NOR Junior Theater is getting a head start on the holiday season with "Whistle Down the Wind," a musical that glows with a subtle spirituality and the natural innocence of children, even if it's not about Christmas.
"We are one of the first to perform this show in the U.S. so this is very exciting," said Vickie Stricklind, the director. "The show and music are very challenging."
Based on a children's book by Mary Hayley Bell, the Jim Steinman-Andrew Lloyd Webber musical opens Friday in the East Bakersfield High School auditorium.
Although the original production was set in a small English village, the American version takes place in the backwoods of Louisiana in the 1950s. It shines a refreshing light on children and takes a look at their view of the world, and how it differs from that of grown-ups.
It begins when a young girl named Swallow (Corissa Garcia) finds a disheveled and exhausted stranger hiding in her father's barn. She has come into the barn seeking a safe place for some kittens she has just saved from being drowned.
Upon seeing The Man, as this character is known throughout the show, Swallow asks who he is and what he's doing there. "Jesus Christ," he gasps. She and her friends take his response literally and vow to protect him from the outside world.
Meanwhile, the townspeople -- the adults, that is -- have learned that an escaped murderer is on the loose. Believing that a criminal is hiding in their midst, they are determined to capture him.
Kyle Gaines portrays The Man, and it will be interesting to see how the 17-year-old, who played the energetic comic lead in Stars' "Fox on the Fairway" and had a supporting role in "Les Miserables," will handle this rather demanding role.
Jose Lopez, a newcomer to NOR productions, plays Amos, a character Stricklind describes as "sort of a James Dean-type, a bad boy with a good heart."
Kara Coughenour appears as Candy, the "bad girl" who's something of a rebel.
In all there are 40 young people in the cast. All of the singing is live and will be accompanied by a five-piece band.
"They (musicians) are onstage during the entire show," Stricklind said. "The set is very simple and with the band onstage, I am hoping to achieve a more raw sound and feeling for the time period."
A stirring performance with a full-bodied sound that's equally capable of conveying a quieter mood is something I can always count on from the Bakersfield Winds. A well-blended concert band, it includes mainly wind instruments augmented by a string bass, harp, organ and a strong percussion section.
On Monday evening at Olive Drive Church, the band will open its 2013-14 season under the direction of John Biller.
The program includes American composer David Holsinger's "On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss," a piece that is by turns somber as well as triumphant; Gordon Jacob's "William Byrd Suite," an ode to Byrd, a respected 16th century English composer; Rossano Galante's "The Redwoods;" and "October" by Eric Whitacre. It will end with "Solid Men to the Front," a march by John Philip Sousa.
Now in its 11th season, the band is a nonprofit organization made up of about 60 music educators and professionals from Bakersfield and the surrounding area.
Admission to the concert is free, although a $5 donation is suggested.
Hearst Castle trip
An upcoming tour of Hearst Castle sponsored by the Arts Council of Kern will be via an 81-passenger double-decker bus with a stop for lunch at Vina Robles Winery in Paso Robles.
"Hearst only offers limited evening tours during the holiday season, so this is a rare treat to be able to go," said Taren Alexander, office manager.
The bus will leave from the Chevron building on Camino Media at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 8 and return about 10:30 p.m. that evening. The interior of the castle will feature Christmas decorations and docents wearing styles of the 1930s.
Wine will be served on the bus, and Alexander emphasized that all passengers must be age 21 or older. Tickets are $150 per person.
This is the council's second ArtVentures trip; the first was the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley last summer.
In an earlier interview, Anthony Goss, president of the Arts Council, said the events are designed as fundraisers and are intended as a way of building memberships.
Need a grant?
The Arts Council of Kern now is accepting applications for its 2014 community grants. The grants are funded by money given to the council annually by the Board of Supervisors.
"We are looking for inspirational projects in all arts disciplines from all manner of organizations and individuals in Kern County," said Alexander.
The deadline for applications is Jan. 17. The amount of the individual grants depends upon how many projects are approved, although none will receive more than $1,500.
Preference is given to organizations that have not received funding from the council in the past three years.
Arts organizations that receive county funding are not eligible unless they are collaborating with another group that is not county funded.
In general, the council seeks projects that promote the development of artistic standards or enhance greater arts awareness in the community. Preference is given to innovative arts programming, especially in underserved and under-funded areas of the county.
For an application form and other details, visit kernarts.org.