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Henderson theater classes bring books to life

In John Tomasello’s Storybook Theater class, children don’t just listen to him read books such as “Where the Wild Things Are.”

They bring the stories to life.

“The words tell them how to act it out,” Tomasello said. “They get to dress up and play around with it. They love it.”

Tomasello has a lifelong dedication to teaching musical theater in various venues, including Henderson recreation centers. This summer he is planning to start a new children’s theater program at Baobab Stage at Town Square Las Vegas, 6605 Las Vegas Blvd. South.

He hopes to inspire children to love theater the way he was inspired. Growing up in New York, Tomasello fell in love with acting.

“I never needed to be famous,” he said. “I did it because I loved it.”

In college, he crafted his own major combining education and entertainment.

Even when he was cast in plays around town, he always took time to teach classes or direct plays for local high schools or organizations such as the YMCA.

When Tomasello moved to Las Vegas, he decided he wanted to pursue his acting career full-time and take time off from teaching.

He landed roles in productions on and off the Strip including “Evil Dead: The Musical,” where he has been a cast member for two years.

Tomasello was drawn back into teaching by chance. He was in a music store with a friend when they overheard a conversation about trying to find an assistant to help with a children’s acting class.

“My buddy said to the guy, ‘You’re in luck, because my buddy used to do that,’ ” Tomasello said.

After a year as an assistant in the city of Henderson’s youth theater program, Tomasello was asked to take over teaching the Introduction to Broadway Musical Production classes.

As part of the program, the children perform in original productions. Tomasello usually creates parodies for them.

“We did one to ‘Annie’ to the theme of Harry Potter,” he said. “Instead of ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’ we did ‘It’s a Hogwart’s Life.’ ”

Another production cast Disney-style princesses in a “Mean Girls” theme.

“It’s if a new princess came to high school,” Tomasello said.

So far, he has put on 14 productions.

Tomasello’s upcoming show is centered around superheroes.

“I am always writing and rewriting,” he said. “I like it to be clever enough for the parents to enjoy, too.”

Over time, Tomasello said the city of Henderson asked him if he had any other ideas along the lines of acting classes for kids. He suggested his Storybook Theater class for the younger children, allowing them to act out the books he reads.

“I’ve been doing that two or three years,” he said.

Earlier this year, Tomasello connected with Wassa Coulibaly of Baobab Stage about offering a musical theater camp in the summer.

“I think it goes well with the space,” he said.

They are still working out the details for hours, dates and fees for the Baobab Stage program.

The concept isn’t new, Tomasello said. He is planning to bring a branch of the Acting Academy for Kids, a California-based theater group, to Las Vegas. The program offers classes, workshops and camps for youths 4 to 17 to acquire skills and resources in musical theater and acting. For more information, visit actingacademyforkids.com.

Tomasello plans to continue his classes in Henderson.

The next session of Storybook Theater is scheduled from 11:30 to 1 p.m. Saturdays June 7 through July 12 at the Black Mountain Recreation Center, 599 Greenway Road. The session is $63 for children 4 to 6.

The next session of Introduction to Broadway Musical Production is scheduled Mondays June 2 through July 7 at the Black Mountain Recreation Center. The session fee is $63. Classes for children 7 to 10 are set to meet from 5 to 6:30 p.m., and classes for children 11 or older are slated to meet from 6:30 to 8 p.m. For more information or to register, visit cityofhenderson.com/parks.

Even if he has seen obstacles along the way, Tomasello knows he has made the right choice to help children who aspire to learn the acting craft.

“Being a musical theater teacher doesn’t exactly come with good health care coverage,” he said. “It’s hard justifying it to your family. But once they see a program, they understand that’s why I do it.”

Contact Henderson View reporter Michael Lyle at mlyle@viewnews.com or 702-387-5201.

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