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Friends: Bryant Montalvo (center) poses with flappers Caroline Citelli (bottom, left), Alex Wood (bottom, right) and (top, left to right) Brooke Beytin, Tayer James and Kylie Brunngraber.

Dapper Flappers

By Marianne Messina

AT A REHEARSAL for the musical The Boyfriend, moms of the Children's Musical Theater cast members are setting up the Riviera tables, chairs and benches. It's going to be a big scene, with four ensembles and costumes galore: flappers with their feathers and headdresses, tango dancers (boys in cummerbunds and girls in black, elbow-high gloves), waiters in crisp tuxedos and everyone in masks. Most of the costumes are put together by volunteer wonder-mom Lisa Laymon. Without parental assistance, this show, with 140 cast members from ages 8 to 13, would probably never get off the ground.

The story, mounted as part of Children's Musical Theater Rising Star Production series, follows the romances of five finishing-school girls over the course of a single day. "They all get proposed to by the end of the night," says director Shannon Self. Directing four ensemble groups at once, Self sits at a table in front of the gymnasium-size roomful of kids in all their bouncy effervescence. But watching these youngsters rehearse, it's hard not to be struck by their professionalism.

They've put The Boyfriend, which requires line memorization, singing, choreography and dialect coaching (by musical director Tony Asaro and an English mom), together in about a month. The lead actors, who are mostly 13 and 14, have no problems understanding that the musical is a parody. "It's mocking Broadway productions in the 1920s, so all of the scenes are really dramatic," explains Julie Umstetter, who's playing Dulcie. "Guys like her," Umstetter says of her character, "but she's naive about it. She's the blonde of the group; she's the ditz."

According to actor Joey Dippel, his character, Bobby Van Husen, is the American, "a Frank Sinatra" type, very conceited. "I like the conceited part," he says, "because it's kind of fun to let loose and be self-absorbed and care all about yourself." Mimi Robinson, who's playing headmistress Madam Dubonnet, already thinks like a director; she knows when the company should be finished working on blocking and she leaves auditions with cast lists in her head. "I write it all down, who should play what." They know that some of the original script has been expurgated. "I have somewhat of a fling with an older married guy," says Umstetter of Dulcie, "But they try to play down on that."

Self went through the script to make it age appropriate. "The ages for the show are 8 to 13," Dippel pipes in. "We want to definitely keep this on the down-low." Barely in their teens, these actors have already developed audition strategies and have accepted the rigors of musical theater, but their work ethic is gracefully tempered by not taking themselves too seriously. "The show is like the worst-written script in the world," Dippel says with a knowing laugh. He points out that Bobby's marriage proposal is pretty "cheesy." "But that's what makes it funny."

The Boyfriend, a Children's Musical Theater Rising Star Production, plays Thursday-Friday at 7pm, Saturday at noon, 4 and 8pm and Sunday at 1 and 5pm at the Montgomery Theater, Market and San Carlos streets, San Jose. Tickets are $7.25$15. (408.288.5437, ext. 310)

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From the February 23-March 1, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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