A Flood of Talent

Directing outdoor theater is challenging, but an ambitious family musical with tricky design elements and a cast of more than 200--most of them nonprofessionals and children--well, that's just insanity.

And yet, this is the task for Peter Schneider, who is directing "Norman's Ark," a spirited new musical making its West Coast premiere May 27 at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. Luckily, Schneider was the Tony Award-winning producer of "The Lion King" on Broadway.

"Norman's Ark" is the story of a mother, a father and three kids stranded on a roof and waiting for help during a Katrina-like catastrophe, although the piece, by composer/lyricist Glen Roven (who has two Emmys for musical direction) and book writer Jerome Kass ("Ballroom"), was written before the hurricane and flood.

Dad--that's Norman--is an English teacher with few lifesaving skills, but telling a good story turns out to be one of them. He saves his family by getting them through the night with the tale of Noah, his family and the flood. Helping to tell the story is a 75-member gospel choir and 115 elementary school kids from all over L.A. impersonating the animals on the voyage.

Schneider admits he's nervous. "My puzzle is how do I deal with all of these kids, who have so much energy and talent but not a lot of technique. I just have to believe that what we lack in experience, we'll make up in power."

He is clear, though, about his motivation. "I had to do this piece," he says. "It's about the power of numbers. The power of community. The power of people. The power of allegory--and it tells us we have to all take care of each other and of the planet."

Sounds most promising. Bring your family. And an umbrella.

For more information, call (323) 461-3673 or go to www.fordamphitheater.org.

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