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New Helvetia Theatre Marks It’s Second Anniversary with “They’re Playing Our Song”

Nanci Zoppi as Sonia Jerry Lee as Vernon

New Helvetia Theatre is dedicated to performing American musical theater shows. Their selection tends to be contemporary, as the most recent productions were “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “tick, tick, Boom!,” “It’s Only Life” and “[title of show].”

The current production, “They’re Playing Our Song,” reaches much further back, to December 1978. The book is by one of American theater’s most established playwrights, Neil Simon. The composer is Marvin Hamlisch and the lyricist is Carole Bayer Sager. The book is based very loosely on their personal relationship at the time. Both Hamlisch and Sager are also very established popular songwriters.

The show was a success on Broadway and continues to have stagings and revivals throughout the world. It is essentially a two-person play  Each of the characters does have a trio of “voices” that sing the thoughts and dreams of each character. The voices function as a sort of Greek chorus.

New Helvetia Theater also tends to cast young rising stars of the Sacramento theater scene. They have two of the best in “They’re Playing Our Song.” Jerry Lee is Vernon Gersch, the Hamlisch role, and Nanci Zoppi is Sonia Walsk, the Sager role.

Lee most recently appeared as Willy in the critically praised and very popular “The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!” at Sacramento Theatre Company. He was also Fred in STC’s production of “A Christmas Carol” this last holiday season. He appeared in NHT’s last production, “[title of show].”

Lee is a Sacramento native and graduate of the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts, where he appeared in numerous roles. Lee has a beautiful voice and solid acting skills. He is also a good pianist, playing the character’s music when the composer character is working on songs.

Zoppi most recently appeared as Marge in the long-running “SUDS” at Cosmopolitan Cabaret. She previously performed at NHT in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “tick, tick, Boom!” and “It’s Only Life.” Zoppi trained at the prestigious Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York City. She appeared in several production in New York, including “Godspell.” Zoppi also toured schools with the B Street Fantasy Theatre. She is also a beautiful singer and confident actor.

Lee and Zoppi have good rapport, which is important for the success of the show. That rapport is at its best when they are singing together and to each other. Hamlisch and Sager’s music greatly makes up for any weakness in Simon’s dialogue. Zoppi’s performance as the quirky but smart and pretty Sonia and Lee’s performance of the successful handsome also smart Vernon make it easy to see why these two characters alternate being attracted to and repelled by each other. 

The three male and three female “voices” characters back each of the two pricipal characters as their thoughts or conscience. They also perform the set changes in choreographed movement.

The women include Rosemary Babich, who also performed in “Celebration” at NHT. She has a drama degree from UC Irvine and also performs with Willows Theatre Company and Davis Musical Theater Company.

Rebecca Mason, debuting at NHT, is another grad at from the Pacific Conservatory, where she appeared in several productions. In Sacramento she appeared last summer in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” at Music Circus.

Hilary Wells appeared in the title role of “Cinderella” at Sacramento Theatre Company during the 2009-2010 holiday season. She is a graduate of STC’s Young Professionals Conservatory.

For the men, new to NHT is Joseph Boyette, who appeared in “Footloose,” Altar Boyz” and “Rent” at Runaway Stage Productions and “The Producers” and “Crazy for You” at Davis Musical Theatre Company.

American Musical and Dramatic Academy graduate T. Patrick Van is also new to NHT. He appeared as the king in STC’s “Cinderella” and in “Evita” and “Man of La Mancha” at Music Circus. 

Mike Yee appeared in “It’s Only Life” at NHT. He has also been in “Amahl and the Night Visitors” and “Curtains.” He also teaches high school math.

T. Patrick Van and Mike Yee as two of the Voices

The show is choreographed by the multi-talented Kiera Anderson, another graduate of the Pacific Conservatory, where she choreographed and appeared in shows. She has also choreographed “tick, tick…Boom!” and acted in “Celebration” and “[title of show].”

“They’re Playing Our Song” is directed by Connor Mickiewicz, NHT’s founding artistic director. Mickiewicz, another multi-talented theater persona, has acted in nearly all NHT’s productions, as well as at B Street Theatre (“Go Dog Go”) and Music Circus (“Annie”). He has directed “Celebration,” “tick, tick…Boom!” and “It’s Only Life” at NHT.

Musical direction is by Graham Sobelman, who is also the first keyboardist. The band features Erik Daniells as second keyboardist, Kenny Manlapig on guitar, Alfonso Portela on drums and Kellen Garcia alternating with Verna Brock on bass. Sobelman music directs at several venues in the Sacramento area, writes music with Nanci Zoppi and is a recording artist.

He may be best known for his “Graham-A-Rama,” the very popular weekly cabaret. Many performers in “They’e Playing Our Song” are regulars at “Graham-A-Rama,” including Lee, Zoppi, Yee, band members and Mickiewicz.

The set makes good use of the somewhat tight stage space in the Artisan Theatre. The set and the costumes look like they are discoveries of a massive ‘70s scavenger hunt. Who has seen a reel-to-reel tape deck recently? Sonia Walsk sourcing outfits from closed theater productions adds to the fun.

New Helvetia Theatre’s second anniversary and premier show of “They’re Playing Our Song” opened to a sold-out audience. The were treated to a well-acted, beautifully sung show with charming songs and a look back at relationships in what seems like a very different time.

"They"re Playing Our Song"

New Helvetia Theatre

Two More Weekends

March 11-April 2 2011
The Artisan Theatre

More Information and Tickets

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