Trial by Jury Cast

The Principals

Steve Hendrickson – The Learned Judge

Steve has been a professional actor for thirty-five years and a devotee of G&S since eighth grade when he was summarily cast as Sir Joseph Porter in a junior high school Savoy mashup whereupon H.M.S. Pinafore welcomed the traveling court of The Mikado to Portsmouth.  The entourage was attacked by treacherous Pirates of Penzance but saved by  Iolanthe’s coterie of avenging Fairies.  This all took place in less time than Trial by Jury, for which the audience of parents, students and teachers were overjoyed.  He hopes you will enjoy Trial by Jury and trusts he speaks for the entire company when he says, “We’ve suffered for our art. Now it’s your turn.”


Grace Lowe – Angelina, the Plaintiff

Trial by Jury is Grace’s first production with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, and she couldn’t be more thrilled.  Grace is proud to call Minnesota home, and happy to be here after years of traveling, studying, and working in New York, California, and the United Kingdom.  Pavarotti was the first fellow with whom Grace fell madly in love (around age five), and her love of opera only grew from there.  She is grateful for the training and education received from Saint Olaf College, The New Studio on Broadway (Tisch School of the Arts), Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and Goddard College.  Grace cannot thank her family and friends enough for their endless support — especially her brother Parker who’s been forced to listen to her singing since day one, and her mother who introduced her to the magic of Puccini all those years ago.


Felix Aguilar-Tomlinson – Edwin, the Defendant

Felix is overjoyed to be appearing on the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company stage once again!  Having made his debut with the company two years ago as a member of the chorus in Gilbert and Sullivan’s final collaborative work, The Grand Duke, it seems fitting (or at least peculiarly coincidental) that he will be making his second appearance in their first.  Speaking of seconds, this will also be Felix’s second appearance in an opera at the Minnesota Fringe! After last year’s performance as Logan in the Really Spicy Opera Company’s production of The Frat Party, he is glad to be given another opportunity to wax operatic in the Rarig Center.  Felix would like to extend a huge “shoutout” to his parents for their continuous support, Jacie Knight and his entire theater family at Youth Performance Company, Manon Gimlett and Sue Ruby for their masterful instruction in his formative years at MacPhail Center for Music, and his vocal coaches Thaxter Cunio and Dennis Peterson for always pushing him to new heights (or high notes, as it were) in the pursuit of his passion as a vocalist.


Jim Ahrens – The Counsel for the Plaintiff

Jim made his debut with Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company in 1997’s production of The Sorcerer, and last appeared with the company in 2013’s The Yeomen of the Guard, wherein he distinguished himself by stabbing himself in the ankle as he left the stage in the Act I Finale.  Along the way, he has had the honor of playing several roles, including Lord Tolloller in Iolanthe, Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance, and Dick Dauntless in Ruddigore.  In non G&S life, appeared as a soloist with many ensembles, including the Minnesota Orchestra, the Oratorio Society of Minnesota, the Des Moines symphony, Skylark Opera, and many others.  As an actor, Jim has played principal roles with many organizations, including, Theatre Latte Da, Cerulean Productions, and Theatre Coup d’Etat.  Jim is also the tenor soloist at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church.  He can next be seen in urban farms throughout the state singing Astolfo in Mixed Precipitation’s Picnic Operetta version of Handel’s Alcina.


Ryan Johnson – The Usher

For his second production with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, Ryan has made a drastic hygienic and occupational change from his last role as Dick Deadeye in the H.M.S Pinafore.  After being asked following every performance about his black and stained teeth, he decided to foot the bill for a dentist and also get a GSCE in court ushering.  Now he is prepared to deal with delinque … he means, defendants in the court room.  Proudly representing Saint Paul’s west siiiide, Ryan likes to brag about being the former production runner (gopher) for Cirque du Soleil and fearlessly teaching middle school choir.  He hopes for a restrained, non-prejudiced, fair hearing as well as an enjoyable musical performance of Trial by Jury.


Waldyn Benbenek – The Foreman of the Jury

Waldyn played Edwin in the first Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company production of Trial by Jury back before the advent of the internet.  His solo on toy guitar is still talked about.  After a troubled childhood of collecting Gilbert & Sullivan recordings when they were new releases, Waldyn had joined others in a now demolished Kenwood basement to help Dick Fishel form the GSVLOC.  Since then he has served the company in a number of capacities and played numerous roles.  His progress from cad to his current esteemed role as slime-ball has been a natural one.  The high point of his GSVLOC history came when he met and married Dr. Mary Mescher Benbenek.  They have three children who still refuse to believe he could have ever played a seducer even in heavy makeup.


The Bridesmaids

Victoria Erickson

Victoria joins the cast of Trial by Jury as a Bridesmaid for her first show with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company.  After performing with College Light Opera Company in summer 2014 and getting a taste of the kooky world of G&S, she decided she understood enough of the jokes to do another production.  Favorite roles include Hedy in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Rapunzel in Into the Woods, and opera scenes as Dorabella from Cosi fan tutte.  She is juggling two Minnesota Fringe Festival shows this summer and requests that you all also attend The Clever Artifice with Really Spicy Opera.  A recent graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead, she is currently exploring life in the twin cities, but has yet to work up the nerve to parallel park.  Hobbies include running, yoga, carrying on conversations for far too long, accidentally pouring too much wine in her glass, giggling, and eating copious amounts of snacks.


Carly Hayes

Carly is delighted to make her debut with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company.  She is a senior at the University of Minnesota, pursuing a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance.  Her studies come in handy on the tennis courts, where she currently coaches teenagers and needs plenty of voice projection to be heard.  Carly recently finished her first marathon in the rain and looks forward to her next one, hopefully on a nice sunny day.


Kate Lamb

Trial by Jury marks Kate’s debut performance with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company and the Fringe Festival.  As a graduate of Luther College and Saint Cloud State University, Kate previously enjoyed a long, impressive career as a professional student.  Now Kate performs regularly with Thursday Musical, the Minnesota Chorale, and Opera on Tap.  She also works as a speech-language pathologist in the Wayzata Public Schools and an adjunct instructor at Saint Cloud State.


Amanda Weis

This production marks the third time Amanda is performing with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company – first as a lovesick maiden in Patience, then as the fashionable and confident Cousin Hebe in H.M.S. Pinafore, and now as an aghast bridesmaid.  Incidentally, Trial by Jury was the first Gilbert & Sullivan production Amanda had ever performed – doing so while studying at Saint John’s University / College of St. Benedict.  She finds it a great privilege and pleasure to be creating this amusing one-act with such talented cast, crew, and musicians.  When away from the clever antics of Gilbert & Sullivan, Amanda is teaching vocal and piano lessons at one of her two studios. She has also had the privilege to work with such companies as Minneapolis Musical Theatre, The Really Spicy Opera Company, Paul Bunyan Playhouse, Duluth Playhouse, Seasons Players, and Curtain Call Community Theater.  Favorite roles include Sister Amnesia in Nunsense, The Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods, Mary Lane in Reefer Madness, and the female role in Five Course Love.


The Defendant’s Floozies

Sarah Wind Richens

Sarah has been performing with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company since 2004.  Her past roles include Lady Psyche in Princess Ida, Yum-Yum in The Mikado, Princess Nekaya in Utopia, Limited, Patience in Patience, and Julia in The Grand Duke.  She has also performed with the GSVLOC and the Minneapolis Pops Orchestra at the Lake Harriet Bandshell as Rose Maybud in Ruddigore, Peep-Bo in The Mikado, Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance, and Josephine in H.M.S. Pinafore.  Sarah is delighted to be a floozy in Trial by Jury, after a long run of playing the ingénue.


Madeline Veenker

Madeline is delighted to perform in her second production with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company.  She made her debut with the company this past spring in H.M.S. Pinafore.  She recently completed her Master’s degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville where she learned a whole lot about singing and tried to lose her Minnesotan accent.  Past roles include Despina in Cosi fan tutte, Josephine in Lady, Be Good, Lucia in The Rape of Lucretia, Fiona in Brigadoon, Rosa Bud in the Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Meg in Little Women the Musical.  During the week, Madeline teaches voice and piano with the Mount Calvary Academy of Music, directs the Sanctuary Choir & Handbells at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, and works at the Lunds & Byerly’s Corporate Support Office in Meat & Seafood.


The Jurymen

Scott Benson

Twenty five years ago, Scott was cast in his first Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company production, Patience, but this is his first chance to be in a Fringe show.  A lawyer and recovering politician, Scott is delighted to be in Trial By Jury, one of his favorite of the cannon.


Stephen Hage

Stephen’s lifelong passion for Gilbert and Sullivan began in the eighth grade, when he was cast as Sir Joseph Porter in a middle school production of H.M.S. Pinafore and it has carried him through the years to this, his thirty-fifth appearance in a G&S production … but then, who’s counting!?  In addition to performing with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, Stephen also serves as the company’s Producer.  While Stephen considers the GSVLOC to be “home,” he has also performed with Bloomington Civic Theater and Minnesota Opera.  By day, Stephen is responsible for Human Resources at Orion Associates, which he does, all the while enjoying far too many cups of coffee.  Stephen dedicates this, and all that he does, to his delightful daughters, Lyndsay, Madeleine and Maya … to his sweet son, Liam … and to his lovely and loving wife, Lara.


John Orbison

A newcomer to the stage only ten years ago, John marks his tenth Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company stage production with this show.  He also sings in the Chorale and Chamber Singers at Colonial Church in Edina.  He has performed as a juryman in Hennepin County District Court, and the defendant in this case may be pleased to know that the outcome was an acquittal.  His promise of marriage to lovely GSVLOC alto Holly MacDonald has been joyously fulfilled.


Eric Pasternack

In real life, Eric is a peripatetic petrophysicist.  Nobody knows what a petrophysicist is, so he does other more recognizable things for fun, such as singing the second tenor part in the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company chorus and doing whatever the director tells him to do on stage.  Eric’s first G&S experience was in 1963 as Jack Point in The Yeomen of the Guard.  Despite that auspicious start, he stayed off the stage for thirty years before joining the chorus of the (late) Texas Gilbert and Sullivan Company from 1994 to 1998.  He joined the GSVLOC in 2000 after moving to the great state of Minnesota, and has happily participated in all but two productions since then.  (Note for the curious: a petrophysicist evaluates data from oil and gas wells in order to determine how much oil and gas is really down there.  Now you know).


Roger Shaver

Roger is pleased to announce his debut with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company and hopes for many more performances ahead.  He has recently performed with Opera on Tap in Minneapolis.  Roger’s previous performances were with Avante Garage and the Tennessee Opera in Nashville, Tennessee.  He will be releasing an EP on iTunes in the Fall of 2015.


Jason Vogen

This is Jason’s fourth performance with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company.  He has performed in numerous productions with varied companies around the Twin Cities since completing his undergrad at Saint Olaf College in 2004. Jason is involved in many other aspects of performance including voiceover, commercial and print work.  He is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of Saint Thomas and hopes to become proficient in play therapy and act therapy.


Benjamin Wagner

A Twin Cities singer, actor and director, Ben has performed on stage with organizations including the Minnesota Opera, Children’s Theatre Company and the Minnesota Concert Opera, recent production credits include roles in with History Theatre (River Road Boogie, Tales Across the Minnesota Trail), Actors Theatre of Minnesota (Bye Bye Liver) and the Public Theatre of Minnesota (Aladdin) and in the workshop company for Sweetland a new musical work.  Nationally, he has performed as a vocalist headlining concerts at 54Below, The Duplex, Don’t Tell Mama and the Metropolitan Room of New York City.  Ben has served on the teaching staff at Children’s Theatre Company, Youth Performance Company, Young Artist Initiative, as an Artist Educator at Steppingstone Theatre and as an instructor with YOLO Theatre of Minneapolis.  He has served as the 2013 Artist In Residence with the Saint Olaf Summer Musical Theatre Intensive, and actively works as a jazz vocalist and cabaret artist throughout the Twin Cities region.  In addition to his performance work, Ben serves as the founding Executive Artistic Director of the New Lens Theatre, a new musical theatre organization based out of Minneapolis.


The Members of the Public

Mary Mescher Benbenek

Mary has been in the Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, well, for a long time.  Thankfully, rather than pretending to be a seventeen year-old maiden (getting more difficult), in this show she gets to perform a role closer to her own age.  She has performed in most seasons with the GSVLOC, first joining the company in 1981.  She is married to baritone, Waldyn Benbenek.  Their children are continually surprised to learn that not everyone has heard of Gilbert and Sullivan.


Tanya Brody

Tanya doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t sing.  She has performed in numerous productions in the Twin Cities, from childhood on, including her most recent appearance in the chorus of Nature – A Walking Play with TigerLion Arts and as Dolly in Ravenscroft with Phrenic Impact Theater.  Tanya has also performed all over the with the Bel Canto Voices in her youth and more recently, all over the country as part of The Muses, a touring Celtic band.  She grew up with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, as her parents were long-time members.  Tanya still has many of the G&S operettas memorized because of this.  She was an Imp of Deadly Shade in an early production of The Sorcerer and was a Bridesmaid in a production of Ruddigore.  Tanya hasn’t performed with the GSVLOC for a very long time, but is thrilled to be singing in the chorus again.


Jim Brooks

Jim has had the pleasure and privilege of performing with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company chorus for the past twenty-two years.  With these Fringe Festival performances of Trial by Jury, Jim has performed in all of the Gilbert and Sullivan collaborations (He is still hoping for a restaging of Thespis).  When not doing G&S, Jim is the director of the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers and choreographs and calls square and contra dances in the Twin Cities.  He is also a professor at Concordia University – Saint Paul in the College of Education and Science.  Jim’s wife Judy and daughter Julia and been faithful followers of the GSVLOC. They tolerate Jim’s intense rehearsal schedule each year, but always bring friends and acquaintances to enjoy the shows.


John Byram

John has only just recently found his way into the world of Gilbert and Sullivan.  This summer, he has enjoyed attending to his duty as a generally sober and true sailor in Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company’s H.M.S. Pinafore.  When he’s not singing about British tar, or commiserating with the lamentations of some principal or another, he can often be found at Orchestra Hall reprising the role of front of house staff.  His other fine attributes include being very very good, and usually being found to be polite and clean by those of loftier station.


Mary Gregory

Mary has been a member of the Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company for a very long time.  Her favorite opera is The Mikado, which she saw first as a child, when it was a PBS Sunday afternoon special.  She has been in every one of the operas, most of them repeated … some multiple times. This is only her third time doing Trial by Jury, and she is excited to be working with these talented people.


Ivar Hendrickson

Ivar grew up with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, making his stage debut at age five in The Mikado, also directed by Lesley Hendrickson. He is an artist, actor and musician currently residing in south Minneapolis.  He is excited to return to the group for Trial by Jury.


Shawn Holt

Shawn has been a member of the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company since performing in The Mikado in 2007.  This, however, is her first Fringe Show.  Ever the happy chorus girl, Shawn is looking forward to performing in Trial by Jury.  She just hopes she can memorize all of those words in time!


Julia Knoll

Julia is thrilled to be performing in the Minnesota Fringe Festival with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company.  Her love of G&S operettas was born while singing patter songs with her father on long road trips.  Previous roles with GSVLOC include chorus member in The Grand Duke and The Yeomen of the Guard, Lady Angela in Patience, Ruth in Ruddigore, and singing the part of Pitti-Sing in the summer concert performance of The Mikado.  Julia has performed in various other musical theater productions with Morris Park Players, Chameleon Theatre, and the Northfield Arts Guild.  When she isn’t “singing choruses in public”, she works for the History of Science and Technology program at the University of Minnesota.


Holly MacDonald

Holly joined the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company in 1982 and has performed numerous G&S productions as a proud member of the alto chorus.  Trial by Jury was, in fact, the first show Holly performed with the company.  This is her first time performing in the Fringe Festival.


Jo Pasternack

From the first time Jo heard The Pirates of Penzance, she was stricken with “G&Sosis,” a malady that causes strange, compulsive behavior.  For example, while listening to G&S recordings, Jo, an alto, sings all the parts.  In Dallas, she was a founding member of the now defunct Texas Gilbert and Sullivan Company, where she was a completely unbiased part of the “public” in Trial by Jury.  Unfortunately, the disease appears to be hereditary, as her mother and her adult children have sung in G&S productions!  Since 1999, Jo has been a groupie, costume person, and summertime chorus member in the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company. In real life, Jo, a retired small animal veterinarian, works as a “professional volunteer.”


Tyler Stanchfield

Tyler is excited to debut at the Fringe Festival this year as well as being in his first Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company production.  He will be a senior attending Hamline University, majoring in Theatre Arts and minoring in Education and has high hopes of graduating this upcoming spring of 2016!  In addition to appearing in his first fringe festival performance, Tyler has acted in other shows with roles including: Waiter and Tenor Soloist in Cabaret, Patrick Dennis in Mame, Mr. Bumble in Oliver!, and Roy, Mrs. Taylor, Reverend Billy Hightower, and the Institute Man in Bat Boy: the Musical.  This summer, Tyler is enjoying working as an Education intern at the Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis, enjoying the experience very much!


Rhea Sullivan

Rhea’s first show with the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company was Trial By Jury in the fall of 1981.  Since then she has performed with the GSVLOC in all of the operettas in the Gilbert & Sullivan canon – most of them three times. Rhea is delighted to be making her Fringe debut.


Keelin Yenney-Henderson

Keelin is excited to be performing in her first Fringe show and second Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company production, having recently sung in the summer concert version of H.M.S. Pinafore with the Minneapolis Pops Orchestra.  In addition to her recent work with the GSVLOC, Keelin can also be heard around the Twin Cities in both the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale and the Minnesota Chorale.  Past role favorites include Lola in Copacabana and the titular role in Thomas Pasatieri’s La Divina.  Outside of the musical realm, Keelin plays roller derby with the North Star Roller Girls, works in the field of Higher Education, and will be returning to school this fall to pursue a PhD.  Keelin is eternally grateful to her family for their unwavering support in all she does.  This thanks extends especially to her partner Chad, who handles the brunt of her crazy schedule with unparalleled grace and encouragement.