Monday, October 19, 2015

From the Desk of Jim R, Take Two, Column 5: Marissa Perry (Naugatuck Teen Theater: "Guys and Dolls" )

 By James V. Ruocco
Broadway found out what Marissa Perry was all about when the tremendously talented Waterbury-born actress was cast as Tracy Turnblad in the Tony Award-winning musical "Hairspray" back in 2008. Magnetic, sassy, energetic, bouncy and delightful,  Perry took center stage at the Neil Simon Theatre  and gave a performance.....night after night....that garnered rave reviews, standing ovations and passionate, glorious commentary from her "Hairspray" co-stars and the entire Broadway musical theatre community.

And why not?
She's a natural.
Glancing back, Perry's love of performance and commitment to the arts was obvious when she first performed locally as a youngster and teenager in several community theater and high school productions. No matter what she did, you noticed her and quickly applauded  her prodigious talent and enthusiasm, which, not surprisingly, moved her out of the community and into the ranks of regional theater ("Princesses," "Wild Mushrooms") and subsequently Broadway theater ("Hairspray," "Sister Act").

Today, however, Perry is temporarily wearing a different theatrical hat.
Since early September, she has been doubling as director/choreographer for Naugatuck Teen Theater's upcoming production of Frank Loesser's "Guys and Dolls." The musical, first performed on Broadway in 1951, is based on two short stories by Damon Runyon ("The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown" and "Blood Pressure.") It features the popular Broadway show tunes "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," "I've Never Been in Love Before," "Take Back Your Mink" and "I'll Know."

The two-act musical, now in rehearsal, for an early November opening, is a classic in itself, which, in turn, accounts for its subsequent longevity and revival status.
"I think it is a perfect musical comedy, complete with hilarious and real relationships between men and women, men and other men and women and other women," explains Perry. "I think the audience that sees this particular show is able to relax into the story because it's full of potential for entertainment.
"Every song is jam packed with amazing moments and every scene has a joke or five. It's so perfect, people are never ever going to ever get tired of it."

Auditions for the Naugatuck Teen Theater production were held during the final weeks of August at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Naugatuck. It was quite the turnout with plenty of excited and anxious teenagers vying for lead, supporting and chorus roles.

"I tried to give a talk before the beginning of each audition night," recalls Perry. "But I can't give away all of my audition secrets or else I would be out of my 'Master Class' jobs.
"But audition technique is something I teach often and I am extremely passionate about," she adds. "I always hope to pass on my tips to my kids that I teach or direct."

Naugatuck Teen Theater was first launched in 1995 under the directorial guidance of the late Jim Fritch who staged its first musical "Fiddler on the Roof." Subsequent productions included "Our Town," "Grease," "Chicago," "Bye, Bye Birdie," "Footloose" and "Annie Get Your Gun."
Among its directors: Sharon Wilcox, Katherine Ray, Ian Diedrich and the late Mary Reilly.
"I remember my friends being involved with NTT when I was growing up," says Perry. "I think I was always doing a show when they were doing their shows so I never got to audition for them.
"With 'Guys and Dolls,' I knew that I would be able to pull kids out to audition with my name, but I never expected to pull the amount of talent I have in this cast."

The Cast:
Nathan - Alex Niatopsky,
Adelaide - Lauren Stango
Sky - Alex Tinbrink
Sarah - Kristen Vanderlyn
Nicely - Josh Viltrakis
Benny - Billy Nicol
Rusty - Christian Janis

Casting the show was pretty simple. Things quickly fell into place.
"It was incredibly easy to cast the show," says Perry. "It was like all of my prayers were answered with this cast. I  kept praying I would receive amazing guys to play the gamblers and they are AMAZING and my girls are just the best. I am in love."

Rehearsals for "Guys and Dolls" are being held three times a week, a process that excites and challenges Perry. She is joined by musical director Jeremy Hutchins.

"Mondays is mostly focused on the music," she explains. "Thursdays have been designated for me to work specifically on character development and scene work. It was really important to me that I had ample time with the kids to develop these 'people' they are playing.
"Sundays are for putting everything together: scenes, choreography and music. Not to jinx anything but we are really ahead of the game already!"

Perry is quick to point out that her work ethic is insane.
"I have to remind myself to relax a little," she muses. "And understand that not everyone works like me.
"Still, I an a very, VERY passionate person, especially about theater. I can not help it."

Not surprisingly, Perry is having the time of her life. With each rehearsal, she gets to stand back, watch, listen, observe and tweak bit and pieces with additional direction and commentary before opening night.
"It's the coolest experience of my life watching them grow as actors," Perry adds. "But to watch them grow as people is even better.
"My specific hope for them is that they become better actors than they were when they started. Like I always say, there's no point in being a great dancer or being a great singer if you aren't a great actor. You need to act in order to really and truly be a performer."

"Guys and Dolls" is being staged  Nov.7-15  at St. Michael's Parish Hall (210 Church St., Naugatuck, CT)
Performances are 8 p.m. Nov. 7, 8, 13 and 14 and 2 p.m. Nov. 15.
Tickets are $15 (adults) and $5 (students).

Perry hopes that theatergoers everywhere will come out and show their support for Naugatuck Teen Theater and her production of "Guys and Dolls."
"I want people to see a group of teens who have been pushed to be better than they were before they were cast. Lots of them, of course, have seen the show done before and they want to emulate the people they have seen do it before.
"And though that is very flattering, I am looking for them to do this work themselves and not try to be who they have seen before. But release what they had expected to be and become better and MORE."

(Jim Ruocco welcomes your comments. You can contact him at


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