Date: Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Edition: METRO
Byline: By Ana Ribeiro 981-3341
Summary: Saturday, 17 young entertainers from the Kevin Jones Performing Arts Studio will rock Jefferson Center

It was a Tuesday about 4:30 in the afternoon. In a garage-turned-studio, 10th-grader Nigel Huckle jumped from side to side, singing and watching his moves in front of a wall-length mirror.

Behind him, in unison, six girls rolled on the hardwood floor, did push-ups and flexed their legs to accentuate the lyrics Nigel sang, all in sync with notes emanating from a piano.

"Let's do the time warp again!" the teenagers belted out, invoking a line from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Piano player Kevin Jones pounded enthusiastically away at the keys. He alternated between playing the instrument and choreographing the teenagers, all from Roanoke Valley high schools. They're students at the Kevin Jones Performing Arts Studio.

"There's such a wealth of talent in our valley," said Jones, who converted the garage at his Southwest Roanoke County home into a 500-square-foot studio. He opened it in 2001, at first in the dining room of his former Roanoke residence.

This group of teens has been practicing hard for their big night: Saturday, they'll put on a 75-minute show, "Broadway Rocks!" at Jefferson Center's Shaftman Performance Hall. The show features 22 numbers from rock musicals such as "Rent," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Grease," in addition to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

There will be a total of 17 teenage performers in the show, and they will be doing the numbers back-to-back, with no intermission, Jones said. "The Time Warp" routine will be one of the most daring acts, featuring saucy lyrics and choreography.

"It's going to be funny and interesting to see how our audience reacts," said Ashley Montgomery, a sophomore at Salem High School.

Nigel, who plays the lead role in "The Time Warp," is also psyched about the performance.

"Last year, I wasn't featured as much as this year," said the Hidden Valley High School student. Nigel will appear in 12 numbers. "But this year, it's going to be awesome. Rock musicals appeal to a large audience."

This will be Jones' fifth consecutive year of presenting a free show at Jefferson Center, and each has had a different musical theater theme. Jones said so many people -- more than 900 -- came to the show last year that he had to turn some away.

"It's just been word-of-mouth over the years," Jones said of the show's popularity. "It's as professional as you can get, I think, with teenagers anywhere."

Jones rents the performance space at Jefferson Center for $1,000 on the day of the performance plus equipment and labor, said Rob Bessolo, production manager and technical director at the venue.

"Kevin goes out of his way to make it as professional a show as possible, to really show his kids that's how it's done," said Bessolo, who builds the set for Jones' annual show. He has known Jones for more than a decade, from the time they both worked at Mill Mountain Theatre. "It's always good to work with Kevin."

Jones said it costs him between $750 and $1,000 to have Bessolo build the set (which has nine main components this year) and about $1,000 to build and obtain costumes. Jones' wife, Melia, an actress and artist, paints the sets, handles the costumes and designs all the posters for the annual show, Jones said. The teenagers' parents also help.

This year, the show's budget is $16,000. Jones said he has raised the money through private and corporate donations for his nonprofit organization, Opening Doors, which he started in 2004 to make the Jefferson Center performance not only possible but also free.

"It's completely accessible theater to everybody," Jones said. "It was all part of my vision, and it's great to see it come to fruition."

Jones, 39, was born in Canada. He has lived in New York City and toured the world as a musical actor. He ended up in Roanoke, where he worked as the musical director for Mill Mountain Theatre from 1996 to 2001.

In 2003, Jones invested more than $20,000 into building his current studio, which is strewn with colorful costumes, photos and thousands of folders containing musical scores. It's conveniently located at his house so he can be close to his wife and two young children during lessons and rehearsals, he said.

Running the studio makes up a large part of Jones' income, which also comes from acting work in commercials, organizing summer camps and being director of Arnold R. Burton's School of Performing Arts, where he conducts the larger rehearsals for his annual show.

"I was amazed at their interest and desire and passion to learn," Jones said of the young performers.

Teenagers must audition to get into Jones' ensemble and be in high school. Many, like Nigel and Ashley, stay for consecutive years, Jones said.

"Essentially, I'm training them so they can continue their studies in theater after high school, and many do," said Jones. "I'm teaching all aspects of musical theater. I pull from real life experiences; that's how I direct."

Jones' students follow his directions avidly and seem to be at ease in their performances. Tuition costs $225 a month for each student. It covers lessons, which take place once a week when they're not rehearsing for the show, professional head shots, any sheet music and compact discs needed and lectures by guest artists, some of whom come in from New York City, Jones said. The students also participate in Christmas performances and, for an extra charge, can go on out-of-state field trips.

The ensemble program runs the length of the school year and becomes grueling in January, during three weeks packed with four to five days of rehearsals each week -- including a seven-hour day on Sundays -- for the February show.

"It's intense but it's still fun -- and on the night of the show, it all pays off," said Nigel, 15, who has performed at Mill Mountain Theatre.

Although Nigel enjoys performing, he has doubts as to whether he'll pursue an acting career, deeming it unstable. Fellow performer Gina Laguzza, a junior at Lord Botetourt High School, said she agrees that "it's really hard to get jobs in acting," because hundreds of people audition for the same parts and "a bunch of people look like you."

But Gina, who has performed since age 9, said she does want to become a professional actress. She has landed roles in Mill Mountain Theatre productions and keeps auditioning for more.

"I really like making people laugh and have fun," said Gina, 16. "I'm an entertainer. ... And you get all this attention. It's great."


Age: 39
Birthplace: Toronto
Education: Majored in music at the University of Western Ontario; musical theater performance certificate from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, New York City
On growing up: "I was always into piano. But I didn't do anything [as far as theater]. I was a late bloomer."
Professional experience: Toured with "Annie Get Your Gun;" he performed in seven European countries, including Germany, Austria and Holland. He performed in Korea with “Annie”; and Performed and worked as an actor and musical director at theaters across the U.S.
Nickname: "Quad-threat," given by a producer in Pennsylvania because Jones can sing, dance, act and play the piano.
Family: Married to Melia Jones for 10 years; children Miranda, 7, and Noah, 3
Roanoke connection: Started coming here from New York City in 1996 temporarily as the musical director for Mill Mountain Theatre productions; moved here in 1997; says he likes Roanoke's panoramic views and its quality of life.
About theater: "I love the thrill and the passion of live theater. You have to be on top of your game, because there are all these people in front of you. I love how every performance is a bit different. It's the exhilaration you can't get anywhere else."
Web site: "Broadway Rocks!"
Where: Shaftman Performance Hall at Jefferson Center
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Admission: Free; first come, first served
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