Italians and Americans share limelight in "The Wiz"
March 29, 2013
VICENZA, Italy- Why would you learn a foreign language? And how would you improve your language skills if you did? At least four Italian women in the cast of the current Soldiers' Theatre production of The Wiz could tell you plenty.
The production, which has brought together 50 volunteers, is one of the largest productions ever produced at Caserma Ederle, said theatre director Jerry Brees.
The Italian volunteers have a common interest, if not a passion, for music, theater and musicals. What better vehicle than the pop musical adaptation of L. Frank Baum's classic story "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" to combine all these interests?
"When you work together on a show for three months with people of all ages and from different cultural backgrounds it creates a great and varied atmosphere," said cast member Daniela Frigiola.
"If you are in the audience it is a great experience too. I tell everybody that if I was not in the cast, I would buy the ticket and go see it."
Frigiola, who works at the Vicenza Civilian Personnel Advisory Center, has enjoyed shows on post for the past 10 years. She decided to audition for the first time to overcome stage fright and to be around singers and actors, she said.
She performed in last year's productions of the musicals Oklahoma! and That Holiday Feeling.
"All these have been great and rewarding experiences. I had fun, learned a lot of new things, made new friends, both American and Italian, and I got inspired to start other things like tap dancing and piano lessons," Frigiola said.
"I keep telling everybody that it is great to be part of the cast because while having fun, you socialize and learn a lot from the experts," she said.
She has been particularly impressed by the great choreography involved in staging the shows, she said.
"I love the professionalism, enthusiasm and the dedication of each individual who operates in the theatre environment," said cast member Sonia Elia, who first appeared on stage in the 2007 All Gershwin production.
"People like Jerry (Brees), Barry (Barry Robinson, the theater's audio designer) and Ciriaco (musical director Ciriaco Colella) who are working there and do their job with competence and commitment, or the longtime volunteers, up to us who have started more recently, everybody fits into place in this wonderful atmosphere. I feel like everybody gives their best to make each show a great show'," she said.
Elia found out about the theater when her then-boyfriend, now husband, Colella performed there as the keyboardist in a staging of Broadway by Night.
"I was completely fascinated by the world of the Soldiers' Theatre and the show genre, professionalism of the cast, choreography and costumes. Everything reminded me of Broadway and called to mind a desire to be on stage. I was living a few hundred meters distance from this precious jewel and never realized it before," said Elia.
She came for an audition, joined the cast and has performed in half a dozen plays since then.
"I would simply say to Italians that they don't need to take a plane to see how musicals are produced in the States because they have an American community nearby with its tradition of musical theater and its well-known organization that is open and willing to share its events," she said.
Elia said she hopes the friendships and social networks that grow out of the theater will make it easier for Italians to participate in shows.
"It would also be fantastic if this great community could tour our province and perform the shows in Italian theaters," she said.
Cast member Alessandra Cavuto said she couldn't agree more.
"Being in a musical has been one of my dreams since I was a little girl. Since the musical as a genre was created in the States, I can't think of a better opportunity to learn the method here. Jerry and Linda Dahlstrom, choreographer of The Wiz, have the talent and ability to make you feel like you are on Broadway because of their method in approaching the production and giving you confidence in being responsible for your character," Cavuto said.
Though she considers herself a novice compared to Elia, she is in love with music, theater and especially musicals. "I started taking part in Soldiers' Theater productions last year with Oklahoma!, and this year I am in The Wiz," said Cavuto.
For Antonella Perlari, her role in The Wiz is a first experience with the Soldiers' Theatre.
"The large crowd of volunteers who participate in The Wiz didn't scare me. I have been dealing with some other groups in the past, and while in New York about four years ago I was in the cast of a holiday musical," said Perlari.
"When I found out I could audition at Soldiers' Theatre I couldn't believe it. As a new member, I met new friends. I enjoy their company backstage, from the children to the adults, and it is a great opportunity to keep up with my English. I've heard very positive feedback from the American community about this show. From my side, 14 friends of mine came to see the show, and after this experience I am looking forward to other ones in the future," she said.