Jennifer Piccolotti and James Mierkey are shaking up Oakhurst’s Golden Chain Theatre.
The folksy venue, known for almost 50 years for its melodramas and historical plays, has been broadening its scope in the past few years. Piccolotti, a transplant from Bakersfield who moved to Oakhurst in 2007, took over as artistic director in the fall of 2014. In addition to adding dramas, comedies and musicals to the company’s lineup, she and Mierkey also have been writing and directing original shows.
Their latest is “Shake!,” a musical revue featuring popular numbers from 1964, which opens Friday, April 1. We caught up with Piccolotti to talk about the show and the new outlook at the Golden Chain.
Q: You wrote “Shake!” and the recent “The Ladies of Tin Pan Alley” with James Mierkey. What else have you collaborated on?
A: We have worked together on several musical revues including “I Can’t Believe It Didn’t Win a Tony” and last year’s Christmas Show at GCT.
Q: Tell us about “Shake!”
A: Set at a women’s college that is known for its great arts department, the students are in dire straits when a new dean of students comes with plans to get rid of the program. The arrival of a Brazilian exchange student on campus further “Shakes up” the culture at Elmhurst College. The live band and 22 musical numbers from 1964 help us tell the light, heartfelt story.
Q: Do you consider it a jukebox musical?
A: Yes! However, James did write one song in the show himself.
Q: Tell us about your tenure as artistic director.
A: We began by focusing on what our patrons were asking for. We have added dramas, comedies and musicals to our existing offerings (49 years of historical plays and summer melodramas) and have received very positive feedback from the community. We also launched GCT School of Performing Arts in February, and are excited about offering the community more of what they have been asking for.
Q: What is your background in theater?
A: I have been involved in theater/performing from a very young age, beginning with vocal performing at age 5 and directing at age 15. I have been privileged to work with various churches and community theater groups, both on stage and as a director. I was employed previously with Bakersfield Musical Theatre/Stars School of Performing Arts where we had a thriving Children’s Theatre Workshop program.
James Mierkey began performing on stage from age 4, composing music from age 8, and has written and directed musicals since high school. He has worked in television and theater in Los Angeles for 15 years and has been at GCT for the past 4 years.
Q: For years, Golden Chain was known for its melodramas. Does the theater still perform those? Are the Gold Gulch Grannies still around?
A: We absolutely still do our summer melodramas. June 10-26 are the dates for “Males Order Bride.” We also have our “nini melodrama,” complete with can-can girls, that performs three times during the summer up at Sugar Pine Railroad and gives patrons a true outdoor 19th century melodrama experience. (The Grub Gulch Grannies have not performed on a regular basis lately. )
Q: Who provides the accompaniment for “Shake!”?
A: James Mierkey on piano and vocals, myself on vocals, George Rich on drums, David Quinday on bass, and Bill Samuelson on guitar.
Q: What is your favorite song in the show and why?
A: I love them all but my favorite would have to be “World Without Love” by Peter and Gordon. It’s sung in a pivotal place in the show, and James has arranged a lovely rendition of an already great song. Lyric Piccolotti performs this number (she happens to be my daughter) but I think it’s safe to say I can put aside any bias. I also love “I Get Around” by The Beach Boys because the kids in the cast really love the choreography, and it shows.
Q: Anything to add?
A: The cast is young and energetic … and most of them couldn’t tell you the difference between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones when we started. They fell in love with the music from 1964, and it’s been so much fun to watch them dedicate themselves to this show. We are cultivating a whole new generation of kids who will have memories attached to these great classic tunes.
We also have a front end of a ’59 Chevy Apache Truck on stage because some of the scenes take place in a gas station/mechanic shop. That’s pretty cool. We haven’t done that before.
- Through April 17
- Golden Chain Theatre, 42130 Highway 41, Oakhurst
- www.goldenchaintheatre.org, 559-683-7112