Casting Announced For Vital's OWEN & MZEE The Musical

Casting Announced For Vital's OWEN & MZEE The MusicalVital Theatre Company is pleased to announce full casting for its upcoming musical adaptation of OWEN & MZEE: THE TRUE STORY OF A REMARKABLE FRIENDSHIP the #1 New York Times best-selling children's book about the friendship between a tortoise and an orphaned hippopotamus written by father and daughter team Craig and Isabella Hatkoff and Dr. Paula Kahumbu . The musical features book and lyrics by Michelle Elliott and music and lyrics by Danny Larsen. Stanley Mathis is the Director/ Choreographer and Costume Designer.

The production opens Saturday, January 6th at 11:00 am and runs Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00 am through February 11th at the Theater at Blessed Sacrament, located at 152 West 71st Street, just east of Broadway. Tickets start at $25.00 and can be booked on line at www.owenandmzeethemusical.com or by calling (212) 579-0528

OWEN & MZEE THE MUSICAL is inspiring true story of two great friends, a baby hippo named Owen and a 130-yr-old giant tortoise named Mzee. When Owen was stranded after a tsunami, villagers in Kenya worked tirelessly to rescue him. Then, to everyone's amazement, the orphan hippo and the elderly tortoise adopted each other and they became inseparable, swimming, eating, and playing together. Adorable photos e-mailed from friend to friend quickly made them worldwide celebrities. Here is a joyous reminder that in times of trouble, friendship is stronger than the differences that too often pull us apart.

Featured in the cast are TJ Bolden, Daejanae Lettman Bibi Mama, Myles Phillips, Brandon Weber and Eric J. Willingham.

The design team includes William Hubner (Puppet Designer), Katelyn DeGennaro (Props) and Holly McCaffrey (Costume Assistant). Nevada Lozano is the Musical Director and Lindsay Ricketts the Stage Manager. Casting by Holly Buczek.

Michelle Elliott (Book and Lyrics) and her long-time collaborator, Danny Larsen, have written six original musicals, including The Yellow Wood (which received a Richard Rodgers Award and the Daryl Roth Award), Cloaked (which received the Jonathan Larson Award and for which Michelle was awarded the prestigious Kleban Prize for Most Promising Librettist) and their newest work, Hart Island, about New York City's notorious paupers' field. In 2014, Michelle and Danny's musical for young people, Zombie in Love, premiered at the Oregon Children's Theatre, where it received multiple Drammy Awards, including Best Original Score and Best Original Script, as well as the Portland Area Musical Theatre Award for Outstanding Original Musical. With her collaborator, she wrote and produced an online musical for teens in response to the spate of suicides by gay youth, called "The Hinterlands." The show can be viewed at HinterlandsTheMusical.com and via YouTube. Michelle's first play, Promising, was produced off-off-Broadway in late 2015. Michelle has an M.F.A. from NYU's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, an M.A. in Directing from University of Wisconsin - Superior and a B.A. in Performance from University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire. Prior to moving to New York City, Michelle co-founded an independent theater company in Minneapolis, Minnesota called Frontier Theatre, where she wrote, directed and produced original musicals. Michelle is a proud member of ASCAP.

Danny Larsen (Music and Lyrics) graduated from New York University's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program where he met his collaborator, Michelle Elliott. Their first musical, The Yellow Wood, was awarded the 2006 Richard Rodgers Development Award and the Daryl Roth Award. In 2007, The Yellow Wood was presented in the New York Musical Theatre Festival, where Danny won the award for Best Music. Cloaked, their second show, received workshop productions at CAP 21 (2010) and The Village Theatre in Issaquah, WA (2011), as well as a 2011 Jonathan Larson Grant and a coveted Kleban Prize. In 2013, Danny and Michelle wrote, filmed and produced a seven-part musical for teens entitled The "Hinterlands" in a response to the spate of suicides by gay youth. The musical web series was nominated in several categories, including Best Dramatic Series, at the IAWTV Awards. The show can be viewed at HinterlandsTheMusical.com and via YouTube. Their musical, Catch the Wind, a passionate exploration of the lives of women aboard a notorious pirate ship, was presented at the Buck Hill Skytop Music Festival in August, 2016. Their newest show, Hart Island, is about New York City's public burial ground. Danny also holds Bachelors of Arts degrees in Music and Theatre Education from Brigham Young University. He won the ACTF Kennedy Center Composition award for his music and lyrics for Soft Shoe. Besides composing, Danny works as a professional music copyist, arranger and orchestrator and has orchestrated several musicals, including Wind in the Willows and The Ballad of Little Jo. Danny is a proud member of ASCAP.

Stanley Mathis (Director/Choreographer/Costume Designer) is a Broadway veteran and children's theater performer originally from Washington D.C. He was last seen on Broadway and in the National Tour of The Book Of Mormon as Mafala Hatimbi. Other Broadway credits include: Nice Work If You Can Get It, with Matthew Broderick and Kelly O'Hara, Wonderful Town starring Donna Murphy, later with Brooke Shields and Jennifer Westfeldt. Kiss Me Kate! with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, You're a Good Man Charlie Brown as Schroeder with Kristen Chenoweth, the original cast of The Lion King as Banzai the hyena, Jelly's Last Jam directed by George C. Wolfe starring Gregory Hines and his Broadway debut David Merrick's Oh Kay for which he won the 1990 Fred Astaire Award. Off Broadway credits include City Center's St. Louis Woman opposite Vanessa Williams directed by Jack O'Brien. Real Black Men Don't Sit Cross legged on the Floor at The New Federal Theatre which won him the 2006 Audelco Award. Regionals include: August Wilson's Radio Golf at Kansas City Rep and Gem Of The Ocean at Seattle Rep directed by Phylicia Rashad, Fences at Bristol Riverside Theater PA, Death of a Salesman at Yale Rep starring Charles Dutton, You Can't Take It With You at Pioneer Theater, Utah. Blues for an Alabama Sky at Cleveland Playhouse, Of Mice and Men at Dallas Theater Company, Master Harold and the Boys at Triad Stage, Greensboro NC. Animal Crackers and Faust at The Goodman Theater, Chicago, Abyssinia at the Arena Stage D.C. Day of Absence at Baltimore Center Stage, Cinderella at Papermill Playhouse starring Suzzane Douglas and the Ogunquit Playhouse starring, Leslie Uggams, Anything Goes at Montclair Theater Festival starring Melba Moore and Emily Mann's Greensboro at Princeton. International: Spunk directed by George C. Wolfe at The Royal Court Theater in London and Williams and Walker at The Bermuda Theater Festival. Television: "Law & Order, Criminal Intent," "Gossip Girls," "20/20," "SNL," "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." You also can look for him on NBC's "Rise" this spring as Principal Evan Ward. Film: "Magic Sticks," "Dark Streets," "Brother to Brother," "Santa Baby" (Animation) starring Vanessa Williams, Gregory Hines, Patti La Belle and Eartha Kitt, and Steve Mc Queen's "Shame." Stanley's Children's Theater includes: The Library Theater Books Alive Traveling Show in D.C. CAT( Creative Arts Team), Nucleus with founders Attalah Shabazz and Yolanda King, Periwinkle Theater Company, New Jersey Playwrights, Sacred Hearts Creative Arts Summer Program, Troika Children's Theater in Bermuda and Rosie O'Donnell's Broadway Kids. He has directed "Little Shop of Horrors," "Westside Story," "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown," "True Colors" (an original musical), "How To Eat Like A Child," "Once On This Island" and recently The Lion King Jr. at Brazo Valley Troupe in Brazo Valley Texas. Stanley has his BFA from Washington International College, D.C. Studied at Career for the Arts ( Now Duke Ellington School of the Arts) Lynn Welters Dance Studios, Melvin Deal African Drummers and Dancers, HB Studios,NYC and was a member of Ebony Impromptu Theater Company and Charles Moore African Dancers and Drummers.

Craig M. Hatkoff (Author) and his young daughters, Juliana and Isabella, have created the beloved Turtle Pond Collection published by Scholastic.The Hatkoffs have authored multiple best-selling children's books.Craig is the Founder and CEO of Turtle Pond Publications, LLC (www.turtlepondpublications.com), which offers remarkable stories of hope and friendship about real animals and real world issues, empowering kids and parents to help save our planet. Their books include the #1 New York Times best-selling "Owen & Mzee: The True Story Of A Remarkable Friendship", which has been published in 17 languages; "Knut: How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World", about the polar bear cub Knut from the Berlin Zoo; "Winter's Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again", about the disabled dolphin Winter; "Looking for Miza", about the endangered mountain gorillas; and "Leo the Snow Leopard", about Leo, who was orphaned in the mountains of Pakistan and now lives at the Bronx Zoo.

The Hatkoffs' series of children's books, known as the Turtle Pond Collection, has won numerous prestigious awards, including the American Book Association Book of the Year and the Christophers Award. In 2002, Mr. Hatkoff moreover co-founded the Tribeca Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Institute with Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro.

Vital Theatre Company is dedicated to producing entertaining and educational theatre for young audiences. It commissions and produces three to five musicals for children each season. Since its founding in 1999, Vital Theatre Company has been honored with the Off-Broadway Alliance Award for Best Family Musical, two Awards for Excellence by the Off-Off Broadway Review, and has received high acclaim from audiences and critics alike for being "a wonderful place for parents to introduce their kids to the glories of live theatre, done well and at modest prices" (Off-Off Broadway Review). Vital Theatre Company has presented over 100 original productions for hundreds of thousands of children and their families. www.vitaltheatre.org


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