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Four actors showcase their talents this week in ‘Plaid Tidings’

This is it folks, the week many of you have been waiting for and, in case you are unaware of what’s going on let me say ”Plaid Tidings.”

Music Boosters presents this charming musical comedy about four male singers, Smudge, Sparky, Jinx, and Frankie, who were once a touring group known as the “Four Plaids.” As misfortune would have it, while on their way to an important gig, their car was struck by a busload of Catholic schoolgirls. As a result they proceeded to the Great Beyond. In the show, “Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings” the four are summoned to earth once again to help restore harmony to the world. Perry Como’s hits are some of those the four lads are called upon to sing, as well as a few interesting arrangements of familiar Christmas tunes. The distinct foibles and peccadilloes of each persona emerge in various segments of the show making for an amusing evening of entertainment as well as a heartwarming stroll through the musical clime of the fifties.

Music Boosters is proud to present two actors new to the Pagosa stage, both of whom have considerable professional experience in acting and singing.

Joseph Portal plays the role of Sparky, a name apropos of Joseph’s twinkling eyes. Joseph hails from Jackson, Miss., where he grew up singing, first in church at the age of 6 and later throughout junior high and high school. His primary influence was the music of the church; Joseph was raised Methodist. As he finished his first solo as a youngster, he was puzzled to see that many in the congregation were crying and only later realized that he possessed a particular ability to touch people through song.

Joseph’s first musical was “Brigadoon” in which he sang at the age of 15. He said this experience profoundly affected his life. After graduating high school Joseph went on to Milsap’s College in Jackson where he first majored in chemical engineering. He had demonstrated a high aptitude for math and science so his parents felt that this was the field of study that was most appropriate for him. He however, did not share those feelings as he longed to study architecture. His father was wary of the realities of making a living in such a pursuit so he discouraged Joseph in that regard. At last, realizing his love of singing and his lack of passion for science, Joseph decided that becoming a minister of music would be a fitting profession for him. His father agreed and he went on to study sacred music at Southern Methodist University where he would emerge with a B.A. in sacred music and another in voice.

During the Viet Nam war years, Joseph had a good friend who, in lieu of military service, joined the Army chorus and persuaded Joseph that he should try this avenue. Joseph decided to give it a go and soon found himself singing at functions in the White House, performing for the Chief of Staff and then Caroline Kennedy ‘s birthday party. While in Washington, he sang with an early music group at the Smithsonian and a short while later met a voice teacher who would have a remarkable impact in the course of his life. This teacher was Todd Duncan, famed for his role as the original Porgy in the operetta “Porgy and Bess.” Duncan informed Joseph that he had a unique voice, a bel canto tenor, with a four-octave range.

After his stint with the Army Chorus, Joseph started work on a master’s degree in conducting at SMU. While there he also sang for Robert Shaw of the famed Robert Shaw Singers. When Shaw heard him, he told Joseph that he should go to New York to fully realize his possibilities in performance. So, Shaw called a friend in New York and set up an audition. However, before departing Dallas Joseph completed his final project for his conducting degree by conducting the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and a 300-voice choir in a performance of Haydn’s “Lord Nelson Mass.” This was one of the great moments of his life; he said he felt he was “just flying” during that experience.

Soon, Joseph found himself performing counter tenor solos at Alice Tully Hall in NYC in a performance of the “St. John Passion.” After a time, though his background and experience was in sacred and classical music, Joseph wanted to try his chops on Broadway. His first show was an off-Broadway production titled” From Berlin to Broadway, a Kurt Weil piece. While doing all this, he landed a position as assistant to the editor at a music theater and dance publication called “Cue” magazine. He did so well that when the music critic resigned his position, the editor offered Joseph the job. In this capacity Joseph was privileged to meet ‘everybody who was anybody in the musical theater world’ as well as cast his vote for the Tony Awards and the Music Desk Awards each year.

After several years in New York and needing a change from the fast-paced life there, Joseph became interested in reiki and took up study of the discipline. After a time he became a reiki master and began to travel the world teaching and demonstrating the skill. He eventually settled on the west coast where he taught reiki for a time. Tiring of crowds and traffic Joseph longed for a more peaceful environment. He contacted a friend who happened to own a house in Pagosa Springs. Joseph expressed his desire to move to a quieter place and so she told him he’d be welcome to come stay for a time. Wishing to share his vocal talents, one evening soon after arriving he went to Nello’s and sang a few numbers with the jazz ensemble. Just about this time the Music Booster’s audition committee was looking for a fourth singer to complete the cast of “Plaid Tidings” and heard about Joseph’s performance. We contacted him and cast him in the show. We agree with Joseph’s outlook on his life as he has put it himself, “I just always seem to be at the right place at the right time.”

Our second newcomer this year is Tim Moore who plays the role of Frankie, the lead singer in “Plaid Tidings.” Tim hails most recently from the Summit County area, but spent the bulk of his formative years in Denver when his family moved there in 1982. Tim ‘s early theater exposure came in the ninth grade when a drama teacher encouraged him to audition for the school musical, “South Pacific.” Not having a lot of confidence at the time, Tim didn’t think he had a chance and so he was surprised when he was cast as Joe Cable, a principal role. He went on to perform with the high school show choir during his senior high years as well as participate in football, track and baseball.

Tim attended the University of Wyoming but soon became bored with his studies there, so when an audition for a show came up, he signed on. Coincidentally, the show was “South Pacific” and he was cast in the chorus. While doing the show he learned about a touring group, the Centennial Singers, which he joined and toured with from 1992-1994. He finished his undergraduate degree in psychology and began working as a therapist after college. Needing an outlet from the rigors of his work, he decided to give theater a go once again. When Mainstreet Players in Littleton, Colo., announced auditions for its production of “Damn Yankees,” he auditioned and was cast as Rocky, one of the leads. This is when he truly caught the theater bug and felt this was what he really wanted to do with his life. After trying to juggle his day job with his evening work in theater, he realized he would have to make the transition to working full time in its pursuit.

Tim has done many musicals in his career and became known for his abilities in that genre, however he says that he prefers dramatic or comedic roles. His first professional role was as “Tommy” in the ‘Who’s rock opera of the same name, produced by Bluebird Productions in Denver. Tim went on to perform roles at the Arvada Center, the Denver Civic Theater, the Denver Center, the Lakewood Cultural Arts Center, and the Phoenix Theater.

Sometime later, while performing a two-man show in Breckenridge called “Guys on Ice,” he made the acquaintance of the lovely young stage manager. In less than a week they knew they were meant for each other and one year later they were married. The two of them began to dream about opening their own theater in a small town and so their search was on.

Tim’s wife, Laura, had come through Pagosa Springs on her way to the Grand Canyon and was so taken with the area that she stopped at a local realtor’s office to explore property availability. Tim had been through Pagosa many times en route to visit his grandfather in Cortez so he was familiar with the area as well. They both felt that this town was exactly what they were looking for and when they found just the right house, they decided to move here. In the course of their research on the town and its amenities, they found that there was not a theater. They had originally wanted to build a small proscenium-type theater, but came across the former Paint Connection building, which was up for sale. One thing led to the next, and as everything began to fall into place, they found themselves making an offer on the building. Plans are currently in the works to convert the building into a bona fide, state-of-the art performance facility and both Tim and his wife are excited about this. Those of us involved with the performing arts also find ourselves filled with great expectations about the possibilities that this new location and its founders will offer the Pagosa Springs community. We are honored to feature the very talented Tim Moore as one of our performers and are grateful for his generosity in taking part in our show.

Twenty-year-old Jarret Heber is Jinx, another of the endearing foursome in “Plaid.” Jarrett is a Chicago native who came to Pagosa his freshman year of high school. Jarret’s first theater experience was here in Pagosa Springs when he was cast as one of the Wickersham brothers in the high school production of “Suzzical.”

Following that, he was cast as Sandy Links in “Alibis.” Drama club sponsor, Dale Morris further encouraged his interest in the stage when he landed a role in the play “Pressure.” During the Christmas season of 2006, Jarret was cast in the Booster’s production of “Nuncrackers.” He played the part of Father Virgil/ Sister Julia, Child of God and brought the house down with his hilarious rendition of Julia Child enjoying her rum besotted fruitcake. During Jarret’s sophomore year he was cast as the Scarecrow in the high school production of “The Wiz.” This was followed by his role in “Oliver” as the funeral home director. The following summer the Music Boosters production staff recruited him to play Prince Charming in its musical, “Into the Woods.” Each time Jarret demonstrated his ability to rise to the challenge before him. Each time he was able to bring something unique to his role and delight the audience. After finishing his high school course of study, Jarret decided he wanted a change of scenery so he headed for upstate New York, Oneonta, and worked as a cook there. He developed an interest in organic food and farming and hopes to pursue a career either as an organic farmer or as a restaurateur. When the original actor cast as Rooster in Music Booster’s production of “Annie” was unable to perform his role, Dale called Jarret and asked him if he’d do the part. Fortunately, Jarret agreed and delighted audiences with his wacky characterization of the slightly sleazy Rooster.

As luck would have it, when once again an original “Forever Plaid” cast member was unable to reprise his role, Music Boosters contacted Jarret. Not one to shy away from a challenge or the opportunity to perform, Jarret came through for us again. Once more, Jarret has shown both his dedication to Music Boosters and his love of the stage where he will most certainly continue to delight the audience. We are thrilled to present him as one of our newest “Four Plaids.”

Robert Neel, a senior at Pagosa Springs High School has built up quite a resume in his two years in Pagosa Springs, both with Music Boosters and with the high school theater and music departments. I met Robert the day he arrived at Pagosa Springs High School on the first day of school in 2008. He walked into the music room and announced that he intended to be a Broadway star. Having heard many of these declarations in the past from adolescents, I took it with a grain of salt, however after I was to get to know Robert better, I learned that I would reconsider that first impression.

Robert was born in Dallas in 1992 to Sally and Doug Neel, both excellent, trained musicians in their own right. Robert has definitely inherited the family’s talent for music and exhibits it with alacrity. He jumped right into choir at the high school and soon demonstrated his ability to read and sing any and all male parts with ease. Robert possesses perfect pitch, a rarity, but a talent that can prove to be demanding for other musicians who might be performing with him.

That fall, Robert was cast in a lead role in the Music Booster’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” Robert performed a demanding role with the ease of a seasoned professional and amazed the cast with his knowledge of all the musical parts others had to sing. When Robert performs he is 100 percent in the character of the role he’s cast in. It is stunning to watch.

The following spring, Robert auditioned for the high school production of “West Side Story” and although he aspired to role of Tony, he was cast as the leader of the Jets gang. He and his fellow gang members brought down the house with their rendition of “Officer Krupke.”

Following “West Side Story,” Robert performed in several different groups in the Music Booster’s production of “The Beat Goes On ... 20 Years of Music Boosters Shows.” Whenever and wherever needed, Robert would take on a part and fill a role. The spring of 2010, Robert was cast in “High School Musical,” the high school’s production for that year.

Performing in a small ensemble cast of just four actors is an enormous challenge and place heavy responsibility on each. Casting a 17 year-old with two adult professionals would normally seem quite a risk. Not in this case. Robert proves that he can hold his own with the best of them and not only that, he has helped to anchor the cast musically. We look forward to seeing “Smudge” (aka Robert) step out and take us for a walk down memory lane and into the land of the “Plaids” this Thursday as “Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings” debuts at the Pagosa Springs high school auditorium at 7 p.m.. There are three additional performances — Friday, Nov. 19, Sat. Nov. 20, and a matinee at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 21. See you at the show!