Small stage draws big talent

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Small stage draws big talentRidgecrest Musical Enrichment Society has made a name for itself over the last decade for bringing quality entertainment to local audiences, offering youngsters a chance to perform and pouring upwards of $160,000 into the coffers of performing arts education.

But an unsung benefit is offering a creative outlet to our famously technically inclined population.

For the upcoming production of “Newsies: The Broadway Musical,” some of the amateur performers bring to the stage prestigious educational and performance backgrounds.

One of these, RMES co-founder Kevin Anderson, is a now-familiar face on the local stage.

“I was actually never interested in theater until a friend of mine begged me to be in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ my sophomore year at Burroughs High School,” said Anderson. He was cast, since the production needed male bodies to fill the roles. But Anderson was soon discovered for his striking tenor voice and natural acting ability.

After graduating, he attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. He moved back to Ridgecrest to marry his high-school sweetheart, Melanie. Together they have five children who regularly appear on the local stage.

In 2009, when performing arts programs were threatened across the state, Anderson joined Ryan Loewen and a few other local alumni to start an ongoing fund-raiser to help keep the arts alive in local schools.

“I pray that our younger generations will always have an opportunity to learn and participate in the arts. I am blessed to be a part of an organization like RMES that gives money and opportunity to help young people find and cultivate their passions.”

Anderson can be found behind the scenes, more often than not, in RMES productions, but for this show returns to play famed newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer.

“This group of extremely talented people are putting together a beautiful gift for this community,” he said. “I am so excited to share this amazing show.”

Although Anderson’s character takes center stage during “The Bottom Line” (also including the other actors featured here), he points to “Once and For All” as one of the most powerful moments in the story. “The poor and downtrodden stand together to protect themselves and preserve their rights. I think that’s going to be one of the most impactful scenes for the audience.”

Adam McGee, who will portray Seitz — one of Pulitzer’s deputies — makes his local debut in “Newsies,” but has a similarly long history of performing.

McGee grew up in a family of performers, and has appeared on stage since he was 5 years old. But it was not until pursuing his degree in theater arts at Fresno State University that he discovered the depth of his passion for performing.

“There was a moment during ‘Henry IV, Part 1.’ I was 24 years old, and I remember very clearly realizing that this was what I wanted to do.”

Part of his love of performing comes from the collaboration inherent to community theater. “I remember we were working through a combat sequence, and you have to think about the safety of the performers and the excitement of the scene. So you have this connection with your cast, and together you get to guide your audience through a journey.

“It’s a very compelling experience, because that bond with your collaborators translates to pulling in your audience in a powerful way.”

In the intervening years, McGee married and started a family, and took on a technical job to support them.

“Most of my co-workers know that I sing,” said McGee, cheekily adding that he took every chance to issue demonstrated reminders.

“But I am really looking forward to having this outlet — bringing together all the elements of performance and creating for the audience a time and space for people to connect.”

Adam Bingham, another of Pulitzer’s flunkies in “Newsies,” has a parallel story of working as a geologist by day and performing by night.

As a youth, Bingham had his breakout as “The Boy” in “The Fantasticks” at age 14. He went on to study musical theater at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and AMDA (where Anderson also studied).

For nearly 20 years he focused on his family and his “other” job, until a mysterious seizure disorder began to disrupt his life several years ago. After a long and difficult period of diagnoses and treatment, Bingham underwent a cutting-edge test that doctors hoped would trigger his brain into “kickstarting” itself. If it worked, the compromised portion of his brain could be removed and rely on the remaining healthy part of his brain to continue functioning.

In order to work, it required serious development in both left and right hemispheres – not always the case for people working in the sciences. As it turned out, the testing and subsequent surgical procedure was successful — possibly because of his combined theater training.

Bingham recalled that after that he began to sing more frequently. Someone who overheard him encouraged him to try out for one of the RMES productions. When the opportunity for “Newsies” rolled around, he decided to do just that.

“I so enjoyed auditioning — even the huge nerves jumping inside me – and getting called back,” said Bingham. This production marks not only his local debut, but also his first performance in decades.

“I can’t believe how dearly I missed the theater,” he said. “I always wanted to make this my career, but after a while you move onto other things.”

“As we were preparing for auditions, we realized how many cast members were required, and we started to panic,” said Director Bill Farris. “Then, in the audition process, we were overwhelmed by all the amazing talent that came forward. So then our struggle became how to best take advantage of all that talent.

“We are so excited for you to come experience what we have been seeing.”

Newsies opens Sept. 26 at Cerro Coso Community College. Tickets go on sale at Red Rock Books in September.

Pictured: From (back) left, Kevin Anderson, Adam Bingham and Adam McGee work on music with Amber Petersen and Brian Cosner — Photo by Rebecca Neipp

Story First Published: 2019-08-09