Theater company founded five years ago recently ended a six-show run of “Man of La Mancha”

From left, Chris Brady as Sancho Panza, W. Scott Whisler as Don Quixote, and Molly Thornton as Aldonza/Dulcinea, in “Man of La Mancha.
Photo courtesy San Jose Musical Theater

With the South Valley Civic Theatre, Limelight Actors Theater, and Pintello Comedy Theater, local fans of theatrical shows have plenty of venues to show-off their performing arts talent. Add one more. Gilroy and Morgan Hill drama buffs are now heading north to take part in shows with the San Jose Musical Theater Group.

Among them is Morgan Hill resident Marilyn Pifer, who found out about the group from her friend, Gilroy resident Rob Christopher. When Pifer and her husband, Steven Pifer, moved to the South Valley in May 2018, she immediately started looking for fun ways to participate in the arts scene. At Christopher’s recommendation, she auditioned for a part in the Cole Porter musical “Anything Goes” — and found herself in the show. She was so impressed with the quality of SJMT’s organization that she joined the board of directors soon after.

SJMT formed about five years ago and just recently ended a six-show run of “Man of La Mancha,” the classic Broadway musical telling the story of Don Quixote. Previous shows include “Mamma Mia!” “The 1940s Radio Hour” and “Always . . . Patsy Cline.” It draws cast and crew from throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo counties as well as Watsonville, Scotts Valley and Berkeley.

In “Man of La Mancha,” which closed July 21 at Evergreen Valley College Theater, people involved in the show from the South Valley include Gilroy residents Ingrid Rottman, who served as the house manager, and performers Chris Brady (who played Sancho Panza), and Jordan Reyes (who played the Captain of the Inquisition). From Morgan Hill were Joy Reynolds, Lori Foster and Marilyn Pifer who all worked on the props, costumer Michelle Griffin, stage manager Bridget Harnett and performers Megan Griffin (who played Antonia) and Christine Carrillo (who played an Inn Wench).

Getting to be part of “Man of La Mancha” was a special experience for actress Megan Griffin, who is also on the board of directors for SJMT and has performed in all the shows this season.

“I have heard multiple cast members and the director talk at length about how it was their bucket list show,” she said. “It is exciting to be working with a new theater and get to be a part of building it into something great. SJMT not only puts on excellent shows that are fun for audiences, but also provides great performance opportunities.”

Rottman has stayed active in acting with South Valley Civic Theatre, recently giving an outstanding performance as “Mama Rose” in its end-of-season show “Gypsy.” She is also on the board of directors for SJMT and serves as general manager, setting up the auditions, maintaining corporation records and files directly related to such events, coordinates and supervises the house managers and runs the front of the house and publishing communications with the membership.

The group is dedicated to presenting high quality musical theater at affordable prices to San Jose and Silicon Valley Area audiences, she said. She works at Evergreen Valley College and wants to  combine her love of theater with her passion for her job as an outreach specialist and bring live community theater to the campus and its students. The administration of the college, in particular President Keith Aytch, is also very supportive of the collaboration, she said.

“The company has a goal to positively enrich people’s lives and to help create a vibrant community filled with cultural opportunities,” Rottman said. “We want to provide experiences for children and teens who otherwise may not be able to afford to participate as audience members in live theater productions by developing partnerships with schools and organizations to coordinate field trips and special school performances.”

SJMT also strives to support the multicultural nature of the Santa Clara County community at large by encouraging people from all cultures to participate as audience members or as active participants in the shows that we produce, she said.

Besides musical shows, SJMT also shows off the talent of local performers with various fundraising concerts held once a year in venues throughout Santa Clara County. Past shows have featured big band music as well as a salute to movie music called “Hooray for Hollywood.” Its upcoming concert featuring the songs of Irving Berlin will take place Sept. 22 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in San Jose.

Many local acting talents get their experience at South Valley Civic Theatre and other groups such as Pintello and Limelight and get the acting bug where they seek other shows to perform at such as San Jose Musical Theater, Pifer said.

“Because the South Valley typical show calendar has multiple musicals in it and it’s primarily musical theater, then there’s a natural appeal for another company that’s also doing musical theater,” she said. “We’ll also get some cross-fertilization. There are folks who might get to know people from South Valley and they’ll come down and join productions with South Valley shows as well.”

Pifer has a life-long passion for all theater performances. But those featuring singing and acting are especially dear to her.

“Musicals are just fun. I’ve done straight plays in my theatrical career, but there’s something about being involved in a big ensemble that has the singing and dancing as well as the acting that just kind of takes theater to another level,” she said. “Sometimes there are musicals that are kind of dark. But much more often they’re upbeat and feel good and have a heart-warming story. It’s a lot of fun and, as with any theater group, getting to know the people — and musicals have a larger cast.”

Marty Cheek