Behind the Scenes at Star Struck Musical Theatre Where Adults and Youth Find Opportunity…

by Praveena Raman
Tri-City Voice – November 18, 2003

Sitting on a chair with my eyes closed I relax and hear the whimsical music taking me away to a sunshine filled place with chirping birds and gobbling turkeys, soothing my tired body and mind.  I open my eyes as the sweet voices fill the place in tune to the music.  This is not Symphony Hall – it is the Star Struck studio where music director Dr. Nancy Godfrey and vocal director Jeff Oliveira are hard at work rehearsing the music with the Honk! Choir.

Looking at Nancy skillfully playing the keyboard, coaxing the wonderful sounds from it, one would definitely think of her as a very talented musician that the Star Struck children are lucky to have directing them but few would suspect that she was also a very hardworking and busy physician.  I can still hear the words from director Lori Stokes ringing in my ears “Surgeon by Day…….” and Musician by Night!  A busy doctor, who labors three to four evenings a week, helping to bring an outstanding musical to the community.

Dr Nancy Godfrey grew up in Pennsylvania learning piano from when she was six years old.  As the daughter of a dentist Nancy was always interested in medicine, wanting to be a dentist just like her father.  That changed when one day she read the excerpt from the book “The Making of a Surgeon” by Dr. William Nolen in a Reader’s Digest magazine in her father’s office.  A Junior High student she now fixed her eyes on the exciting world of a surgeon.  It was at this same time that the world of musical theatre also was opened to her.  She got her first chance to be an accompanist for the Jr. High Musical.  The excitement and thrill of the stage filled her and she was hooked on it.  All through High School she acted, sang and played music even being a music director for the musical You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown in her junior year.

Dr. Godfrey went on to Major in Biology with a Minor in Music from the University of Pittsburg.  Within 10 days of entering U. Penn Medical School, she, with 25 others, formed the first choir group.  The group performed an hour and a half lunch time concerts going on to also produce two full fledged musicals a year.  The school administration was very supportive, even buying them a piano.  Thirteen aspiring doctors from the performing group of 25 ended up singing in each other’s wedding.

Nancy continued with Chamber music during her busy Residency years at New Orleans.  It was here that she met her future husband Richard Godfrey who was also doing his Residency.  After finishing their Residency, the couple moved to California in 1980, living for a few years in Pleasanton before moving to Fremont in 1990.

Dr. Nancy Godfrey is a General Surgeon at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara while her husband Dr. Richard Godfrey is a General Surgeon at Kaiser Permanente in Fremont and Hayward.  The couple lives in the Vallejo Mills area with their two children Juliane (14) and Steven (11).  When her talented daughter, Juliane (a competitive dancer), got the lead part in the musical Wizard of Oz at Centerville Jr. High, Nancy played the accompaniment and the next year volunteered to be the Music Director for the musical Once Upon a Mattress.   From Centerville Jr. High Nancy moved with Juliane to Star Struck this past summer to perform in Into the Woods.  Nancy became a part of the orchestra, coming for all the rehearsals and producing all the special effect sounds for the play.  Besides being intelligent and talented, Nancy is also a very caring person.  As a Star Struck mom she volunteered to make arrangements for dinner for the cast during tech-rehearsals.  On the first evening of tech-rehearsals she found out that most of the teenage cast were vegetarians.  From the next day Nancy cooked beans and brought it for the kids.  In between being a Surgeon by day, a Musical Director in the evening and attending her son Steven’s baseball and basketball games, Nancy also finds time to direct the choir in her church.

Amazed I ask her “How do you do it?”  With her characteristic bright and friendly smile she says“ It is easy.  You just have to be organized and keep the schedules straight.”  The excitement in her voice picks up as she continues“ it is so exciting to see the kids singing.  I get swept away by their enthusiasm.  It is so rewarding to see the children work hard to master the hard music and their sheer excitement when they do so.“ Then more seriously she turns, looks around the studio, and says she is extremely grateful to Lori Stokes for giving her this opportunity to express her love for music.  “The musical score for Honk! is challenging” says Nancy “The challenge has been to incorporate into the music sounds that are suggestive of animal characters.  It is so wonderful to work with Jeff on this score.  He is extremely talented and at this young age to be able to produce these harmonies…it is just marvelous.”

Looking at Jeff I see a 6ft tall strapping young man who could easily pass for a football player, gently encouraging a nine yr. old to sing a solo line in the chorus.   I think back to the time I first met Jeff when he was 14 years old.  The shy freshman had come to join the Center Stage Singers in singing carols during the Las Posadas festivities at Mission San Jose.  I remember him being nervous at having to sing a solo in front of a small audience but still going ahead gamely to not only sing Jingle Bells but do so while having a six year old on his shoulders and dress up as Santa Claus in front of the audience all the while singing … and now three years later to see him come such a long way and actually be a vocal director is as Nancy said “…just marvelous”.

Jeff Oliveira spent his childhood believing his friends and thinking he was a terrible singer.  When he entered Junior High at Hopkins he had a semester of the music wheel.  At the end of the semester his teacher told him he had great potential and asked him if he would like to enroll in Drama II in the 8th grade.  Delighted to think he had potential, Jeff ended up taking Drama II.  In the summer of 8th grade he went to see his best friend rehearse for a play with West of Broadway Youth Theatre.  Thinking back Jeff says “ I was so taken up by the excitement of the theatre that I just wanted to be a part of it.  I went to Knuti Van Hoven who was directing the play and asked her if I could help out in the technical area.  She looked at me and said “are you sure you don’t want to act?”  She later took me to the back of the theatre and asked me to sing Happy Birthday. She told me that I had been on key and definitely had potential.”  Jeff ended up being cast in the play Anything Goes and also getting a solo song.  “It took a lot of work and courage to go up and sing the solo song but it got easier every night I performed.” says Jeff with a smile.

Jeff continued with drama as a freshman in Mission San Jose High School and did tech as he felt he still was not ready to do the show as an actor.  During this time he however ended up being cast in Stage 1’s Guys and Dolls as they needed someone to fill in for an actor who left abruptly.  “That show helped break my shyness.  I had to learn the part in three weeks.  It was exciting to be part of a cast where people from all walks of life came together to do something they loved.  It changed my life, broadened my vision and I started enjoying singing on stage.”

Jeff’s confidence grew when as a sophomore he got into the advanced Chamber Chorale group at Mission San Jose High School and also in the advanced singing group Thor Throats.  That same year he was also cast in the leading role of Captain Von Trapp in the musical Sound of Music.

It was at this time that he saw his first Star Struck production The Enchanted Sleeping Beauty.  Seeing it Jeff was struck by the professional quality of the show and the cast and again had the urge to want to be a part of it.  He asked director Lori Stokes if she needed any help backstage.  As luck would have it Stokes said that the show was going to be performed for one evening at Mission San Jose High School and she needed someone to do the spotlight.  Jeff jumped at the chance and became a Star Struck family member.  From there he made a cameo appearance as FDR in their next musical Annie Jr. and went on to play the lead as Cinderella’s Prince in the last Star Struck musical Into the Woods.

Jeff Oliveira always wanted to be a teacher right from grade school.  While playing Captain Hook in Irvington’s musical Peter Pan, he one day suddenly realized that he would love to put his two passions together, teaching and singing and become a music teacher.  While hearing the score for Honk! during the Into the Woods cast party he wondered if he could ask Lori Stokes if he could assist as a student vocal director.  “I felt that if she gave me this opportunity I could explore and see if I really enjoyed teaching music before I spent my money on expensive schools.”  Jeff gathered his nerve and put forth his idea to Lori Stokes.  He was astonished when she immediately replied that he could assist if he wanted to but she would need to talk to Nancy Godfrey who had just agreed to be the music director for the show.  Nancy agreed immediately and Jeff was invited to be the vocal director.  “Nancy and Lori said that I should actually be the Vocal Director with Nancy helping me.  That was awesome.”   Jeff pauses and then continues, “ It is so easy to work here.  Everyone wants to be here, singing, dancing, acting … and Nancy she has made this a wonderful experience.  She always asks my opinion, making me feel important.  It is so gratifying.  I am so grateful to Lori for giving me this opportunity.  This is such a hard show.  The music is meant for adults but Lori has made it possible for kids to do it.  It is great to work with her, she is a wonderful director and Matt Sa as assistant director, Marlene Borlaug with the costumes, Nancy with the music.  It is such a great mix of people.  Rehearsals are so exciting.  It is fun to work with the kids and see their faces when they have got it.  If I could pass on this passion to another child I would feel satisfied.  I can see myself doing this for the rest of my life.”  Jeff Oliveira is a senior at Mission San Jose High School and plans to pursue a degree in Music Performance and Music Education.

Come and see this wonderful pair and hear their great music in Honk! Premiering in the South East Bay, Honk! is scheduled to open on December 19th, 2003 and will run through December 21st, 2003, with four public performances. Performances will be at Jackson Theatre, Ohlone College.  Performance days and times are Friday December 19 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday December 20 at 2:00 and at 7:30 p.m.  Star Struck is also doing a special show for the Ohlone Family series on Sunday December 21 at 2:00 p.m.  For information on Corporate or Community Sponsorship or to buy tickets visit the Star Struck website at www.starstrucktheatre.org.  Tickets for Honk! can also be bought by calling (510) 659-6031.  Ticket prices are Adults $18 and students/seniors $10.