Aspiring young area actors and actresses have found a home within the Youth on Stage series at the North Fork Community Theater for nearly half a decade, when the first summer musical took place in 1971, though NFCT members ran the series independently of the theater between then and 1977, according to their website. It is a program where dreams come true, futures and friendships are forged, and where the theatrical cycle comes full circle, as is the case with key members of the cast and crew putting on “Pippin” between July 18 and August 4.
Take 25-year-old Chelsea Chizever, for example. The long-time Youth on Stage performer said she’s making her NFCT directorial premiere because of her dedication to a program she has loved since she was 14 years old. “My brother had done it previously and then so did I for about eight years,” said Chizever. “When I finally aged out, I was like, ‘How can I get back into this?’ So, I started choreographing again and was asked to direct ‘Pippin’ this year after choreographing ‘Seussical’ last summer.”
Chizever was the assistant director for NFCT’s last play, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and has directed three shows at Riverhead High School. It was the Chizever name that attracted Pippin’s “Leading Player,” 19-year-old Alexandra Rose Meli — currently studying local performance at New York University with a concentration in musical theater — back to NFCT four years after her 2015 appearance in “All Shook Up,” directed by Chizever’s brother, Brett, who supports his sister in the assistant role for this summer’s production.
“He is so fabulous, so when I saw the name Chizever as director, I thought, ‘Oh! That must be Brett’s sister!’ I had such a positive experience in ‘All Shook Up’ working with Brett and such an amazing cast,” said Meli. “The sense of belonging and community at NFCT, in particular, made it such a memorable experience that I thought, ‘You know what? I really need that this summer.’ Freshman year was pretty tough. I really just want to do something that feels so good to be a part of.”
Meli did theater at Shoreham-Wading River High School, studied and took acting lessons at Gateway Playhouse, and did a year of pre-college at Manhattan School of Music in addition to her senior year of high school before auditioning for 13 colleges and landing at NYU.
Her chops make her the perfect fit for Leading Player, whose role is that of “almost a ringleader who is trying to put on a spectacular production for the audience that is entertaining and fun — something they will remember for the rest of their lives — but eventually we come to realize that her obsession with putting on a spectacular production is kind of dangerous for some of the other actors on stage, so it’s really about being obsessed with show business,” according to the passionate and experienced student performer.
“Chelsea’s interpretation is that she represents evil temptation and drawing things to a darker side for Pippin, who is the character trying to find his way and where he belongs,” she said.
Pippin, historically based on the son of King Charlemagne, will, appropriately enough, be played by a brand-new Shoreham-Wading River High School graduate named David Lopez, who is doing Youth on Stage for the first time, not to mention as its title character, after performing more supportive roles on the Main Stage, such as Snoopy in “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.” While scoring a top spot was unexpected, Lopez said he felt the right choices have been made. “This cast is really an all-star cast,” he said. “Everyone who was cast in this show is perfect — you can’t move them anywhere — I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to do this show with and the music is fantastic.”
NFCT former president Mary Motto Kalich, who stepped down from her two-year-term so Michael Hipp could take the reins this month, said she agrees the cast is spot-on, adding it will be the second YOS performance for her 15-year-old son, Micky. “He loves music and theater too and now he gets to do it like I said,” said Kalich. “That’s what it is. It’s generations after generations of people involved in the theater and that’s why we’re so close to the community.”