Before Mama Mia! or The Jersey Boys ever saw Broadway stages, a lesser-known jukebox musical had already rocked Broadway audiences in 1985—Leader of the Pack.
Chock-full of golden oldies from the 1960s, such as “Be My Baby,” “Chapel of Love,” and “Da Doo Ron Ron,” the musical wowed audiences with songs written by singer/songwriter Ellie Greenwich, the story based on her life, and roles of Greenwich and Darlene Love played by themselves.
Now, San Benito Stage Company promises to bring that same wow factor to Hollister audiences when it opens at the Hollister Veterans’ Memorial Building on Oct. 25.
“I think audiences are going to be shocked when they hear songs and go, ‘Oh, this is an Ellie Greenwich song? She’s attached to this song?’” said co-producer Karen Firstbrook. “This show is going to appeal to all ages. This is the kind of show that you’re going to want to bring your mother and your grandmother to. If you have any love of great music and harmonies and dancing, you need to come see the show because it’s that good.”
The show ( co-produced by Mary Chase, directed by Derek Barnes, choreographed by Amy Redmond Waran, and vocally/musically directed by Kayla Chizek) follows Greenwich from her teenage days as a member of a girl group, to meeting her husband Jeff Barry, to having a successful songwriting career and then to eventually having a nervous breakdown.
“It’s a story of love, it’s a story of loss, and it’s a story kind of like a rebirth,” Barnes said. Greenwich “thought being married to another songwriter was going to be enough for her, and the music and the partnership was enough for their marriage, but it ended up not being enough for him.”
The musical is not the typical teen show Hollister audiences are used to seeing, according to Firstbrook. While it appeals to all ages, it is also timely for the current generation.
“It’s such a good girl-power show,” Firstbrook said. “We’re now in a society that is supporting our young women; Ellie Greenwich didn’t grow up in that society. She had to work hard and had to break glass ceilings like you wouldn’t believe.”
Audiences will also find the set to be less elaborate than in shows past. Barnes said this is due to SBSC now being a mobile stage company and needing to streamline productions to make things more manageable.
“I have a really stripped down set for this show,” Barnes said. “We’re going to be using a lot more projections, we’re going to be using a lot more props and a lot more of the actors will be portraying their characters in a way where we won’t need large sets.”
A live band will also be accompanying the performers, and live preshows will take place before each performance.
“We will have local artists out front in the Veterans Memorial Building plaza an hour prior to the shows,” Firstbrook said, noting Kya Andrade, Larry Masula, and Animation Dance Group will be some of the headliners.
The cast of 29 teenagers, ages 13-19, includes Abby Chase as Ellie Greenwich, Joey Rasmussen as Jeff Barry, and Jenna Hernandez as Darlene Love.
Firstbrook said a lot has been demanded from the teens during rehearsals in terms of dancing, vocal ability and stamina.
And Waran and Chizek can attest to this firsthand.
“The cast is so dedicated and talented,” Waran said. “Every night they were ready to learn and ready to try out anything that was presented to them.”
“They have been asked to sing difficult harmonies, complex dances, and showcase a variety of emotions on their face,” Chizek added. “This cast has been up for all the challenges we have thrown their way.”
Chase, who is in her last teen production with the company and has performed with it since she was 8 years old, said many of the cast members have found support in each other to tackle these challenges.
“Everyone is very supportive and makes the environment feel safe and fun,” she said.
New to SBSC, Hernandez is appreciative of this. She has performed with South Bay companies, as well as her high school in Morgan Hill, but said, “I never felt like I just professionally work with these people, which is what I do with a majority of the other show companies that I’m working with. We’re always doing outside events.”
Local businesses and organizations have also offered their support to the cast and to the stage company.
Since becoming a mobile theater in February, San Benito Stage Company has had to build partnerships with local sites that provide rehearsal and performance spaces.
The Veterans Memorial Building will serve as the performance spot for this show and as the future site for the children and teen shows in 2020.
“It’s been a great partnership with the Hollister VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] 9242,” said SBSC’s venue liaison Brian Murphy. “They’re giving back to the community and giving us a home for some of our shows.”
Hollister VFW is also a sponsor of SBSC.
“Plus, it’s a great downtown location and it has a really nice stage where we can put on the types of shows that people have become accustomed to seeing from the stage company,” Murphy said.
The directors and producers are also grateful to Flying Colors Dance and Fitness, which served as a rehearsal spot for two weeks, and to Mr. O’s Academy of Arts Studio, where the duration of rehearsals were held.
In fact, SBSC recently made a long-term agreement to use Mr. O’s as a rehearsal site. “They’ve really worked with us,” Firstbrook said of Joe (Mr. O) and Frances Ostenson. “I’m really grateful for their willingness to try. They took a risk with us; their very first show with us is 29 teens.”
Barnes said those who have been behind this production—the cast, the crew, the venues used—all have one common goal.
“It’s trying to make the kids have the best show possible and to put the best product out there in the community. We all care and focus on making San Benito Stage Company successful, so it makes it easy for us.”
Leader of the Pack runs Oct. 25-Nov. 9 at Hollister Veterans’ Memorial Building at 649 San Benito St. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7 p.m.; Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. Adult admission is $17, students and seniors $14, group four-packs $55 (presale only). Tickets are sold at Mars Hill, Postal Graphics, or brownpapertickets.com. For information, visit www.sanbenitostage.org or call 831.636.0122.