BWW Feature: Winning Team Reunites for Youth Theatre TARZAN
The San Diego Center for Jewish Culture will present the JCompany Youth Theatre production of Disney's TARZAN at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center Jacobs Family Campus in La Jolla from May 9 to May 18, 2014. With music and lyrics by Phil Collins and book by David Henry Hwang, this sure-fire hit elicits special interest because of its youthful star power: In the leading roles of Jane and Tarzan, teenage thespians Hannah Houts and Joshua Shtein will reunite after their 2007 JCompany successes as Ashanti and Mowgli, respectively, in Disney's classic musical, The Jungle Book KIDS, based on stories by Rudyard Kipling.
JCompany Artistic Director Joey Landwehr, who has won over forty awards for his work with young artists in San Diego and has been recognized for his outstanding leadership in the arts, chose these Disney musicals for their portrayal of youthful characters in search of family. Citing the JCompany as a "second home" for young people in San Diego County, Landwehr emphasizes the desire to establish "a warm and welcoming environment for young people to explore their creativity, instill confidence and build self-esteem through the magic of the performing arts," and states that JCompany "creates Theatrical Forever Families where young people make friends for a life-time."
If the chemistry between Hannah and Josh is any indication, Landwehr's goals are being fulfilled. Each of these talented youths has appeared in two dozen JCompany productions. Having paired in Jungle Book at the tender age of ten, the two young actors, now matured to believable ages for the more grown up characters in Tarzan, seem the ideal pairing for another jungle story with a virtually parallel story line.
A seventeen-year-old senior at Canyon Crest Academy, Hannah has been performing with the company since the age of eight, including the title role in the musical, Cinderella. Experienced in creating her own videos and hosting her school's news show, CCA-TV, she hopes to make use of her theatre background in her future studies of the business aspects of the entertainment industry.
A recipient of the National Youth Arts for Outstanding Male Lead Actor Award, seventeen-year-old High Tech High International 12th grader Josh started in theatre as a munchkin in JCompany's Wizard of Oz and worked his way up to roles in Oliver, Shrek, and others, eventually landing a part in San Diego Repertory Theatre's World Premiere of Blessings of a Broken Heart.
Currently planning to minor in theatre in college, Josh has expressed his gratitude to Landwehr for his inspiring mentorship. "Joey has been an amazing mentor and friend throughout my years at JCompany," says Josh. "I wouldn't be the actor or person I am without his guidance." Hannah agrees. "Joey has truly made the JCompany a wonderful, safe and welcoming place to come to, and has changed many lives for the better."
Landwehr admires the youths' inherent effortlessness on the stage, especially in working together. He cites them as "incredibly talented young people... They are completely fearless with their acting and want only to portray the characters in which they are cast with sincerity and heart... their connection, affection, charisma and belief in each other rings true with every part they are cast opposite each other."
Josh echoes his mentor's sentiments. "It's such a pleasure to work with Hannah. We work well together because we are good friends off the stage, which makes it easier to connect." Hannah and Josh admit to some nostalgia about getting back to their jungle roots for their final performances at JCompany, but are looking forward to exciting careers in their chosen fields. "It's really special for my final show at JCompany to play a role opposite a great friend who also has been involved with JCompany forever," Hannah says.
Landwehr delegates the youthful participants in his shows to immerse themselves in writing projects related to their characters. Hannah and Josh's practice in learning authentic pronunciation in Hindi for Jungle Book no doubt also expanded their awareness of exotic cultures and lands. The familiarity of that Disney film, as well as that of Tarzan, creates a link to the story and the characters, not only for the actors but also for youngsters who attend the performances. With this new production and its irresistible music and lyrics by pop icon Phil Collins, Edgar Rice Burroughs' legendary Tarzan of the Apes will be brought to life by young actors in a way that will enhance the younger generation's awareness of literary classics, while also offering pleasurable entertainment.
The award winning JCompany Youth Theatre helps pre-teens and adolescents, some of whom dream of performing on stage, develop self-assurance and self-worth. For young Josh, it has been, "An incredible place to let go, be myself, and hone my craft."
In addition the company are able to invite hundreds of lesser-advantaged students from outlying schools to attend performances at no cost, thanks to funding from the Samuel I. & John Henry Fox Foundation and Union Bank of California.
All performances of Tarzan take place at the David and Dorothea Garfield Theatre of the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, Jacobs Family Campus, 4126 Executive Drive, in La Jolla. (858-362-1348 or visit www.sdcjc.org/jcompany for more information.)