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Popular Broadway Rose actors take on new roles for winter production

by: CRAIG MITCHELLDYER FOR BROADWAY ROSE THEATRE COMPANY - READY TO BRAVE THE ELEMENTS - Joe Theissen (center) as music director Mr. Hornsby struggles to keep the Cuyahoga High marching band together despite all the problems that crop up in 'Band Geeks.'
Through the magic of theater, actors transform themselves into different characters for the various roles they play, and sometimes they even take on new roles off-stage.

Such is the case for the upcoming Broadway Rose production of “Band Geeks,” in which longtime patrons will find some familiar faces in new settings.

The production of “The King and I” was a huge hit in the summer of 2010 partly because of the chemistry between Joe Theissen, who played the King, and Amy Jo Halliday, who played Anna, his children's governess, in 1860s Siam.

They appear together again in “Band Geeks,” but this time the setting is contemporary America, where she plays an “obnoxious” school principal while he is a henpecked band director. Undoubtedly they will be totally believable in these roles, but there will be a nod to “The King and I” (and a wink at the audience) as they perform a little dance together that is not in the original script.

In charge of this production that also includes 10 young actors as the geeky band members is Isaac Lamb in his first mainstage directing job. Audiences won’t see him, but if they did, they would recognize him as Captain Van Trapp in Broadway Rose's production of “The Sound of Music” in the summer of 2012.

So for three of Broadway Rose's most popular and familiar actors, “Band Geeks” represents a departure from their pasts.

by: CRAIG MITCHELLDYER FOR BROADWAY ROSE THEATRE COMPANY - TOGETHER AGAIN – Joe Theissen (left) and Amy Jo Halliday, who were cast in the lead roles in the Broadway Rose production of 'The King and I,' are together again as the Cuyahoga High music director and principal in 'Band Geeks;' Isaac Lamb (right), who starred as Captain Von Trapp in Broadway Rose's 'The Sound of Music,' is directing 'Band Geeks.'
Joe Theissen

If Theissen looks at ease as the high school band director in “Band Geeks,” part of the reason might be that it is not a huge departure from his day job as the Lake Oswego Junior High School music and drama teacher. Now in his 11th year of teaching, Theissen spent eight years at LOJH, and then transferred to Lakeridge High School for two years before coming back to the junior high last fall.

“There are wonderful, wonderful things about teaching at both levels,” he said. “The personal relationships at the high school were wonderful, and I could do more complex projects. It was a great opportunity to step into a new role – there were major successes and healthy challenges. However, I love the middle school level, and I missed it a lot. “When I left LOJH, there were only seventh- and eighth-graders, but during the second year I was gone, they added sixth grade. Over half my teaching load is now sixth-graders.”

Play rehearsals are not limited to Broadway Rose for Theissen, who is currently directing Rodgers and Hammerstein's “Cinderella” that will be performed in March at LOJH.

For his acting job in “Band Geeks,” there is an element of familiarity for Theissen as he was cast opposite Halliday.

“We had not met before ‘The King and I,’” Theissen said. “But ever since, we have sort of led parallel lives. We're close to the same age, and we have done other shows together. This is the kind of theater I want to do and to work with people I know and love who are just as passionate about theater as I am.”

Theissen, who performs in two to five shows a year and did three in 2013, added, “It is wonderful to be able to pick the projects you want to do.”

He admitted that he is no longer a “young” actor, noting that in “Band Geeks,” except for Halliday, the other cast members are mostly in their early 20s. “I'm the oldest in the cast at 38,” he said. “I was in Broadway Rose's production of 'CATS' with Amy Jo, and I looked around and realized I was one of the three or four oldest actors. 'CATS' was a young cast and so energetic and passionate.

“My favorite part of being in the theater is the diversity. I don't play truly leading man roles – I do more character roles. It becomes total absorption to take on a role and add the costumes and props and hair – each layer reveals something new about a character.”

Another highlight of “Band Geeks” for Theissen is that in the show he is singing as himself and not as a different character with an accent or other affectation. “I only have one song to sing, and it is about teaching, which is perfect for me,” he said.

However, Theissen is a classically trained singer and considers himself a singer first and an actor second.

“I talk to people in town who consider me an actor first - and that is a huge compliment,” he said. “I am more confident on the stage than doing anything else. It's wiring. I couldn't sit in a cubicle all day, and I can't sell anything.”

Theissen also has directed outside of school, including three shows at Lakewood Theatre over the past four years.

He currently does not have another show lined up after “Band Geeks” but predicted, “Spring at school will be very busy, and I usually do a summer show.”

Theissen was born and raised in Portland, took piano lessons and was active in the Wilson High School drama program before he graduated and went to Linfield College on a vocal scholarship, earning a degree in music theory.

He went on to get his teaching credential at Concordia University while performing in various shows around Portland.

“I had put in an application to teach at Beaumont Middle School, and during the interview, the principal told me that a friend of hers had just gotten the job of principal at Lake Oswego Junior High, where they needed a drama teacher,” Theissen recalled.

“I drove directly from one interview to the other, and when I got home, I had a message from the Lake Oswego superintendent, and I was hired by the end of the day.”

Over the years, Theissen, who has an 11-year-old son, built up the school’s drama program, producing a no-cut musical in the winter and a smaller play in the spring.

Amy Jo Halliday

Halliday might just be the busiest working mom in metro theater: She appeared in six or seven shows in 2013 while raising four children – 9, 7 and 5-year-old twins – with her husband in Keizer.

“It’s been one show after another after another… ” she said. “Every season is so different – I never know how many shows I will do. You just audition, and when people offer you roles, you are so grateful to have the work.”

Halliday has worked for most of the major metro-area theater companies, noting that all the shows she has been in have been musicals.

“I consider myself a singer first,” she said. “I don’t have the confidence to try for a straight role.”

However, she conceded that the role of a high school principal in “Band Geeks” only includes one song, which is optional in the script, so she is flirting dangerously close to appearing in a “straight role.”

Of Theissen, Halliday added, “It’s great to work with Joe again. We’ve done ‘CATS,’ ‘The King and I’ and ‘Legally Blonde.’ Most of my scenes in this play are with Joe – he’s fabulous.

“I think so highly of Joe. I admire all of his work, and he is such a good friend. When we see each other on stage, we can’t help but smile. I would do every show with him if I could, and in this show, he gets to sing as himself – it’s a treat to hear his real voice.”

Halliday was born and raised in Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix, Ariz., taking both voice and piano lessons. When she was a junior in college studying to be a classical singer, she auditioned for “Phantom of the Opera,” won the lead role of Christine Daae, left college and went on the national tour for two years.

Back in Arizona, Halliday finished her degree in classical singing and married her husband Michael, who was accepted at Willamette University College of Law in Salem, and after passing the bar, he became a partner in a Salem law firm.

Meanwhile, Halliday got her master’s degree in vocal performance at Portland State University and stayed busy raising kids and performing.

“I don’t do opera anymore,” she said. “I don’t have the time to keep my voice up. You have to practice, practice, practice. It takes so much more work to sing opera. Musical theater is just different – it doesn’t have to be vocal perfection – and there just aren’t as many opportunities to sing opera here.”

Halliday added, “I feel so blessed that people hire me. Performing is my passion.”

Halliday said that she has another show lined up after “Band Geeks,” but it hasn’t been announced yet.

Isaac Lamb

Although Lamb has directed before, “Band Geeks” is the first Broadway Rose mainstage show that he has directed.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity,” he said. “I love (co-founders) Dan (Murphy) and Sharon (Maroney) – they do only the highest-quality work – and they are trusting me to direct a show.”

However, he is among friends as he directs the show. Lamb previously directed Theissen in “Sweet Charity” at the Lakewood Theatre in Lake Oswego, and he calls the actors in “Band Geeks” a “dream cast,” nothing that both Theissen and Halliday are “great friends who compliment a cast of super-energetic, fresh young faces who play the band members.”

Lamb grew up in musical family in Portland and attended Jesuit High School, where he tried out for his first play and joked that when he was “Pirate No. 37” in “Pirates of Penzance,” he found his true calling.

He appeared in every Jesuit production after that until he graduated, majored in film production at Loyola Marymount University and has worked in theater ever since, finally arriving back in Portland after a few years working around the country.

Besides acting with the major Portland theater companies, Lamb directs theater and film in Portland and teaches theater skills to high school and middle school students, including Broadway Rose teen summer workshops.

“I like bossing people around,” he joked. “I have directed the teen musicals every summer, and now Dan and Sharon have called me up to the major leagues. It is a process of moving up the ladder, and personal growth comes from remembering to focus more on the process and not the product.

“I have a real passion for working with young people. I had great teachers, and so I am inspired to pass it on.”

While some actors dream of moving on to Los Angeles or New York City, Lamb said, “I keep getting excited about the opportunities in Portland, so as long as I am creatively challenged and rewarded, I will stay.”

He already has several more jobs lined up at various Portland theaters, noting, “It will be a very busy spring, but to be influenced by other artists is the way to learn.”

Lamb’s story would not be complete without an update on his personal life. While Lamb was rehearsing for his role of Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” he asked Amy Frankel to marry him in a proposal heard around the world.

He put a video of his elaborate, choreographed proposal, in which 60 friends and family members lip-synched to Bruno Mars’ “Marry You,” on YouTube, where it was seen by millions of people.

“The video just exploded,” Lamb said. “We were so busy with interview requests and offers to do TV shows and games shows.” In fact, NBC’s “Today” show flew the couple to New York for a live interview.

At the time, Frankel was active in Portland theater, acting and doing choreography, but she was making an abrupt career change to start nursing school.

“Amy was in an accelerated program and graduated last summer,” Lamb said. “She graduated at the top of her class and is starting a job at the Portland VA Medical Center, and she just finished choreographing ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for Pixie Dust Productions.”

The couple is now planning their wedding for next summer.

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