Thursday, May 26, 2005
When 18-year-old Sam Given told Rosemary Luke that he wanted to choreograph her big summer blockbuster Zorba the Greek, Luke told him she’d need to think about it over the weekend. After all, even though the Robert Louis Stevenson High senior had acted and danced his whole life, he had no experience with a production of this magnitude.
Then she got to thinking about the play itself. Based on Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel, Zorba the Greek is a much beloved musical about an indomitable Greek who teaches a timid, younger man about the passions of living life.
“The message in this play is, ‘Choose to dance,’” Luke says. “‘Choose to live.’ I figured if this kid wanted this bad enough, I wasn’t going to stand in his way. I’m the type who takes risks.”
Given had acted in a lot of shows, including the Forest Theatre Guild’s productions of Les Miserables, Brigadoon and Fiddler on the Roof, but he recognized that choreography was new.
“I wanted challenges. I was interested in interfacing Greek dance with the classical components of musical theater,” he says.
Given threw himself into the task with abandon.
“The kid just took hold. He’s been on fire,” Luke says. “He has just handled it with the kind of talent and ability you rarely see. It’s a real gift. It is truly inspired by the magic of theater. He’s taken this cast and taught and inspired them. It’s thrilling to watch.
“I predict a meteoric career for this kid,” Luke adds.
Given, who graduates this year, is slated to attend Northwestern University in the fall to double major in theater and biology.
Choreographing 17 cast members from the ages of 20 to 60, Given has handled himself like a pro while melding joyous, free-spirited dances to the plaintive strains of bouzouki. To make things more interesting, Luke threw several members of a Greek dancing class into the cast, none of whom had any prior theater experience.
“They have worked with such dedication, such joy. The word ‘community’ takes on new meaning,” Luke laughs.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Given’s prodigious turn as the production’s choreographer is his relationship with the lead actor.
“This play is really about Zorba’s exuberant spin on disappointment and on death,” Luke says. “He’s a Peer Gynt character. It’s about soul, passion. That’s where Reg Huston comes in, because that’s what he brings.”
Huston, who many consider Monterey County theater’s greatest theatrical resource, is a big voice who has driven recent musical productions at The Western Stage like Fiddler on the Roof (1999), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (2003), and last year’s unforgettable Sweeney Todd.
“When I approached the Forest Theater Guild and Hamish Tyler to do this show, he said, ‘If you do this show you’re going to do it with Reg,’” Luke says. “Thankfully he said yes and we have collaborated together magnificently. He’s just a major singing talent.”
Yet according to Luke, Huston hasn’t had much experience dancing. As a result, the student has become the teacher. Huston taught voice to Given at RLS. Now Given is teaching Huston dance.
“There’s a nice symmetry to it,” Luke says. “Reg is a singer, not a dancer. It’s just too delicious watching Sam struggle to teach him to dance.”
Given insists that it was not in the least bit difficult giving his former mentor direction.
“Reg Huston is phenomenal,” Given says. “He’s inspiring to the whole cast. He brings an energy that evokes the creative spirit.”
Given isn’t the only youngster working in the production’s technical sphere. Luke has also entrusted 18-year-old Austin Bean to be her stage manager.
“We need to encourage young people to get into the technical aspect of theater,” Luke says. “I have a bias. I love to work with them. I love their energy. They give a shot of vitality to theater on the Peninsula. We need new blood and Sam and Austin represent this young talent. It’s exciting.”
ZORBA THE GREEK OPENS FRIDAY, MAY 27 AT 7:30PM AND CONTINUES ON SATURDAY AND SUNDAY. TICKETS ARE $20 FOR ADULTS AND $15 FOR STUDENTS AND SENIORS. OUTDOOR FOREST THEATER, MOUNTAIN VIEW AND SANTA RITA, CARMEL. 626-1681 OR WWW.TICKETGUYS.COM.