A knack for theater

Three young women take the stage in SVCT’s ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’

THEATER KIDS The cast of South Valley Civic Theatre's upcoming 'Thoroughly Modern Millie,' prepare for their performance, opening Feb. 23.

Community theaters, and theatrical troupes of all stripes, pride themselves on creating strong, family-like bonds among cast and crew and especially of developing new generations of talent.

South Valley Civic Theatre, which presents a children’s show, a teen show and at least one show each season with multiple roles for young people, even includes it as part of its mission statement: “We believe that involvement in community theater is an important means for youth to develop confidence and skills and for adults to support the youth of our community.”

That commitment may be more apparent in the theater company’s next show, Thoroughly Modern Millie, which opens on Feb. 23. Three of the key female roles in the show, including the title role, are played by Live Oak High School seniors who literally grew up in the theater. The show’s director, Janell Cummings, shepherded her four sons through productions at church, SVCT and Live Oak.

Brianna Pember, Katie Bell and Becca Reynolds make up a triumvirate of homegrown talent on the Thoroughly Modern Millie set. All three are seniors at Live Oak, and all are 17 years old. They’ve been on stage, together and apart, for many years.

“Millie,” the story of a young woman from Kansas who heads to New York City in 1922 with plans to marry for money, not for love, will be their last community theater show together, a fact that reduces them to speechlessness and tearful giggles.

Reynolds, who plays Gloria in the musical, has been on the SVCT stage since she was not quite 5 years old and her mother, Joy, was playing Rooster’s girlfriend in a production of Annie, that show that has hooked many a young girl into musical theater.

“I’ve been surrounded by theater my whole life,” she said.

Brianna Pember, who will play the part of Millie Dillmount, arrived on the stage in fourth grade, as Fairgoer No. 3 in a production of Charlotte’s Web. When she began taking singing lessons, she discovered that she had the ability to make people feel emotions deeply through her voice (“and face,” chimed in Bell). She was hooked for good when she played Fiona in “Shrek! The Musical,” her first starring role.

“I felt like people believed in me and my passion was validated,” she said.

Bell, playing Miss Flannery in Thoroughly Modern Millie, is the relative latecomer to the local theater scene, lured in by her older brother, who had played Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. She joined Pember in Shrek and last fall was Mrs. Webb in Our Town.

“It was overwhelming, how accepting everyone is,” said Bell, who was bullied as a younger child but found that theater gave her confidence and a voice.

“When you come here, you get more confidence. You learn to listen to yourself,” she said.

Of the three, just Pember is planning to study acting in college. She has her hopes pinned on the esteemed theater program at the University of Michigan, although she has applications out to 17 schools. Bell is looking at an international business major and French minor, while Reynolds will study biology with an eye toward becoming a pediatrician.

The impending end of high school for the three is one reason Cummings is directing the show. “Becca is just a couple years younger than my younger son,” she said. “Becca and Nathan have done shows since a very young age. Brianna, I’ve watched her from third grade on up, and watched her blossom and continue to improve her craft.”

The combination of graduation of the Live Oak girls and the show itself made directing it an easy “yes” for Cummings and a must see for audiences.

South Valley Civic Theatre presents ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Performances run Feb. 23-March 17 at Morgan Hill Community Playhouse, 17090 Monterey Road, Morgan Hill. For tickets, call 408.842.7469 or visit svct.org.

Susan Rife
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About Susan Rife
Lover of arts & books; ukulele learner; therapeutic knitter; long-distance runner. Former Arts and Books Editor at Herald-Tribune.