Little Johnny Jones

REHEARSAL — The cast of “Litlle Johnny Jones” rehearse a scene. Left to right: Warren Luckey, Daniel Meza, Joanna Buchholz, Craig Tappa, Gary Boyles, Ryan Mendoza, JC Jaimes, Aidyn Bowen.

The A.V.on Shakespeare Company has, since its inception, sought to bring classical theatre to the stage.

Not just about Shakespeare, Director Glynis Fuller enjoys the challenge of reviving long forgotten gems of the past.

“Gems are intended to be seen, enjoyed, polished regularly and worn with style, not hidden away to die in an old vault,” Fuller said. “This gem, ‘Little Johnny Jones’ has definitely been pulled out of the vault and not just dusted off, but given a brand new cut.”

“Little Johnny Jones” first appeared on the Broadway stage in 1904 — George M. Cohan’s second full musical and first big hit, in the “songs to illustrate a story” format that is followed to this day. “Little Johnny Jones” had a successful run, but then disappeared for many years except in films.

A.V.on Shakespeare Company’s “Little Johnny Jones” is a completely new revival.

“I returned to the original book,” Fuller said. “Which required making a lot of edits to remove elements (racist) that would prove unsavory to a modern audience. I also made some changes to have the story flow better, enhance character development and resolve the story satisfactorily. Essentially, though, it is still Cohan’s work, very close to his original with its elements of early Vaudeville. What we have here is a delightful, light-hearted story with some beautiful old songs which have audiences singing and humming them long after they leave the theater.”

The music proved to be something of a challenge. A lot of the score was missing or available only in yellowed, barely legible library archives. The challenge of researching, restoring and arranging the music was presented to Musical Director Zach Montenegro, a 16-year-old high school senior, who lives and breathes music.

He provided his perspective on reviving a show from 1904.

 “Its been a long journey from finding bits of sheet music from the show to arranging it all so that it best fits the cast, but its all come together so nicely,” he said. “Being able to bring to life old music that possibly no one has heard in over a century is an incredible feeling”.

The multi-age cast of this revival includes a host of both new and old faces to the A.V.on company.

The biggest advantage in Fuller’s mind was casting the charismatic Ryan Mendoza as Johnny Jones.

“He has a stage presence that is very compelling, a wonderful voice, fearless dance style and a dramatic ability that extends far beyond his 14 years,” she said. “Portraying a character seven years his senior has proven to be a challenge to which he rose with great success. I directed him in last year’s production of ‘Oliver!’ (Palmdale Repertory Theatre) and he was on my radar from then on. He is wonderful to work with, so receptive”.

He is ably partnered by the skill and talent of Aidyn Bowen as the feisty love interest Goldie Gates.

“It’s awesome to be able to play Goldie Gates in this production,” Aidyn Bowen said of her second experience of being directed by Fuller. “The role is incredibly fun and challenging, because it basically involves playing three wildly different characters during different points in the show. With this being my first lead role in a production, I’m so glad to have the opportunity to play this character, especially in such an iconic musical.”

Fuller had nothing but praise for her 14 year old leading man and lady.

“Theatrically, they are very mature,” she said. “They both have rock-solid instincts and are unafraid of the work involved to achieve their roles.”

The pair are skillfully supported by the comedic and vocal talents of Company regulars Gary Boyles, Nathan Bohannan and Ryan Pardue, with Vanessa Chandler, Craig Tappa, Daniel Meza and a host of fresh faces with talent that Fuller will be calling upon again for future productions.

“Little Johnny Jones” runs at 8 p.m., Nov. 9, 10, 16 and 17; and at 3 p.m., Nov. 11 and 18 at the ACAVEC theater, 858 West Jackman Street, Lancaster. Tickets are $15 at the door or through AVAVEC.com. For more information, call 866-622-7895, visit ACAVEC.com, or Facebook/A.V.on Shakespeare Company.

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