As Venue’s First Show, ‘Big River’ Rolls Along
EPIC center opens with a play adapted from Mark Twain’s ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'
By Michele E. Buttelman Features Editor
The College of the Canyons performing arts center opened last weekend with an energetic performance of the musical “Big River.”
The show, with COC students, community members, community theater performers and a few professionals, is as pleasant as floating down a lazy river on a warm summer day.
I’ve never been a devotee of Mark Twain, so the story of Huckleberry Finn and his adventures didn’t particularly resonate with me — this is really a “guy’s” show.
However, the performance was a seamless multi-disciplinary presentation by the COC theater, music and dance departments.
It was an exercise that proved the saying “the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.”
Steven Ladd Jones as Huck Finn worked hard to portray the wayward Huck. He is an engaging performer and does much of the heavy lifting in this show.
Kris Coleman as Jim has some wonderful moments, however I never sensed a true relationship between Huck and Jim. It looked as if each were performing independent of each other.
Jessie Seely, as Mary Jane, was winsome, delicate and exquisite. Her voice should take her far.
When Seely and her sisters (played by Ever Fecske and Katelen Frye) sang “Leavin’s Not the Only Way to Go,” it took my breath away. Seely shares the role of Mary Jane with Fecske.
Brent Christensen filled the stage as Huck’s drunken lout of a father. Christensen, a drama teacher at Hart High School, gave the other actors a lesson on how to “fill the space.”
The script gave Christensen a lot to work with and he ran with it.
His diatribe on “Guv’ment” is worth the entire price of the show.
Famed country songwriter and performer Roger Miller (”King of the Road”) wrote 16 songs, music and lyrics for this show; William Hauptman wrote the book, adapted from the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain.
Despite the pedestrian book and music (how did this show win seven Tony Awards?), there were several magic moments.
As Huck and Jim floated downriver perhaps their best scenes were under a fabulous starlit night sky.
It was an interlude where the actors and the set design combined to create a sense that we were all on a tiny raft floating down a mighty river.
The duo’s powerful performances of “Muddy Water,” “River in the Rain” and “Worlds Apart” were beautiful and captivating.
Gospel singer Lisa Naulls brought down the house with her breathtaking performance of “How Blessed We Are.”
David Burr and Jeff Rollins were appropriately oily as the colorful “confidence men” the King and the Duke.
Despite a few elusive lines and some minor technical glitches, this was a worthy effort with which to open Santa Clarita’s long-awaited performing arts center. The actors plowed through the minor gaffes like pros.
David Knebel did an excellent job of portraying my least favorite character, Tom Sawyer.
His criminal tendencies were on view early, presented in the high energy and acrobatic, but odious song, “The Boys.”
I guess I’ll just never understand the appeal of Tom Sawyer — or maybe you just have to be a boy.
Knebel, Jones and the entire boy gang did an exemplary job bringing their “ruffian” characters to life.
The show is long, but it has weight. It is not the typical fluffy musical without soul or substance. This is a musical with a message about the way America used to be, when slaves — human beings — were property and how even “good” people can do bad things.
Don’t be surprised to hear the “N-word.” It is shocking, but true to the times the show represents.
This musical might not be my cup of tea, but the message it conveys is important, relevant and significant.
Phylise Smith and Shannon Leavy-Heath provided energetic choreography, which was executed superbly by the actors and ensemble.
Costume design by Jessica Holmes was also first-rate.
Lighting designer Steven Young and sound designer Matt Carpenter executed a first-rate technical feat — a nearly flawless opening show in a new theater. The “rain effect” which accompanied the song “River in the Rain” was delightful.
Director Mark Salyer’s masterful direction made good use of his actors and the stage, not an easy feat when you have a cast that numbers 32. Andrea Slominski, as assistant director, was no doubt a welcome helping hand.
Kudos to the production stage manager Caroline Law and assistant stage managers Mary Ferguson and Dominic Marcucilli — I can’t imagine how you did it all.
It was wonderful to see and hear a live orchestra, headed by Music Director K.C. Manji, in the new theater’s orchestra pit. Musicians Billy Kerr, Les Benedict, Stan Hernachy, Gerg Smith, Chris Coulter, Lydia Lee, Brent Crayon, Julissa Bozman, Doug James and Larry Dow didn’t miss a beat — or a note.
The opening night performance earned a well-deserved standing ovation for both cast and crew.
I believe this production proves that Santa Clarita has the talent and the desire for a “civic light opera” type of artistic endeavor — and now it has a venue.
“Big River” continues today and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the College of the Canyons performing arts center on the campus COC on Rockwell Canyon Drive in Valencia. Tickets are $8-$18 and available at www.vitalexpresscenter.com or at the box office.
Shannon Levy Heath, Phylisse Smith
Set Design/Technical Director
Cast: Steven Ladd Jones, Kris Coleman, David Knebel, David Burr, Jeff Rollins, Ever Fecske, Jessie Seely, Katelen Frye, Brent Christensen, Nancy B, Kayla Hill, Carol Higgins, Naomi McClure, Ed Hill, Jacqueline Lawson, Jewel Taylor, Virginia Cleary, Lisa Naulls, Jason Goldberg, Richie Fiene, Shad Sager, Jarrold DeShong, Gavin Ebo, Aaron Wong, Lauren Block, Amber Clark, Adam Glazier, Annie Mitchell, Christina Noland, Harmony Turner, Michael Watanabe, Jenessa Willett
Musicians: Billy Keer, Les Benedict, Stan Hernachy, Greg Smith, Chris Coulter, Lydia Lee, Brent Crayon, Julissa Bozman, Doug James, Larry Dow
Crew: Caroline Law, Tami Toon, Mary Gerguson, Dominic Marcucilli, Leigh Allen, Andrea Bell, Rose Hogan, Kerry Bauer, Patte Moon, George Titus, chrsi Tsangarakis, Kyle Gatlin, Sean Britnell, Adam Bates, MIchelle Wall, Jennifer Vincent, Donna Weber, Stephanie Rush, Christian Hoole, Kimberly Feltz, Sarah Brown, Angela Coppedge, Matt Gorewicz, COC Stagecraft class, Theatre 120.
At the age of five Jessie was invited to open her hometown rodeo by singing the national anthem for 15,000 spectators. Everybody had such a good time that they asked her to come back and sing again the next day! She gladly obliged, and has been singing ever since!
Nikkodo Kicks Off
El Monte, CA--What better way to reach karaoke enthusiasts than to create an add campaign featuring 'real life' karaoke singers and KJs? Judging from Nikkodo’s newest ad series, there is no better way.
The company recently introduced new print advertising featuring Nikkodo and users, dealers, and KJs. “With this new campaign, we thought it was a good idea to use people directly involved in karaoke,” said David Yaeger, president and CFO for Nikkodo USA, Inc. “By using ‘real’ personalities, we feel people will be better able to relate to the great things we are doing in karaoke, as well as differentiate us from the competition.”
The initial ads feature Mark Velligan and Jessica Seely doing cameo appearances. Born to Sing, Jessica Seely, a bubbly, blue-eyed redhead hit the karaoke citcuit with a bang! She just recently won a Nikkodo sponsored karaoke contest. Jessica loves singing in front of people, which she has done since she was three years old. Her charismatic charm has won over karaoke audiences everywhere. The energetic fourth grader has a hit cable movie, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry, They Get Even,’ and is soon to be hosting her own public access variety show, Kids Connection with Jessica.
According to Neil Kanoff, President of Los Angeles based Strategic Communications and Advertising, “The goal of these print ads will be to build Nikkodo’s overall image, and use the different personalities to drive the brand.”
"From Pop to Rock to R&B... Tonight's first female champion can do it all!"
Creator and Host of Next Big Star
2003 Chief Operator Teen Driving
Song and Rap Writing Contest
Jessie was a cash prize winner of this songwriting contest. She was selected by judges from MTV, Spirit Wind Studios, and the California Superior Court of San Francisco.
North America's Singalong Magazine
and Trade Journal/Winter 1996
Jessica Seely is Destined for Stardom
By Margie Anne Clark
Friday, Oct. 27, 2000
Sensational teen singer, Jessica Seely, knows how to have fun while doing the things she loves best. And what she loves best has sky-rocketed this multi-talented recording artist on a destination to stardom of stellar proportions. The fourteen-year-old Hart High School Freshman is a singer, songwriter, and actress who has a passion for everything she does and she wants to share it with the world.
"I just want to do everything," Seely said. "I just want to be able to share what I have." What Seely has is a tremendous gift and talent for keeping her audience spellbound with her energetic and mesmerizing stage presence.
"People have asked me if I want to be a performer when I grow up, but I tell them that I want to be more than that, I want to be an entertainer," Seely said. "It's fun to be able to touch people's heart and really make them feel that emotion. That's what I strive for," Seely said.
For someone so young, Seely has bounced from the stage, to movies, commercials, voice-overs, and acting, while singing the songs she loves. Her career has spanned more than 10 years since she made her screen debut at the tender age of four. In 1992, Seely had a lead role in the feature film, "Big Girls Don't Cry They Get Even!" She turned five on the set of the movie that has since become an cable tv favorite.
And Seely accomplished just that. With a voice that can be compared to Gwen Stefani, Toni Braxton, and Reba MacIntyre all rolled into one, Seely likes to sing and listen to a wide variety of musical genres. "I love any music that's good," Seely said. "One day I'll be singing country folk, the next day I'll be rockin' out to Marilyn Manson, and the next day I'll be jammin' with No Doubt. I bounce all over the place. If a group is good, then I like them," Seely said.
Television credits include a role in the HBO 1993 drama, "A Private Matter," starring Sissy Spacek and Aidan Quinn, based on the true story of Sherri Chessen Finkbine, "Miss Sherrie," of Romper Room fame.
More recently, in August of 1999 at the age of 12, Seely auditioned for and won a spot on "Destination Stardom," a talent competition show that's part game show, real-life drama, and a national showcase for the dreamers of the show-biz bit time, on their way to stardom. Seely captivated the live audience with her crystal clear vocals, and her red-haired, blue-eyed magnetism as she sang, "I Want To Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart," in deep, clear, resonating tones.
"I was one of three kids from L.A. that got picked to go to Hawaii, where the show taped," Seely said. "I loved being on that stage!"
This past June, Seely won a slot to be the one of the opening acts for Warner Bros country recording artist, Michael Peterson, by auditioning in an 'open mic' competition in Bakersfield where more than 50 acts of all ages competed.
Seely has also shared her talents with the local crowd here in The Santa Clarita Valley, where she has been an invited performer at the annual Cowboy poetry and Music Festival. Seely also specializes in country music. She was recently the opening act for Belinda Gail at the Third Annual Street Fair in downtown Newhall, where she displayed her talent in the new country genre.
Seely has also been an invited performer at the 1999 and 2000 Clarita Awards in Santa Clarita.
Despite all of her credits and accomplishments, Seely still considers herself to be a work in progress. "I do everything creative except underwater basket weaving!" commented Seely. Recently, Seely has taken up the guitar and has been studying with guitarist Howard Yearwood. She studies voice with Elisabeth Howard. She has been setting her writing and poetry to music. A girl of many interests, Seely spends much of her down time writing. "My Microsoft Word processor is just bursting with ideas." Seely said.
Seely has come a long way from the day she first sang the National Anthem at the age of five as the opener to her hometown rodeo for 15,000 spectators. She did such a great job that the officials asked her to come back and sing again the next day. The perky and enthusiastic young Seely was only too happy to oblige and has been entertaining crowds ever since.
A key component to her success has been a result of her supportive family who have been there all the way for the young rising star.
"My mom is my best friend and she has helped me along so much. She's the creative one. My dad has also been very supportive, and I'm very proud to say that he brought out the tomboy in me," Seely said.
Seely's family moved from their home town of Fresno to be a little closer to Hollywood. Yet, Seely has managed to keep her life in balance by attending public schools and leading the life of a typical teen.
Her friend Sarah Worth, 14, also a freshman at Hart, has been friends with Jessie since their days at Old Orchard Elementary school. "She's very perky and full of energy and she's fun," Worth said. "We hang out and plat Nintendo 64 at my house. We also like to go swimming and jump on the trampoline in my back yard. She has lots of friends," Worth added.
Another friend, Hart Sophomore, Sam Balkin, 16, has known Seely since their Junior High days at Placerita. "We've been friends ever since we were in the play "Magnolia" back in Jr. High," Balkin said. "Jessie is unlike anybody else I know. She's always very courteous to her friends. Even though she's younger than me, she's somebody I really look up to in the sense that she'll try anything and devote herself to it until she gets really good at it. She's a great artist," Balkin said. "She draws caricatures of people as different animals. She did a drawing of me as a dragon. The facial characteristics look exactly like me, and it was wearing what I wear. It was amazing!" Balkin said.
Her friend Hart Freshman, Marina Yurchikov, 14, agreed. "I've known her since fifth-grade and I think it's really cool the way she sings. I love her art work. She has so many different talents and she's outgoing," Yurchikov said.
"All of my teachers at Old Orchard, Placerita, and Hart have been so supportive of all of my interests and I'll never forget any of them," Seely said. Her mom agreed. "The schools have been wonderful in nurturing the talents of young artists here in the Santa Clarita Valley," Jenny said.
Seely has been creating different characters with her drawing skills since she was a young child. Inspired by Japanese anime, Seely enjoys exploring the world of fantasy and mythology. "I have believed in griffins, fairies, pixies, unicorns, and anything you can think of since I was four years old," Seely said.
"My theory is that we haven't been to the bottom of the ocean, or the core of the earth, so we don't know what's out there. I interpret that into my drawings," Seely said. A self-taught artist, Seely also takes the time to study anatomy and positioning techniques to fine tune her skills. "Drawing is a passion for me and I like to kick back after I've finished my homework to work on my sketches.
"I'm hoping to get into Cal Arts if I get the chance, because they offer classes in everything I like to do," Seely said. "Anything you have a passion for is going to end up being work, and I want to learn as much as I possibly can about all of the things I'm Interested
in," Seely said. The seemingly tireless teen also devotes much of her time to maintaining a 3.5 grade point average. "I've been getting A's on all of my tests and I'm in honors English."
Seely has come a long way from her days as a two-year-old, when she would imagine that she was Ariel from "The Little Mermaid." She loved to sing "Part of Your World" for her family. "My mom noticed that I had something, and we've worked on it, and so far it's just been one of my loves. It's just a passion for me, it really is," Seely said.
"For as long as you can remember, you'll remember this fun day!"
"Ed was sure right about that! The next time that someone tells one of you 14 year old hopefuls out there that it's not worth waiting seven hours for a one-and-a-half-minute audition... you can tell them what happened to me in Hollywood in 2001. Shortly after that audition I was jetting to Las Vegas to tape a TV show and sing my little heart out on Next Big Star at the MGM Grand.
Would you believe that it was just as much fun off stage as on? I had the best time meeting and getting to know the other talent. (Especially my boys from Rockamora. You guys ROCK HARD! -Hopefully I'll get to jam with you someday!)
But don't worry! Taping the show wasn't all work and no play ('cause that makes Jess a dull girl.). I had some great quality time with my dad, and spent all of my perdiem (and then some!) living up to my nickname of "Shamu," throwing back sushi at the MGM Grand Wok. My whole "business" trip was topped off with a killer performance by The Blue Man Group at the Luxor.
Production did a great job keeping me (and probably everybody else!) calmed down.... That was a big help. Thanks to everyone at Next Big Star for all of your support!"
Jessie Seely is Next Big Star
By Margie Anne Clark
February 1, 2002
Jessie Seely is on her way to stardom as a contestant on Ed McMahon's "Next Big Star." Seely will appear on the show, which airs on Sunday at 6 p.m.
Seely, 15, was one of 200 aspiring singers to audition for the show. Seely auditioned in Hollywood and was chosen to sing in the Female vocalist category.
Ed McMahon's "Next Big Star" is taped in Las Vegas at the Ed McMahon Theater in the MGM Grand Hotel. Seely, a sophomore who attends Learning Post High School in the William S. Hart School district proved that she had just what it takes to make it in the world of show biz.
"It was so exciting to be chosen to perform in the show. It's such a great opportunity and it's already opened a lot of doors for me," Seely said. Seely competed in the adult, 14 and over category.
Known for her smooth, strong vocals, Seely wowed the audience and the judges with her own winning rendition of "I'm The Only One," written by Melissa Etheridge. When Seely's singing career really started taking off, she transferred to the Learning Post High School from Hart High starting with her second quarter.
"They've been so supportive she just loves it," said her mom Jenny. "She misses her friends and teachers but has a lot more time to write songs, and rehearse."
Setting her own ideas to music has been the best part for Seely.
"It's sounding so good after only two sessions," Seely said "It's like, 'Oh my gosh, I made this,' and it's such a good feeling."
"It was so cool to be a winner in the Chief Operator song and rap writing contest! Did you know car crashes are the leading cause of injury and death among teens?... I'm glad my songs could help save lives!"
"Jessie Seely, as Mary Jane, was winsome, delicate and exquisite. Her voice should take her far.
When Seely and her sisters (played by Ever Fecske and Katelen Frye) sang 'You Oughta Be Here With Me,' it took my breath away."
Entertainment Theater Review
Jessie was chosen to be a part of a choir of twenty singers that performed on stage with Ben Vereen, Michael-Leon Wooley, Corbin Bleu, and Nita Whitaker to name a few. The benefit concert raised money for "The Theater Project," a developing professional theatre company in Santa Clarita, California.