All grown up and taking a final bow with ‘The Taffetas’
May 16, 2012 · Updated 11:11 AM
You know you want some.
Rick Lewis knew it, too, when he created the off-Broadway hit “The Taffetas,” a 1950s musical review featuring four poodle-skirted, singing sisters from Muncie, Ind. who make their national television singing debut on “Spotlight on Music,” an Ed Sullivan-like variety show.
“The Taffetas” is a tribute to the girl groups of that period, including the McGuire Sisters, the Fontane Sisters and the Chordettes, but the production opening in Langley on Friday, May 18 at Whidbey Children’s Theater has another underlying “girl group” story behind it.
“I think the most significant thing for me in doing ‘The Taffetas,’ is that it was the show that I always dreamed about ‘growing up’ and being a part of,” Dinah Hassrick said. “It’s sort of surreal to actually be doing it, but also really fitting as my last show with WCT.”
Hassrick refers to the fact that she is a senior in high school and will be graduating this year along with the rest of the cast (and her close friends), which includes Sommer Harris, Jenny Zisette and Athena Michaelides, taking their final bow at the theater, which served as their creative sandbox for the past 14 years.
“The Taffetas” holds particular significance for this foursome because they remember the original production in 2005 as not only the first show for WCT at the Porter Building site, but as their golden ring of sorts. The four original performers were the girls’ mentors, their big sisters whom they watched with admiration and awe back in the day, dreaming of their turn. Reviving this show is a rite of passage for these teenagers.
“I don’t remember that many details of the first show, but I do remember sitting in the front row and thinking how lucky I was to be friends with them,” Zisette said. “They are still the older sisters I never had.”
Michaelides said she had stars in her eyes when, at about age 10, she watched the older girls on stage.
“I worshiped the original ‘Taffetas,’” she recalled. “I remember seeing their show and wishing someday to be as amazing as they were. They were all so talented and glamorous; the perfect role models. On opening night they signed a picture for me which my mother framed, and I still have it somewhere.”
The rest of the team also felt compelled to join the ritual.
Director Linda McLean directed that first production, too, coming back to stage it again along with original costumer Peggy Juve and choreographer Marta Mulholland.
“The play itself is kind of a spoof on the girl groups of the time and the simplicity of the era,” McLean said.
“The four girls playing roles in our new production became adoring fans of the “original” Taffetas, and I am pretty sure they decided in fifth grade that they were going to become the Taffetas when they were older. This is their swan song,” she added.
“This is a historic show for WCT,” Juve added.
“It was the very first production in our new theater. We had to borrow chairs from the church!”
From humble beginnings, the theater grew to become a bulwark for local children, bolstered by the support of the Langley community.
Longtime former WCT producer and board member Barbara Walker has long been a champion of the effect of theater on young lives. She has always been known to the WCT children as “Nana.”
“This is more than just singing and dancing,” Walker said.
“They’ve been a part of something since they were 4 years old; that’s what the theater has done for them; given them confidence they can use in the world,” she said with certain emphasis.
Indeed, Michaelides and the others speak of their childhood days growing up in the theater as a “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” or “Ya Ya Sisterhood” kind of experience.
“Our tight friendship began in the green room of the high school during Whidbey Children’s Theater’s “Les Miserables” of 2004,” Michaelides said.
“Marissa, Kate, Ahna, Sommer, Dinah, Jenny and I all used it as our dressing room. We used to sit in that tiny little room sitting on top of piles of costumes eating Chicken-In-A-Bisket crackers and boxes of Lucky Charms and talk for hours,” she said.
“If it wasn’t for Whidbey Children’s Theater, I wouldn’t have made such amazing friends, and had such support for all of these years.”
Hassrick and Zisette, too, said their relationships with the older girls and with theater in general has affected them in ways that can’t be counted. The theater, Hassrick said, has allowed her to explore different perspectives through characters on stage, while surrounded by the family-like atmosphere each show breeds.
“I know that they will always be a part of my life,” Hassrick said.
“I have learned so much about myself from theater, and owe so much of who I am to the loving theater community,” Zisette added.
The four South Whidbey High School seniors will begin belting out songs of the 50s in their final performance on the Martha Murphy Mainstage on Friday night.
The performers will be accompanied by the live musical combo of Jess Foley on piano and Joe Ballestrasse on bass. The production team also includes lighting design and set construction by Rod Stewart and poster and set design by Cameron Gray. Ahna Dunn-Wilder is the stage manager.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays, May 18 through May 27.
Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $8 for students and are available by calling 221-2282 or at the door. Whidbey Children’s Theater and the Martha Murphy Mainstage is at 222 Anthes Ave. in Langley.