By May S. Ruiz
Susan Egan, musical theatre, television and film star, will delight audiences during a night of Broadway at the California School of the Arts-San Gabriel Valley’s (CSArts-SGV) inaugural fundraising celebration, ‘Unplugged with Susan Egan.’
A cabaret-style show, ‘Unplugged’ will also feature 17 CSArts-SGV’s bright and talented students as they perform songs from popular musicals and films including ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ ‘Wicked’ and more. It is being held on Saturday, May 12, with two performances at 5:00 pm and 7:30 pm in the gorgeous, state-of-the-art Barrett Hall at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music. A silent auction and cocktail reception for all guests begin at 6:15 pm. To purchase tickets, visit sgv.csarts.net/boxoffice.
Egan has headlined on Broadway in the title role of ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie,’ won critical acclaim as Sally Bowles in ‘Cabaret,’ and received the Tony Award and Drama Desk nomination for Best Actress as the original Belle in Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ A seasoned voice actress, she has starred as Megan in ‘Hercules,’ Lin in ‘Spirited Away,’ and recently, Rose Quartz in the hit Disney cartoon ‘Steven Universe.’
Nicole Slessor, an 11th grader from Monrovia, will be singing the alto part in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’ Over the past few weeks, she and other student performers have been going into a practice room during office hours recording their parts. She has also been practicing at home in preparation for the full group rehearsals with Egan.
This isn’t Slessor’s first involvement in a CSArts-SGV production. She says, “I am in FUSION, so I do shows that represent the school around the community. We recently performed at Grand Park L.A. I am also in the Commercial Dance Conservatory, and I have participated in the winter, spring and, most recently, the Student Choreography show, which I directed!”
“At first it was difficult for me to balance academics and art, but then I started to realize that the school gives us a variety of opportunities to focus on our academics,” discloses Slessor. “Teachers keep their doors open at lunch and I go in to study and do homework. I also use office hours as a time to organize as well as finish the to-do checklist I keep in my planner. Having three AP classes is a lot of work, but the school definitely helps us out.”
Being in this show is such a thrill for Slessor. She states, “A few years ago Susan came and did a similar event with the theatre program at Monrovia High School, which I attended, so I know of her. It also doesn’t hurt that my two favorite Disney movies are ‘Hercules’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast.’
“I am very interested in taking arts in college and as a future career,” continues Slessor. “I am trained in theatre jazz dance, so I am looking at programs that have a strong jazz course. My goal after college is to become a Radio City Rockette and perform on Broadway. And when my dance career is over I would like to tour with a dance company as a therapist for dancers.” Spoken like a young woman who has put a great deal of thought about her future.
Ninth grader Jessie Ellico Franks, from Sierra Madre, is in the Acting Conservatory and will be singing The Schuyler Sister with two other girls and other songs as part of the ensemble.
Like Slessor, Franks isn’t new to school productions. She enumerates, “I have been in ‘The Yellow Boat,’ a tale about a young boy with an enormous imagination; in the musical ‘Pippin,’ which tells about a man trying to find purpose in life; in ‘The Elephant’s Graveyard,’ a heartfelt and sorrowful story that describes the one-and-only hanging of a circus elephant named Mary; and in ‘Performing with the Pros,’ a musical revue led by and performed alongside Broadway veteran David Burnham.”
While performing is a passion for Franks, studying is a priority, “I value my education and make a real effort to balance art with academics. I make certain all my academic work is done before I start on my conservatory homework. If I know I have performances or long rehearsals coming up, I prepare and plan ahead, making sure to know what will be covered in class.”
Franks adds, “I did some research on Susan Egan when I found out I was going to be in this production. I also watched ‘Hercules,’ which is one of my all-time favorite Disney movies; I loved her in it. And who can forget Meg? Arts performance is something I truly enjoy; I hope to attend an arts college and continue my work in the professional field. I honestly couldn’t see myself doing anything else!”
Arcadian Lily Annino, a junior attending the Musical Theatre Conservatory, will be singing in the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ medley and in the group number ‘I Won’t Say I’m in Love’ from ‘Hercules.’
“I listened to the tracks online to familiarize myself and get comfortable with the songs,” Annino states. “I’ve been involved in other productions so I pretty much have an understanding of how I should prepare for it. Last semester I was in the play ‘The Elephant’s Graveyard,’ an interactive, introspective play where everyone in the cast had a singular seven-minute monologue delivered to a small audience.
Additionally, I was an assistant in the school musical ‘Pippin.’ A few weeks ago, I had the honor of originating the role of Frances in the Mini Musical Show, where musical theatre and integrated arts students had the opportunity to audition for musicals written by creative writing students. That was such an amazing experience!”
Like Slessor and Franks, Annino has mastered balancing academics and performances. She says, “I have been utilizing office hours, by going in every day to get extra help and homework done. I almost never go home with a huge load of homework. At the moment, I am not sure what I would like to major in in college. What I know, for certain, is that musical theatre and performing will remain a part of my life.”
For these three San Gabriel Valley students, being able to pursue their passion while they are still in high school is as much a valuable opportunity as it is a treasured gift. That they are collaborating with some of the biggest names in the world of performing arts is just the icing on the cake.