Manhattan-raised Melina Moore brings a flair of Broadway to Vernon through her work with Big Apple Productions. (Joshua Jerrid Photography)

Adding a Manhattan flair to the Okanagan

Every day, she took the subway to school, packed like a sardine on the busy underground transit line

Every day, she took the subway to school, packed like a sardine on the busy underground transit line.

Yellow taxi cabs honk in frustration as they’re stuck in Manhattan rush hour traffic, and the iconic pie-shaped Juilliard School looms above the streets as she makes her way through town. Every day she passed Juilliard, and every day she dreamt of gracing its halls. Though, she never believed it would actually happen.

One day, when the Argentina-born and New York City-raised Melina Moore was in high school, her voice teacher that had introduced Moore to opera and sang with her in her debut performance of Marriage of Figaro suggested Moore audition for Juilliard.

“I had already been accepted to Barnard College and I was going to study comparative literature — what I would have done with a degree in comparative literature I have no idea — but I was always really into English and humanities,” Moore said.

“I was ready to go, we were going to pay the tuition in a week and I had scholarships, and the Juilliard auditions were coming up. She said, ‘I think you should audition for Juilliard.’ I was like, ‘ha ha, all right.’ But because of that attitude, because I was already accepted to this other school, I wasn’t terribly nervous about it. It was like, sure I’ll walk across the street and do this audition. I did, and somehow I got in.”

Moore, who now owns and operates Valley Vocal Arts and Big Apple Productions in the BX, had dreamt about Juilliard on her long commutes to Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, and that dream was becoming a reality. But that didn’t make it any easier. Her future at Barnard College had already been planned.

“I remember so clearly the day I went to my parents and said, ‘Well, I got in to Juilliard,’” Moore said. “They were like, ‘Oh, that’s great, but you’re going to Barnard, because you know, we want you to be able to make a living and have a future.’ I said, ‘Well I can’t. How could you pass an opportunity like this up?’ It was a big fight and eventually they came around and off I went.”

Moore was one of four students in the undergraduate voice program at Juilliard, where she met her now ex-husband Paul Moore of the North Okanagan, who was a graduate student at the time.

Her life revolved around opera and the theatre in her Juilliard days. After school, she would survey Manhattan’s booming opera and theatre scenes, ushering in different theatres and visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“I kind of miss that,” Moore said. “This wasn’t exactly the life I had in mind when I was 17 and off to Juilliard, but things happened in life and I’m sure glad they did and that I went there, because it’s a pretty good life.”

This year marks 20 years in the Interior for Moore, making it the longest she has ever spent living in one place. While Vernon is now her home, Moore brings a flavour of Broadway to small-town Okanagan through her hard work with Big Apple Productions.

“I wanted a kind of separate company and name from Valley Vocal Arts, which is the teaching studio strictly,” Moore said. “I wanted that to have an umbrella to do these bigger productions, so Big Apple was born.”

Moore’s first production under the banner of Big Apple Productions was Les Misérables in 2011, creating the base for the past six years of performances that brought in big-name shows such as Chicago, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Show.

“We have a lot of shows under our belt at this time,” Moore said. “They just keep getting bigger and better and as our name gets associated with really good stuff —not your average community theatre — but high level quality performing we’re getting a larger audience base. We just auditioned more than 40 people for The Rocky Horror Show, I couldn’t believe it. There’s some serious talent here.”

But putting on these large performances comes at a cost. As a small business and not a society, Moore doesn’t receive substantial grants or have large corporate sponsors, and is forced to pay the upwards of $50,000 show cost out of pocket.

“I always wish that I had a good budget,” Moore said. “I’ve been toying with the idea of making Big Apple a not-for-profit society, but I’m only one person and I’m always involved in a show there are no breaks. All of that takes time, and I truly don’t have it.”

So Moore fronts the show costs on a high-limit credit card, hoping that the runs will pay themselves off.

”I’ve struggled a few times over the years where that hasn’t been the case, and I’ve sworn up and down that’s it. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t afford to spend my son’s college education to pay my bills for a show that wasn’t successful financially. But then I can’t stop because when there’s a good one — like Chicago, which was such a success we sold out every show and there were hundreds of names on the waiting list — I think to myself, if it can be like this I want to keep going so they can all be like this.”

Because of the associated costs, Moore does what she can to keep costs low without cutting quality.

“We do what we can and still try to give locals a taste of what professional theatre is,” Moore said. “I want them to really know what theatre can be, even on a small budget. I work everybody really hard, but that’s the way I was trained. You don’t stop until it’s perfect, and then the magic of live theatre takes over. It’s a world of its own and it just consumes you.”

This season, Moore is bringing back reprise shows, including the fourth edition of Moore’s Halloween spectacular The Rocky Horror Show, featuring director Neal Facey.

“I really want people to know that, if they are coming back again, it’s a different show,” Moore said of The Rocky Horror Show. “Our only two cast members that are the same from previous years are my partner Craig (Howard), who plays Brad, and of course Brian Martin, who plays Frank N. Furter, because nobody can touch that guy, nobody. I’m convinced that the people who are coming back for a fourth year, they’re coming back to see him. He’s outrageous and born to play that role.”

Following The Rocky Horror Show is Jesus Christ Superstar around Easter time. Moore is currently deciding on a performance for the upcoming spring show, which will be announced later this season.

New to Big Apple Productions this year is an open casting call on all major productions to bring in more talent from the community, Moore said.

On the radar for the next five years is Rent, Annie, Mamma Mia, Singin’ in the Rain and Hair.

“The ultimate, ultimate dream, which I need half a million dollars for but it has to happen before I die because it’s a bucket list thing, is to bring back Les Misérables. But again, it’s restricted up the wazoo, you can’t even get near that show.”

Until that dream becomes a reality, Moore will continue to work hard to bring Broadway to the Okanagan.

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