Night of Thrills and Laughter: Local Production Company stages ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ the Musical

posted Oct 10, 2015, 2:33 PM by Ghostlight Productions   [ updated Oct 10, 2015, 2:34 PM ]

Members of Ghostlight Productions will be staging the musical ‘Little Shop of Horrors on July 31 and Aug. 1.

(Article published in the North Bergen Reporter on July 19, 2015)

Horrors are brewing in North Hudson. A whole Little Shop full. 

The popular musical comedy “Little Shop of Horrors” will play for two nights only, July 31 and Aug. 1, at the Weehawken Elks Lodge at 2 - 50th St. All but one member of the cast are from North Bergen. Many of them are former students of music teacher Melissa Welz at Horace Mann School.

Welz is the co-founder of Ghostlight Productions, a local theater group created to stage performances and hold theater workshops for residents and neighbors. The group was established three years ago as the North Bergen Public Library Theater and performed one play each summer.

“Melissa was the director of that and the library was the producer,” said Manuel Ribes, one of the board members of Ghostlight and director of the upcoming play. “But she wanted to branch off and do her own program so we could do more risqué material. It’s still the same group of performers.”

Thus Ghostlight Productions was formed last year and has so far staged the musical “Rent” and a cabaret show at Christmas.

“Little Shop of Horrors” is their third production, and their most ambitious to date, for several reasons.

“The play is about 80 percent music so that was tricky,” said Welz. “It’s six-part harmony.”

_____________

“He wanted it to be grotesque looking… lots of lumps, lots of veins,

like it will eat you if you came near it.” –Cynthia Hutson
____________

Plus there was the fact that the co-star of the show is a talking plant, Audrey II, who begins small but grows increasingly larger and more menacing over the course of the narrative. Not only is the plant an animate object, but – spoiler alert (in case the title didn’t warn you) – it craves human flesh and blood.


At first Welz looked to rent the prop plants but that quickly proved impractical.

“There was one in Boston, the cost was $500 but it was over $600 to ship,” she said.

So the company opted to make their own. “Making the plants was the hardest part,” said Welz. “Cynthia Hutson, the art teacher at the high school is making them. She’s incredible. I grew up with her and she used to sing in the chorus and last year she was in ‘Rent.’ My father’s making the big monster at the end. He’s a mechanical engineer.”

“This is baby Audrey,” said Hutson, proudly showing off the first version of the plant to take the stage. “This is going to be a smaller hand puppet Audrey and it’s going to be sitting in a small pot. She’s not quite done yet. We have a bigger size Audrey that one of the cast members is going to be holding as a puppet attached to his costume. And then there’s the bigger Audrey which doesn’t even fit in my car.”

The prop is made from foam and lightweight materials so it is flexible and easy to manipulate. “Manny said he didn’t want it to be like a ‘cute’ Audrey,” said Hutson. “He wanted it to be grotesque looking, and that’s right up my alley. So lots of lumps, lots of veins, like it will eat you if you came near it.”

Once the production is over, Welz hopes to make the props available online for use by other local production companies. “I want to help other community theaters as well,” she said.


A growing reputation

L
upita Asto plays Audrey II, a role that ensures the actress is never actually seen on stage. “She’s going to be voicing it while we have a puppeteer puppeteering it,” said Ribes.

Like several of the cast members, Asto stumbled across Ghostlight on social media. “Someone posted it on Instagram and I saw auditions for the cabaret show. So I auditioned and that’s how I got involved,” she said. Since then she has been a regular in the troupe. 

All 15 cast members for “Little Shop of Horrors” sing in their roles. About half of the actors are new to Ghostlight, with four of them new to the stage.

“For ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ we had open auditions, but we kind of knew who would come out and audition,” said Welz, noting that the group has grown largely by word of mouth and by reputation. “Each show we do brings out more people to audition, like a friend of a friend who came to the show. What is different about our theater company is we’re really like a family. If we don’t have a rehearsal, we’ll go bowling or go see a movie. We really bond. There’s never any drama in our cast whatsoever.”

In addition to Welz and Ribes, the board consists of Heather Zahn, who co-founded Ghostlight with Welz, and Veronica Franco. Zahn is the stage manager and Franco works with costumes and props. Both also perform in the show.

Welz, in addition to being the music director, plays one of the lead roles: Audrey (the human, not the plant). 


Making it happen

Rehearsals of the play have been taking place in the hall behind the Grove Reformed Church at 46th Street and Kennedy Boulevard. Pastor Steven Germoso connected with Welz on Instagram (how else?) and graciously offered space to prepare for the performances. 

“He’s a very nice guy,” said Welz. “I told him I have no place where I can perform. He opened his doors and said, ‘Why don’t you rehearse in my church home?’ Without him the cast can’t dance, we can’t block.”

Preparing for a stage musical is hard work, and not cheap. “It costs so much for royalty fees and rights to put on a musical,” said Welz. “I’d estimate so far it’s cost about $1500. Every day you do a performance you pay royalties. The plant was a big expense. When I rent out the halls, it costs money. We need a permanent space. I really wish Ghostlight had a space we could always perform in. We need a home.”

Tickets to “Little Shop of Horrors” cost $15 ($12 for students and seniors). “The money goes toward Ghostlight Productions,” said Welz. “What I want to do is have more musical theater workshops and make the next musical even bigger.”

Upcoming from the troupe will be a Halloween cabaret. “We want to do something different,” said Welz. “People always have cabarets around Christmas but we did that last year. We want to do a cool, magical, scary Halloween cabaret. We’ll do ‘Thriller’ and the songs from ‘Nightmare before Christmas’ and ‘Rocky Horror Show.’”

Performances of “Little Shop of Horrors” will take place at 8 p.m. on Friday, July 31 and Saturday, Aug. 1 at the Weehawken Elks Lodge, 2 - 50th St. For tickets or more information email ghostlightproductionsnb@gmail.com or call (973) 937-8343. 

Article written by Art Schwartz. He may be reached at arts@hudsonreporter.com.


Read more: Hudson Reporter - Night of thrills and laughter Local production company stages Little Shop of Horrors the musical 

Theater Activists Production Company: Founded by Teacher, to Stage More Local Musicals

posted Oct 10, 2015, 2:26 PM by Ghostlight Productions   [ updated Oct 10, 2015, 2:26 PM ]

GHOSTLIGHTERS – Ghostlight founder Melissa Welz (center) runs the troupe with Paula Ribeiro and Heather Zahn.

(Article published in the North Bergen Reporter on June 22, 2014)

Fans of musical theater have a reason to rejoice in North Bergen. The newly launched Ghostlight Productions has announced plans to stage local musicals for residents at venues around town.

Ghostlight is actually not entirely new. Formed two years ago by music teacher Melissa Welz, they were previously known as the North Bergen Public Library Theater. Under the auspices of the library, they staged one play each summer for the past two years. 

Now established as an independent entity, they hope to branch out and increase the number of productions.


Bringing musical theater to North Bergen

Welz has been a music teacher and choir teacher at Horace Mann School for seven years. A native of North Bergen, she said, “Growing up I wanted to be in more shows around where I live.”

And so she made it happen. Enlisting her students as well as those from other schools, she established an acting troupe to produce musicals. That left just one problem: where to put them on.

Her answer came from Library Director Sai Rao. “I went to her two years ago and I said ‘Listen, I don’t have any money to put on a show, would you help me out?’” said Welz. “Because it costs a lot. And she helped fund us for the past two years. If it wasn’t for her I would’ve never been able to do this.”

_____________

“We’re setting out to provide Hudson County with a safe place for kids to go

 where they can be off the street, where they can learn a skill.” –Heather Zahn
____________

With the library’s patronage, they were able to produce Fame two years ago as a free show for North Bergen residents. The show was a hit, and the next year they put on another musical.


“Since it was free, we had a huge majority of North Bergen come out to see this is how musicals are,” said Welz. “So it opened a lot of eyes. And that’s why this year I decided to establish myself because I want to charge for tickets. I want to do things in New York and I have to start charging.”

In addition to expanding into new venues, she hopes to feature more adult content, actors, and audiences. Recently they held auditions for their next production, Rent.

More than 70 people turned up for auditions, despite the lack of advertising. The only notification was word of mouth and flyers in the schools.


Launching Ghostlight

On June 5, Ghostlight Productions held a launch party/fundraiser at Marinero Grill in West New York. Friends and supporters of the arts turned out to contribute to the cause.


At the same time, they were treated to a selection of musical numbers from some of the Ghostlight troupe. Many of the numbers had been featured in a performance two weeks earlier at a cabaret showcase in New York.

“These were my past students, about three-quarters of them,” said Welz of the singers. “A lot of them go to North Bergen High School so I’ve had some of them since they were in sixth grade. They’re all North Bergen residents.”

“I’ve lived in North Bergen all my life and I’ve had numerous music teachers that helped me so much in my life and I want to give back to the community,” Welz added. “One of my jobs that I like very much is to seek out talent. Like Chelsea. She was the shiest person in fourth grade. If it wasn’t for music she would never come out of her shell. I taught her at Horace Mann. She was in my chorus for I think three years.”

Chelsea Mesa sang at the launch party. A member of the troupe for three years now, she joined in seventh grade. “I started off in an ensemble,” she said. “With other people from other schools, other residents. Different age groups, which was pretty cool. We were pushing ourselves to sing better and learn how to read music, and dance, which I really needed.”

But it wasn’t all fun and games. “I had stage fright, like nerves. It was so bad,” she said. So why did she choose to get up on stage? “I’m pushing myself, trying to face my fears. And everybody helped each other. We all supported each other.”

Now she sees a career in the arts. “This has actually inspired me to write,” Mesa said. “I want to pursue something in music. Whether it’s writing, directing, or being in it myself. I just know music is it.”


Teaching kids skills

Welz has big goals for Ghostlight. In addition to more performances, she envisions holding workshops for budding performers. A former Broadway performer herself—she was in Mary Poppins for two years—Welz hopes to tap into her network to help out. 

“I know some of the Broadway actors and I could see if they want to come to our community and give a workshop,” she said. “For High Tech students, for North Bergen High School students, just students who want to learn what it takes to be on Broadway. I’m trying to get Idina Menzel.”

Partnering with Welz in Ghostlight are two longtime friends. Paula Ribeiro and Heather Zahn know Welz from college and grammar school respectively. Zahn reconnected when she auditioned for Fame and got the part… then gave it up.

“We wanted to make sure we got all kids so we ended up replacing me with kids,” said Zahn. “And I stayed on as stage manager. And she hasn’t been able to get rid of me since.”

Describing Ghostlight’s goals, Zahn said, “We’re setting out to provide Hudson County with a safe place for kids to go where they can be off the street, where they can learn a skill, like public speaking. Even if they don’t want to become actors.”

Article written by Art Schwartz may be reached at arts@hudsonreporter.com

Read more: Hudson Reporter - Theater activists Production company founded by teacher to stage more local musicals 

‘Fame Jr.’ Onstage This Weekend: Young Cast of Local Actors Bonded as a Family During Rehearsals

posted Oct 10, 2015, 2:07 PM by Ghostlight Productions   [ updated Oct 10, 2015, 2:18 PM ]

(Article published in the North Bergen Reporter on August 26, 2012)

Fame Jr.,” featuring a cast ranging in age from nine to 19 years old, was scheduled to take the stage in the North Bergen High School Auditorium at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 24 and Saturday, Aug. 25. The North Bergen Library is hosting the musical with free admission for the public. The high school is located at 7414 Kennedy Blvd. 

Two days of auditions brought out 85 hopefuls from which 30 members were cast. 

“They’ve come a long way since seeing them at auditions,” said Co-Director Paula Ribeiro. 

The “Fame Jr.” cast rehearsed for two months before opening night, every week on Monday through Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. Only one performer dropped out due to a family emergency. 

Director Melissa Welz, a music teacher at the local Horace Mann School, said that originally the cast members stuck to their age groups but have now become one large family. 

“They have grown,” said Welz. “They’re skilled, they know what discipline is.”

_____________

“Hudson County has a lot of heart.” – Director Melissa Welz

____________

Welz thought the older cast would be an issue but they actually helped the younger ones. “A lot of the older ones took on roles as mentors,” said Ribeiro.

Welz thinks the shy kids that auditioned are now more outgoing. 

“If you have a self-confidence problem or you’re shy, do a musical,” said Welz.

During rehearsal, tips were given to the cast. “No gum and cellphones,” said Ribeiro. “There were no smartphones in the ’80s.”


‘Fame Jr.’?

M
any of the cast members were familiar with the original “Fame,” which began as a hit movie in 1980 and was later adapted into a six-season TV show and a stage show. It was recently remade for the movies. But the cast had not heard of “Fame Jr.”

Welz said that unlike the original, the scenes are shorter, and with no cursing. For character Carmen Diaz, who has a drug addiction, there are no drugs shown, just the effects the drugs do to her. 

“Every character is different and every character has their own problem,” said Welz. 

One of the “Fame Jr.” characters that made an impression on Welz is Tyrone Jackson, because he has a learning disability that is diagnosed by a teacher like herself. 

Tyler Griffin, 18, plays Tyrone. He has performed in an Off-Broadway production of “High School Musical” prior to “Fame Jr.” Griffin describes Tyrone as a frustrated person who is very talented. 

“I’m a little hard headed and I can be difficult at times,” said Griffin. “The character is fun.”

Janelle Guevarra, 17, plays Mrs. Esther Sherman, one of the teachers. She was chosen as Mrs. Sherman although she
auditioned for Carmen. Her character is strict and intimidates the students. Guevarra compares Sherman to an older sister with “tough love” methods. Guevarra believes she was chosen for the role because she is loud and can project her voice. She aspires to become an actress. 

“I found myself morphing into her character,” said Guevarra. “I learned that she has compassion.”

Natassha Rivera, 16, plays Mabel Washington. She relates to the character because she is not a typical skinny dancer. Her character gets made fun of, something Rivera admits she experiences in her own life. She enjoys the retro ’80s clothes which ties into her love for fashion. Rivera helped many of her cast members with their costumes. 

“You have to know how to stay strong and be yourself,” said Rivera. “Do what makes you happy and don’t let anyone interfere.” 


Show your support

Come out and come see what we’re made of,” said Welz. “I really want the...people of North Bergen to see how great they are. People don’t understand how much work goes into this.”

Welz could not believe the show was free and did not need fundraising. 

“Normally a show like this is a $25 ticket,” said Welz. “I can’t believe no fundraisers [were] needed.”

She thanked the cast, Library Director Sai Rao, the Library Board, Mayor Nicholas Sacco, the Board of Education, the North Bergen High School Music Department, District Music Supervisor George Haviland, and custodians at North Bergen High School. 

“They [the library] helped me so much with this production,” said Welz. “They always want to try new things. If I had a problem I went to her [Sai Rao] and she took care of it. How great this town helps in the arts, they really do support the arts...”

After the musical is over Welz believes the cast will have “after show illness,” when actors go from an all-time high to depression because the show has come to an end. 


Future prospects

For future productions, Welz would like to do “Sweeney Todd” or “West Side Story.” 

She has directed several plays such as “Into the Woods,” “A Christmas Carol” and “Annie” in Ridgefield. This is her first play in Hudson County. 

Guevarra loved working with Welz and knows that there will be more projects in the future.

“Mrs. Welz has become like a mother. She’s hard, but at the same time she’s welcoming, she’s warm,” said Janelle. 

“North Bergen makes my dreams come true,” said Welz. “Hudson County has a lot of heart. It’s passion they have.”

Those interested can come to North Bergen High School for either performance. 


Article written by Vanessa Cruz in the North Bergen Reporter on August 26, 2012


Read more: Hudson Reporter - Fame Jr onstage this weekend Young cast of local actors bonded as a family during rehearsals 

Local Kids Reach for Fame Jr. : More Than 60 Audition for Local Musical

posted Oct 10, 2015, 10:11 AM by Melissa Welz   [ updated Oct 10, 2015, 2:17 PM by Ghostlight Productions ]

AUDITIONS RIGHT THIS WAY – Auditions took place in the lower level concert hall.  
(Article published in the North Bergen Reporter on June 17, 2012)

Sisters Yasmeen and Nadene Abdel Kader have appeared in off-Broadway plays in New York, but nothing major in their hometown of North Bergen. That’s why they showed up to the lower level concert hall at the North Bergen library on Tuesday.

“I usually do small [plays] like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ or ‘The Little Mermaid,’ ” said Nadene, who is 10. “I like to sing and I really like to act ‘cause it’s actually fun.”

The North Bergen Public Library held auditions Tuesday and Wednesday for their summer musical, “Fame Jr.,” which is only open to North Bergen and Guttenberg residents ages 10 to 18. “Fame Jr.” follows students who progress through four years of intense artistic and academic training. It’s similar to the movie musical “Fame,” except the kids are younger. The musical will highlight the issues that face many youths today.

_____________

“It’s a variety of dancing and singing and that’s what they [students] want.


They go through what’s written in the script.” - Melissa Welz

____________

Students were asked to sing a song that showcases their vocal range. Actors were asked to read from the script. Some students wore dance shoes or sneakers for the dance portion of auditions.

The first day of auditions attracted more than 60 kids.


More sister acts

A
t the auditions, sisterly companionship was also displayed between Melissa Welz, a music teacher at Horace Mann School, and Krista Welz, who’s in charge of children’s literature at the library. Both women helped set up the auditions, and Melissa will be a director of the play.

The panel of judges ranged from teachers to an acting teacher from New York.

Many of the students who came to audition had experience in dancing, singing, or playing an instrument. Some had experience in more than one talent. Genesis Cevallos, 11, said she had five years of dance experience and also plays the saxophone.

Tiffanie Leon-Ryan, 15, plays guitar and sings. Sophia Abraham, 11, has dance experience and sings in the choir at Kennedy School.

The auditions ranged from pop to soulful performances.


Waiting for their time to shine

T
he kids were excited to audition.

“I’ve never really done anything with my town, acting, so this is a really great opportunity,” said Yasmeen Abdel Kader. “Aside from what I do in New York, off Broadway plays... I always loved acting, it’s like you get to be somebody you’re not.”

“I’ve been singing since I was nine,” said Paula Montesno, 18, number 25 on the list for auditions. “I’ve been playing the clarinet since I was 9 too so I’m really music oriented. Last year I was in a play called ‘The Three Musketeers.’ I just love performing... I’m going to be [singing] ‘Love’ by Nat King Cole.”

She added, “[The library] offers a lot of things that people don’t really notice, and I didn’t notice until I started tutoring and coming every week. I think our library’s pretty awesome. We’re getting our tax dollars’ worth.”

Montesino said that they chose the right person in picking Melissa Welz. She said Welz is assertive music-wise, yet is very welcoming.

Alexander Arango waited exuberantly outside the door as he watched his daughter Christi perform. Christi has participated in ballet and cheerleading. Arango joked that Christi sings at home all day. One of the judges told her she has a great “R&B voice.”


Dedication

A
fter the first day of auditions, Melissa Welz said that the kids were “phenomenal!” The cast lists will be distributed on Monday in schools and people who are chosen will be emailed or called directly.

Rehearsals begin next week, according to Welz. 

Performances are Aug. 24 and 25 at 7 p.m.

Fame Jr. will be directed by Melissa Welz and Paula Ribeiro. Music Direction will be done by Melissa Welz with choreography by Arlene Ng. For any further information contact: nbfpltheatre@gmail.com.


Article written by Vanessa Cruz from the North Bergen Reporter on June 17, 2012


Read more: Hudson Reporter - Local kids reach for Fame Jr More than 60 audition for local musical 

1-4 of 4