Mendoncas Make Oliver! A Family Affaire

by Praveena Raman
Tri-City Voice – May 11, 29004

Star Struck Musical Theatre is a youth theatre whose forte is musicals while Broadway West Theatre is a community theatre for adults. When both theaters decided to join hands and co-produce Oliver!, it presented the perfect opportunity for a theatrical family.

On the Star Struck Musical Theatre website, the community is invited to “Consider yourself part of our family” and “Join us for a season of family entertainment.” The Mendonca family decided to take Star Struck up on their invitation and brought a different dimension to family involvement in Oliver! The children would perform as Fagin’s boys but there would be no “stage parents” since according to Ray Mendonca’s email invitation to see the play, the entire Mendonca family would perform in Oliver! – Ray as Fagin, Claire as the strawberry seller and Amy and Marie Claire (M.C.) as Fagin’s boys.

Ray and Claire Mendonca are both native Fremonters who grew up in the Irvington area. Claire attended St. Edwards and later, Irvington High School, while Ray attended Irvington Elementary School, Horner Jr. High and Irvington High School.

Both Claire and Ray were exposed to music at an early age. Ray started learning the organ when he was six years old and continued until early high school. Claire started playing the piano when she was six years old and later, the organ. Both started working as organist in their respective churches in their early teens and at weddings helping with funds for their college education.

At Irvington High School, Claire was part of the advanced Choir from her freshman year and continued until graduation. Ray was not part of the choir as a freshman but performed in the school’s musical, “The Roar of the Grease paint, The Smell of the Crowd” – a British Musical and a contemporary of Oliver! – directed by Dr. Garo Mirigan, music teacher at Irvington at that time and now Centerville Jr. High’s principal. In his sophomore year Ray joined Thor Throats, a music group started in 1969 by Dr. Mirigan. From then on, he continued to sing and act in the different school musicals, often as the lead, including “Mr. Toad Rides Again” (Mr. Toad) and “Mame” (Patrick).

In her junior year at Irvington, Claire also performed in “Mame” as part of the chorus but it was not until their senior year, in 1973, when Claire joined the Thor Throats, that their paths crossed and they actually “met.” This was the year that Mrs. Lee Glover started directing the Thor Throats (she still continues to direct it at both Irvington and Mission High Schools). Claire adds, “Ray and I were reminiscing that the first time we really noticed each other was during a Thor Throats performance and the location of that performance was in the space that is now Broadway West Theatre.” After all these years they are now acting together in Oliver! – in that very same space.

Following high school graduation, both Ray and Claire attended college in San Jose. Ray finished with a degree in Theatre Arts with an emphasis on Children’s Theatre and Claire received a degree in music. While in college Claire continued singing in the choir while Ray performed in different musicals and was part of a group that performed at different elementary schools in the South and East Bay including Fremont. Ray also worked in the “summer stock” program at the Barn Theatre in Michigan. “The summer stock program is actually a very intense program but lots of fun.” says Ray. “We produce 7 or 8 shows, both musicals and non-musicals in a very short period of time.” In this program, performers are working on different aspects of a show from learning the script, to blocking, costumes, set building, lighting, sound and so on during the day while at night, they are performing a show. “We put together a non-musical in a week and a musical in two weeks.” continues Ray. “It was an excellent experience.” Ray moved on to New York and worked on an Off Off Broadway production, “Any Night In Greenwich Village.” Ray preferred living in Fremont and returned to work as Director of Human Relations in a biotechnology firm.

Claire, after receiving her undergraduate degree in Music, studied for a teaching credential. However at that time, due to Prop 13, music programs in the schools were being cut so she decided to pursue a Masters in Human Resources and Organization Development. Until very recently she worked as Human Resources Director for a telecommunications firm in Fremont.

Ray and Claire married and decided to settle in Fremont. Even though both were working in the Human Resources area, they retained their passion for music and theatre. Ray continued to act in a variety of productions with different theatre companies including San Jose Stage Company, Foothill College, San Francisco Theatre and San Jose Civic Light Opera. He was awarded the Dean Goodman Choice Award for “She Loves Me” at Foothill College. He has also performed, directed and taught theatre at Ohlone College. Claire and Ray have also continued to sing and play together at weddings and, with their daughter Amy, sing at St. Joseph’s fundraisers where Claire currently works as a musician.

When Amy was in first grade the Mendoncas were first introduced to Star Struck Musical Theatre. They saw Thumbelina and later Sleeping Beauty (both at Broadway West Theatre). “I was amazed at what I saw.” says Ray. “The high professional quality of the productions and how entertaining and enjoyable the youth actors made the show. It bowled me over and I kept thinking how the director gets them to do this.” After seeing those shows they decided to have their daughter Amy, who was exhibiting all the talent of her parents, audition for Star Struck’s next show, Annie Jr. They have never regretted their decision and Amy has gone on to perform in three other Star Struck shows, joined in the last show, Honk!, by her sister M.C.

When auditions for Oliver! were announced, both girls decided to audition for the parts of Fagin’s boys. Claire thought it would be a great opportunity for Ray to act with his daughters. Knowing Ray’s talent and experience, she persuaded him to audition for the part of Fagin. When the cast list was announced they were excited to find out that Ray had been cast as Fagin and the girls as Fagin’s boys. A few weeks later at the cast party of Honk!, Lori asked Claire if she would like to be in the chorus for one of the songs in Oliver! Claire jokingly said “sure” not realizing until the cast list came out that Lori had been serious.

Once they were cast, the Mendoncas saw many versions of Oliver! to prepare for their roles. Ray recently even flew to Arkansas for a weekend to see the traveling show since it was not scheduled to come to California. Ray, Claire, Amy and M.C. are enjoying working together. “It is really nice that I have some lines with each of my daughters,” mentions Ray, looking proudly at them. “Yes” laughs Amy “I love to pick my dad’s pocket in “Pick a Pocket or Two”. “And I love it when he picks me up and says ‘What a Crook'” chimes in little M.C.

Both Claire and Ray feel that Star Struck is a high quality children’s theatre and Fremont is very lucky to have a director of Lori Stokes caliber. “It has really been a pleasure working with Lori,” says Ray. “She never talks down to the children and never hurts a child’s esteem in any way. It is wonderful how she works with the children and makes it a wonderful experience for them while producing a great show for all of us. Also she has no ego problems and allows the adults in the show the freedom to think and suggest ways of performing a part.” “It is wonderful that she will be directing her future shows at Ohlone College,” continues Claire. “Lori’s shows really need to be showcased on a professional stage like the one at Smith center.”

Oliver! a musical based on Charles Dickens Oliver Twist is directed by Lori Stokes and co-produced by Star Struck Musical Theatre and Broadway West Theatre. It opened on May 7th and continues through June 6th at Broadway West Theatre, 4000 B Bay Street Fremont, CA 94538. For show dates and times and for tickets call (510) 683-9218 or visit or