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Nelson singer Rachel DeShon collaborates with St. Joseph School in children’s opera

All 130 students were involved in the production at the Capitol Theatre

When the Nelson singer Rachel DeShon was a child growing up in Seattle, she was a big fan of the children’s entertainer Tim Noah.

She says Noah is the Fred Penner of the U.S. He was on prime time television and is the winner of several Emmy awards for his role in the children’s show entitled How ‘Bout That.

“He would have these crazy concerts, and to me they seemed like rock concerts, at big outdoor venues with hundreds and thousands of kids, ” DeShon says.

Fastforward to Nelson in 2021 when DeShon reached out to Noah, whom she had never met, because she wanted to turn some of his work into a children’s opera in conjunction with 130 students at St. Joseph School and perform it at the Capitol Theatre. She sang him some of his lyrics, opera style, over the phone.

“It was astounding. Really, it was amazing,” said Noah.

Noah was in town last week for DeShon’s Feb. 1 production of Anything is Possible, her adaptation of Noah’s 1985 movie entitled In Search of the Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzie Woodle Woo. He took the small part of a story-telling guitarist in the production. The Nelson singer and actor Kozmo Sammartino also collaborated in the production.

Noah said he is grateful to DeShon.

“This gives it a whole new life,” he said. “I love seeing the kids get involved. The songs still work, after all these years.”

Mahala Rees, 12, was one of the main dancers in Anything is Possible. She loves dancing and was happy to perform with her friends on stage. She said she enjoyed “getting to perform with Rachel and Kozmo. It’s just such a privilege.”

Noah Schaub, five, was one of the youngest performers. He likes singing and was happy to be able to do that in the show. He said his favourite part was “holding the flowers.” Large colourful cardboard flowers were a major prop in the story.

Before moving to Nelson from the U.S. in 2017, DeShon had a busy career in the U.S. as a singer who can easily cross over between opera, musical theatre and jazz. She often performed in concerts conducted by Marvin Hamlisch.

She also worked in a circus, Teatro ZinZanni, “singing opera while rollerskating or flying on a trapeze.”

DeShon says she has tried producing opera with kids in schools before when she lived in the U.S. but, “I always thought it was just not entertaining enough. I didn’t think that it was going to draw new listeners to opera.”

But Anything is Possible is different.

The play is about a girl searching for the secret ingredient to a happy life. She meets various people and has a number of song-filled adventures and concludes that the answer is two-fold: imagination and friendship. Her imagination is a character in the piece, appearing as a disembodied voice played by Sammartino.

“This piece is great for an opera,” DeShon says. “I wanted something that was exciting. I wanted it to be fun and the lyrics to be really clever. I wanted kids to feel like they could laugh and sing and jump up and dance and do all these things while the show was going.”

The production of Anything is Possible at the Capitol Theatre had a unique audience participation aspect. Cast members, whenever they were not on stage, were seated in a large group in the front seats of the theatre, singing along with those on stage, and at one point they all started dancing at their seats.

“I didn’t want any students backstage,” DeShon says.

St. Joseph School principal Michael Carere told the Nelson Star that the production, which was presented as part of Catholic Schools Week in B.C., and has been “a lifetime experience for these kids. Not only watching the show, but being in it, is just a life-changing experience.”

He said all students at the school participated in some way. Grades K-6 had songs in the performance. Grade 7-9 students made or helped make the props, helped students on and off stage, or helped backstage.

Carere said he was “blown away” by the students’ performance. It shows the students that repeated practice can pay off, he said.

“The hard work really shows in this performance.”


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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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