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Theater
Preview
"john & jen"

By: Andrew Lippa
Produced by: Hillbarn Theatre
Directed by: Jay Manley
Featuring: William Giammona and Alicia Teeter
When: March 15 through April 7, 2013
Where: Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City, California
Tickets: $23-38 (discounts available for students 17 and younger with current student I.D.). Call 650-349-6411 or visit hillbarntheatre.org.
john & jen
Mark Kitaoka / Hillbarn Theatre
Alicia Teeter, left, and William Giammona in the two-hander musical, "john & jen," at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City, California. The show runs from March 15 through April 7, 2013. Call 650-349-6411 or visit hillbarntheatre.org.
Taking a chance
on a musical seldom seen
Legendary director Jay Manley, known for sheperding 40-character casts, takes on a two-hander, 'john & jen'
March 14, 2013

Some of the best musicals I've seen are the huge productions Jay Manley used to direct for Foothill Music Theatre at Foothill College.

His "The Producers" was fabulous, with actor Gary De Mattei owning the role of Max Bialystock; his "Anything Goes" was delightful; his "Curtains" was also fabulous.

Dr. Manley created Foothill Music Theatre when on the faculty at Foothill College. He was known for having a precise understanding of everything that everybody needed to do on stage. An actor in a very small role told me once that Manley was always good for telling him what he needed to do at any given moment in any play.

"Jay has a really good eye for his stage pictures, because he's directed forever, and knows how to get the most out of them," choreographer Dottie Lester-White told me in a 2010 interview. "He's creative. He'll work with the actor, the choreographer, whatever, to make it really fun."

Lester-White was talking about "Anything Goes," which had a cast of 45.

Jay Manley
Courtesy of Jay Manley
Jay Manley is directing "john& jen" for Hillbarn Theatre.

Such huge casts have not been uncommon in Manley's storied career.

At the moment, he is working on a two-hander musical, "john & jen," for Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City, California.

That is, a musical with only two actors.

"When Lee contacted me over a year ago, I had heard of it but not seen it," said Manley in a phone interview. "It was not on my punch list."

But he took the job offered by Lee Foster, executive producing director of Hillbarn.

"What attracted me to it is that it's a two-character play," said Manley. "You've seen my shows -- there are rarely fewer than 40 in the casts. This sounded like a very good change of pace."

Manley cast "two absolutely terrific actors. They are not union actors," he said, "but both are very professional. They have worked all over the area.

"A lot of actors go Equity too fast. They miss opportunities. Both of my cast don't have to support themselves by acting."

The story is that of Jen, who is dealing with the two Johns in her life, her younger brother, and her son. William Giammona plays both Johns.

The story takes place from 1952 through 1990, Manley explained. An older sister and younger brother. It begins as he is being born. An unseen character is an abusive father who talks John into joining the military and going to Vietnam. Jen becomes a flower child.

"They age throughout the show," Manley explained. "It's done with minimal costume changes, no makeup. It has to happen through acting."

Alicia Teeter, a singer and actress with a good line of show credits in the Bay Area, from "Parade" at Palo Alto Players to "Curtains," "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and "Urinetown" to "The Sound of Music," is Jen. She was worked on several productions with Manley.

William Giammona has performed in 40 Bay Area productions over the last decade, including that "Parade" at Palo Alto Players, and "Chicago" at Hillbarn. He hadn't worked with Manley before, but Manley said he'd seen Giammona in other shows, and went after him to get him for this show.

The story deals with love and loss and guilt, but still has plenty of humor and lots of comic scenes, said Manley.

"What we have found is that playing with the character relationships has been very rewarding. There is a lot of material to work with, and with only two characters, we can develop the material more than in a conventional musical.

"It's been one of the most rewarding directing experiences I can remember having," said Manley.

In addition to "john & jen," Manley is working on directing "The Sound of Music" for the Mountain Play at Mount Tamalpais in Mill Valley. That show, with dates in May and June, will be the 100th anniversary of the Mountain Play.

That will be followed by "Les Misérables" for South Bay Music Theatre in Saratoga.

"I can't seem to get out of the South Bay," said Manley, who lives in the East Bay.

"john & jen" was the first musical by Andrew Lippa, who went on to work on "The Addams Family" musical and contribute to the Broadway revival of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." He is at work on "Big Fish," slated for Broadway late this year. "john & Jen" was first staged in 1993.

"I want people to take a chance on a show they don't know about," said Manley. "While I am thrilled to do 'The Sound of Music' and ' Les Misérables,' they get done over and over again.

"It's important to see shows that don't get done again and again, to explore new theater horizons. To take a chance on a theater adventure, to see something new.

"This show is very rewarding for the audience. They will go away moved and touched by the piece."



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