There exists, right here in our own backyard, a wealth of theatrical talent. This newspaper has celebrated it for the past four decades, honoring, at the close of each year, two individuals who have excelled in their specialties, beginning with David Emmes and Doris Allen in 1974.
On this, the 42nd such occasion, the spotlight falls on a writer/actor who’s also a magician and a recent college graduate who has created some exceptional choreography during her time at a local university.
They are two people who charmed audiences at the Huntington Beach Playhouse and Vanguard University, respectively, during the past year — Scott Ratner and Bretlyn Schmitt, the Daily Pilot’s man and woman of the year in theater for 2015.
Ratner is, first and foremost, an actor who has appeared in over 200 productions on stage, screen and television. His passion for Golden Age detective fiction has been displayed in his book and lyrics for two whodunit musicals — “All Talking! All Singing! All Murder!” and “Murder on the High C’s.”
At the Huntington Beach Playhouse this summer, Ratner entertained and enlightened audiences with his latest creation, “Kill a Better Mousetrap,” a “what if” take on the known fact that Agatha Christie willed the movie rights of her most famous stage play, “The Mousetrap,” to an heir with one stipulation — that the deal wouldn’t be effective until the London production closed. That was in 1956 and the show’s still running.
Ratner also performed the role of Dame Agatha’s luckless descendant, one of many he’s assumed over his career. He’s also written several articles for Mystery Scene Magazine and performs sleight of hand at local amusement parks.
Schmitt has been dancing since she was 7 years old, competing in dance programs for eight years and winning a national title in 2009. She also studied at the Open Jar Institute in New York. Since her enrollment at Vanguard, she’s built on her creative talents by choreographing such shows as “Kiss Me Kate,” “Legally Blonde,” “Hairspray,” “The Pajama Game,” “Americans All,” “Love Makes the World Go Round” and “Narnia.”
Last year she created the intricate dance moves for Vanda Eggington’s original musical production “The Beat Goes On.” It was so well received that the college brought it back, again with the just-graduated Schmitt exhibiting even more original choreography.
Of her performance in Vanguard’s “Kiss Me Kate,” this column observed, “Audiences will leave the Lyceum Theater marveling at the superb dancing talent of Bretlyn Schmitt, who both choreographed the show and renders an incendiary performance as Lois/Bianca. The tall, slender Schmitt excels in the role most moviegoers associate with the great Ann Miller.”
Ratner and Schmitt gave theatergoers some magical moments in 2015. They are the well-deserving recipients of this newspaper’s annual individual honors.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater.