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On the Town with Jason Downs

| Entertainment | February 13, 2020

Greetings fellow Santa Claritans and welcome to a column that’s all about having fun around town! We’re fortunate enough to live in one of the great entertainment meccas of the world. Join me as we celebrate all the area has to offer!

Here’s what I got up to this week: An indie film fest at an old special effects shop in North Hollywood, and a musical version of Matilda (starring a remarkable young lady) at the Canyon Theatre Guild.

Ever wonder where movie magic happens? Visit the Makeup & Effects Lab in North Hollywood sometime. These are the guys that make prosthetic alien masks, intergalactic weapons for superheroes, and other essential props and makeup for films like Iron Man, Captain America, Star Trek and Batman. Well, an acquaintance of ours, AJ Apone (raised in Santa Clarita); his father owns and operates Makeup & Effects Lab, which was an amazing place to host a little film fest this past weekend. The work comprised of work AJ and his friends produced themselves…including another local filmmaker, Eric L. Thompson. Now, Eric we know very well. He’s part of our new extended family here on the west coast. My wife’s sister is married to his brother. Seems like a roundabout connection, but when we moved out to Valencia from New York six years ago Eric and his family welcomed us with open arms and that has made all the difference in our lives here. Anyway, his short film Stevie was the feature of the evening.

After sipping a few beverages under the gaping mouth of Jaws overhead, while life size versions of Clint Eastwood and Samuel L. Jackson looked on, we traveled deeper into the shop where a large screen was set up among the many familiar artifacts filling every available space. Most notably, a Bat Mobile. That’s right, a fully functioning Bat Mobile from the infamous 1960’s TV version starring Adam West. One word: Awesome.

After a brief intro the lights went out and the shorts began. Let me say without any bias, Eric’s movie was really good! The writing was tight, the directing was spot on, the actors were compelling, the editing was perfection, and it was beautifully shot. The action centered around two wannabe gangsters waiting for a mysterious man to show up so they can hand off a mysterious package. But what made this thing bubble to life was the full blown characters, uneasy banter, and rising tension. Stevie just couldn’t sit still or keep his mouth shut, driving his uneasy partner to the brink. The look and feel were very Tarantino-esque, right up to the satisfying and surprising climax.

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We were so proud and happy for him. He did an excellent job! Not sure if it’s available to view online as of yet, but keep an ear out for this guy and his movie: Eric L. Thompson, hometown writer and director from Valencia, and his extremely well made movie, Stevie.

AJ Apone introducing Eric L. Thompson (center) at the premiere of Stevie.

Since moving to the Santa Clarita Valley, and being a lover of the stage, I’ve caught a few shows at the Canyon Theatre Guild… Matilda: The Musical (beautifully directed by John Lucewich and Jennifer Teague) is the best yet, due in large part to the young lady playing the lead role, Ms. Birdie West. After the first number in which the title character is introduced, my eleven year old son leaned over with wide eyes and said, “She’s good.”

He’s a man of few words, my boy, but he was right. For a ten year old, Ms. Birdie had a command of the stage, a simple and innate acting ability, and a natural presence one doesn’t often see at that age (and all with a spot on London accent, to boot). And that’s to say nothing of her beautiful singing voice. I spoke with TimBen Boydston, who’s been the Executive/Artistic Director of the theater for the past twenty years (the theater’s been a local treasure for 50 years!) and he agreed that a talent like Birdie West only walks through the door every once in a while.

The entire cast should be commended for giving a wonderful performance, especially Matilda’s counterpart, Miss Honey, played by Chelsea Henderson-Jones. The story, originally told by the inimitable Roald Dahl, is about a brilliant young girl, Matilda, who is unloved and unappreciated by her family until she goes to school at age five and meets Miss Honey who immediately recognizes her gifts. Together, the two look for their place in this crazy, unforgiving world. These ladies give a beautiful and heartfelt performance that will leave you teary-eyed. There are many laugh out loud moments, especially whenever Matilda’s mother’s dance instructor is on stage, Rudolpho (played with button bursting gusto by Cole Carter), and Matilda’s arch nemesis and school principal, Mrs. Trunchbull, who is played with delicious hilarity by Chris Loprete. The show goes on for another three weekends so get your tickets now…this one’s not to be missed!

Let me just take a moment to say what a wonderful and important thing is happening at the Canyon Theatre Guild. Whether you’re a fan of theater or not (and you should be), this organization is a beacon of light in our community. Their mission is to make the world a better place by entertaining, educating, and enriching the people of Santa Clarita through live theater and they are doing just that…and have been for 50 years. Establishments like this lift the spirit of the community whether you realize it or not, but again, I encourage you to get over there and see for yourself. They put up nine full-scale productions every year, plus one over at College of the Canyons…usually their headliner for the year…a big title like Frozen or Les Miserable. Over 30,000 folks in this area attend their performances each season and thousands of individuals and businesses support the non-profit with their donations (our local government among them). Not to mention the hundreds of artists and volunteers who show up year after year to create the wonderful shows we enjoy. And for good reason!

All of this is a testament to the quality and value the Canyon Theatre Guild brings to our town, and our lives, on a regular basis. What a gift. And so I urge you, friends, be a part of it. Whether it’s to enjoy Matilda or the upcoming Pride & Prejudice, or donate your talents for painting sets, auditioning for the next performance, or becoming a sponsor yourself, be a part of this very special family; something pure and tangible and invaluable is happening right here in our own backyard. I, for one, will start by saying a hearty ‘thank you’ to TimBen Boydston and everyone at the CTG, for doing your part to make this crazy, unforgiving world a better place.

Chelsea Henderson-Jones as Miss Honey (left) and Birdie West as Matilda (right).
photo by Jeff Barlow

So, there it is for this week, friends. Always feel free to let me know what you like doing around town so I can check it out and write it up. (reachjasondowns@santaclaritagazette.com)

Until next time, bon voyage, break a leg, and bon appetit!

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