In 30 seasons of Tenino Young-at-Heart Theatre, Bob McKenzieSullivan has had at least a hand in some part of every show.
Today, his sons, daughter in-law and grandson are part of the act. He said he loves working with his family but what keeps him coming back year after year is the extended family he has collected through the theater and the benefit he sees to the community.
“There is not another form of art that is more collaborative than this,” he said. “Kids and adults, they just blossom when they’re working with this stuff.”
“Just So,” the 30th production by Tenino Young-at-Heart Theatre, opens Friday in the Tenino High School commons. A compilation of about five of Rudyard Kipling’s stories of the same name, “Just So”, tells the story of the Elephant’s Child (portrayed by Jessie Hanson), who is banished for asking too many questions. At the encouragement of the Eldest Magician (portrayed by Courtney Stanley), the Elephant’s Child embarks upon a great journey to find Pau Amma the crab and possibly save the world. The Kolokolo Bird (portrayed by Holly Lehikonen) reluctantly goes along to help and the two encounter many wild and wonderful characters straight out of Kipling’s imagination.
“It’s a story of adventure, tenacity, forgiveness and friendship,” said Bob McKenzieSullivan. “It’s a can-do story.”
Director Isaac McKenzieSullivan said the show was chosen for its family-friendly subject matter and its myriad characters, allowing a great number of performers. But what really caught them was the music.
“The songs are catchy and they get stuck in your head,” said Ani Crisostomo, 15, who is part of the ensemble and portrays a dingo.
“This is our little underdog musical,” added Serena Kim, 13, part of the ensemble who also portrays the kangaroo’s biggest fangirl. “I think a lot of people know ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ and whatever else is popular but I bet people aren’t going to know ‘Just So Stories’ is a musical. This is going to be like a fresh explosion for their minds.”
Managing Director Bob McKenzieSullivan leads a live pit of musicians. He said live music has always been an important part of Tenino Young-at-Heart productions because it allows one more way for community members to be involved as well as adding another depth to the production.
“If it’s canned music, there’s not room for growth and expression,” Bob McKenzieSullivan said. “It’s just people being alive. I don’t want a professional, New York pit.”
“As an actor, I prefer it,” added Isaac McKenzieSullivan. “Not only is it people supporting each other but it has more of a sense of community art. If you’re using (recorded music) you can’t go on the journey together.”
The show features 22 local thespians ranging from children to senior citizens. Isaac McKenzieSullivan said some of his actors and actresses are seasoned veterans of the stage, while for some this is their first performance. Patsy Kenney, who goes by the stage name Yachtzee Gee, portrays the Elephant King. She first got involved with Tenino Young-at-Heart Theatre a few seasons ago after a decades-long break from the stage. She said she loves the story and the music as well as the young actors and actresses that are part of the cast.
“It’s the cutest show on Earth and that kids make the show,” she said. “The kids are going to steal the show. It’s all play for them, never work.”
What makes being part of a Tenino Young-at-Heart Theatre performance unique is that the cast is involved in much of the show preparations, from creating props to painting the stage.
“I really love that theatre is really an educational opportunity in so many disciplines,” he said. “From the very first rehearsal we start teaching about the stage.”