Lively Arts by Margot Abbott

by Margot Abbott
Valley Times – July 24, 2008

I always like discovering a new performing arts group, especially one that does musicals, holds classes and takes theater to their community.

StarStruck Theatre is a youth theater that has won awards such as Silicon Valley 2007 Theatre Awards and Bay Area Parents Best of the Best, also in 2007. Doing shows such as “Peter Pan,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and even “Into the Woods,” the group has given hundreds of young performers invaluable lessons in team work, self-esteem and just plain fun.

On the group’s Web site, founder and director Lori Stokes has this to say: “The theater gives kids more opportunities. This is so great for them. There’s so much more to life than just school work … we become a family.”

Stokes, who has a degree in theater from San Diego University and singing and acting experience going back to her childhood, was asked to sing at a fundraiser for the Fremont Education Foundation. Instead, she put together a short performance featuring children.

Afterwards, parents in the audience encouraged her to start a program for their children and StarStruck Theatre was born. That was 13 years ago.

Rehearsing in Stokes’ living room, the 30-minute program played at rest homes and schools for two years. They entered competitions and won plenty of awards, proving that Stokes was on to something.

But, as she said, “I wanted more.” The group’s first full-fledged show, “A Little Princess,” was staged at Broadway West Theatre in Fremont in 1997, and the entire run was sold out.

Which has been the story of every production. That is one of the happy aspects of doing theater with kids. Every relative has to come, every neighbor, teacher — and they have to come often. But what a great experience for the young performers, some of whom remained with Stokes for years.

“Starting with small roles, I’ve seen them grow in confidence and ability until they were able to handle major roles,” Stokes said, who is married and has three children.

This summer, the musical lover’s musical, “42nd Street” opens Aug. 1 at the Jackson Theater on the Ohlone Campus in Fremont and plays for 11 performances. Full of tapping feet and familiar tunes, “42nd Street” was created from the Busby Berkeley movie and won a Tony Award in 1980 and again, as a revival in 2001.

It tells the story of the starry-eyed girl who goes to New York City to become a star on Broadway. She finds romance and stardom and along the way sings and dances to some terrific songs: “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.”

“42nd Street” plays Aug 1 to 16. Performances are on Fridays, Saturdays and two Thursdays at 8 p.m.; and Sundays and two Saturdays at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $18 to $22 and are available at 510-659-1319; at the Ohlone Box Office at 510-659-6031 or online at www.starstrucktheatre.org.

I’d like to urge anyone with young performers to take a look at StarStruck’s Web site. The group holds workshops and classes in musical theater. And you know that taking drama, music or dance classes is not only for kids who dream of becoming professionals.

Their next production will be “The Wizard of Oz” in January. Check their Web site in August for audition information.