For many children, this will be their first live theater experience.

To encourage a diverse range of families to attend, all tickets are less than the cost of a movie: $6 for kids and $8 for adults. But nonprofit performing arts cannot exist on ticket revenue alone. We recently started a Kickstarter campaign, hoping to raise money to provide more free tickets for underserved youth as well as to help offset the production costs, to enhance the set and costume budgets, to provide promotional support, and to pay small honoraria to the creative team who is giving so generously of their time to make the world premiere a reality.

Please support our world premiere production via Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/morganwixson/thank-you-mr-falker-a-new-musical

You can hear a few demos on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/mrfalker

And if you are interested in mounting a future production at your theater, please be in touch: staylorellis@gmail.com. Andrew and I hope to publish and license the show following this exciting world premiere. We believe it is a story worth sharing.

(Now back to your regularly-scheduled programming of theater criticism …)





Seeking Mr. Falker

7 03 2011

We just finished two great days of auditions for my new family musical Thank You, Mr. Falker at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica, but we are still missing a key part: Mr. Falker! Mr. Falker (baritone or tenor) is Trisha’s caring teacher who helps her overcome her obstacles and learn to read. This is a very special show for its intergenerational bonds, with a cast ranging from 8-year-olds to an endearing grandpa.

If you are interested in being a part of this rewarding family theater experience, please contact the Morgan-Wixson (MWTYES@gmail.com) or me (staylorellis@gmail.com) for more info. We will be holding callbacks this Tuesday night from 6:30 – 8:30pm and happy to schedule auditions earlier that evening or at another convenient time. Original audition information can be found here.

Thank You, Mr. Falker, A New Musical

Part of the L.A. Festival of New American Musicals
World Premiere

Adapted from Patricia Polacco’s popular book

Book and lyrics by Andrew Bentz
Music by Sarah Taylor Ellis

Directed by Lane Williamson
Music direction by Sarah Taylor Ellis
Choreography by Christopher Albrecht

Produced by Mary Morra & Jennifer Polhemus

Thank You, Mr. Falker is about Trisha, a young student who is eager to read, to taste the “sweetness of knowledge” that her grandfather has always revered. But she struggles with a learning disability, where words and letters on the page are all mixed up in her brain. Trisha falls behind with her schoolwork and endures classmates’ taunts until her new teacher, Mr. Falker, helps her to blossom and eventually triumph. The book is based on Patricia Polacco’s own struggle with a childhood reading disability. This production is supported in part by a grant from the City of Santa Monica, and will feature live music performed by Jennifer Lin.

Roles are available for youth and adults. Please come out to audition for an exciting world premiere musical through Santa Monica’s Morgan-Wixson Theatre: Y.E.S. (Youth Education/Entertainment Series), AATE’s Outstanding New Children’s Theatre Company 2008.





Thank You, Mr. Falker Audition Notice

27 02 2011

Thank You, Mr. Falker, A New Musical

Part of the L.A. Festival of New American Musicals
World Premiere

Adapted from Patricia Polacco’s popular book

Book and lyrics by Andrew Bentz
Music by Sarah Taylor Ellis

Directed by Lane Williamson
Music direction by Sarah Taylor Ellis
Choreography by Christopher Albrecht

Produced by Mary Morra & Jennifer Polhemus

Thank You, Mr. Falker is about Trisha, a young student who is eager to read, to taste the “sweetness of knowledge” that her grandfather has always revered. But she struggles with a learning disability, where words and letters on the page are all mixed up in her brain. Trisha falls behind with her schoolwork and endures classmates’ taunts until her new teacher, Mr. Falker, helps her to blossom and eventually triumph. The book is based on Patricia Polacco’s own struggle with a childhood reading disability. This production is supported in part by a grant from the City of Santa Monica, and will feature live music performed by Jennifer Lin.

Roles are available for youth and adults. Please come out to audition for an exciting and incredibly rewarding world premiere musical through Santa Monica’s Morgan-Wixson Theatre: Y.E.S. (Youth Education/Entertainment Series), AATE’s Outstanding New Children’s Theatre Company 2008.

Click for detailed Audition Information and contact the Morgan-Wixson (MWTYES@gmail.com) or me (staylorellis@gmail.com) for more info!