Theatre Under the Stars

Melanie Bivens is a Forth Worth native. She has traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, Namibia, Niagara Falls Canada, and Johannesburg playing Metamorphosis Conferences, was seen playing the piano for TUTS commercial promo for Into The Woods in 2016, and was the Music Director / Conductor for the HSMT production of Once On This Island. Other Music Director credits include: Mahalia at The Ensemble Theatre, Dancing in the Streets at Miller Outdoor Theatre, God’s Trombone, Auntie Explains Christmas, Crowns, and Black Nativity at Jubilee Theatre (Fort Worth), and Crowns at African American Repertory Theatre (Dallas TX — Founded by Irma P. Hall). She was featured on PBS Channel 8 for her rendition of “I Would Die For You” as a Musical Tribute to Prince.

Beri Brown was born and raised in Houston, where she spent most of her time in a dance studio. Beri trained at a classical ballet studio (and attended summer intensives at Joffrey Ballet NY and Idyllwild Arts) until her sophomore year of high school when she switched to a competitive jazz studio, with whom she competed locally and nationally. During her undergrad, at Boston University, Beri explored her love of musical theatre as she both danced in and choreographed musicals with BU Stage Troupe and BU On Broadway, and continued taking dance classes. In spring of 2007 Beri was in her first community theatre production, Sweet Charity, with Diamond Head Theatre, while doing an internship at Sea Life Park Hawaii. In fall of 2007 Beri was cast as a full-time character performer at Walt Disney World, and has continued to work as a seasonal cast member since 2010. While working toward her PhD in brain and behavior psychology (which she completed in December 2018) at the University of Southern Mississippi, Beri taught at On Your Toes Dance studio and South Mississippi Ballet Theatre, where she also danced in several productions including Dracula and The Nutcracker. Beri also performed with the Hattiesburg Civic Opera in productions of The Producers and Legally Blonde. Now helping others find their passion for performing, Beri teaches dance at TUTS Humphreys School of Musical Theatre and for the musical theatre department of the High School for the Visual and Performing Arts. Beri has also found a passion for teaching fitness classes, which she has been doing since 2013. Beri’s love for dance, musical theatre, and fitness come together at Body by Broadway, a seasonal free class she teaches in downtown Houston as part of a partnership between the Downtown District and Theatre Under The Stars.

Courtney Chilton has taught acting and dance across the country with such schools and organizations as Humphreys School of Musical Theatre, Presbyterian School of Houston, Kinder HSPVA, Golda Och Academy, Amy Blake’s Academy of Dance, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the Tribble School, and the University of Tulsa. Whether a beginning acting class or an advanced modern dance class, she likes to find a balance of good technique and self expression. Learning not only to repeat choreography, exercises, and text but to truly live and explore them. Courtney seeks to help her students grow, explore, and learn in more than just the arts. Courtney has also worked with students as a director and choreographer on shows such as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Grease, Aida, Singing in the Rain, Disney’s Aladdin, Best Bugs, Annie, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Bye Bye Birdie, and Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Currently, she is teaching at TUTS Humphreys School of Musical Theatre, Kinder HSPVA, Queensbury Theatre’s Tribble School and Houston Ballet Academy. She has also worked as a performer, director, and choreographer in opera, dance, and theatre with such companies as TUTS, Houston Grand Opera, Casa Manana, and HITS. For more on Courtney, check out

Crystal Dickinson is an actor, educator and a New Jersey native. She began her professional career in Atlanta, Georgia where she was named by the Atlanta Sunday Paper as One of the Ten Best Female Actors in Atlanta and also received a Jenny Award for Best Actress. Her New York career began at The Signature Theater alongside her husband, Brandon Dirden, and brother-in-law, Jason Dirden, in Leslie Lee’s, First Breeze of Summer, which starred Leslie Uggums and was directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. From there, she went on to perform on Broadway in the Tony Award winning play, Clybourne Park, for which she received an illustrious Theater World Award, and Tony nominated play, You Can’t Take It With You, alongside James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne. She has also performed Off Broadway at Lincoln Center, The Public Theater, Playwrights Horizons and The Atlantic, among others, and worked with Thomas Kail, Micheal Grief, Scott Ellis, Bryan Cranston, Wendell Pierce, Pam Mackinnon, Lila Neugebauer, Leigh Silverman and Kenny Leon. She is also a four-time AUDELCO Award Nominee. Her film & television credits include: Collateral Beauty, I Origins, This Is Where I Leave You, “The Good Wife”, “New Amsterdam” and a recurring role on Showtime’s “The Chi”. Crystal has also had an illustrious career teaching acting at Stella Adler Studio, Spelman College, NYU, Princeton, Pace University and both of her Alumni schools, University of Illinois and Seton Hall. She has helped countless students get into the best graduate training programs across the country. Giving back and helping others is a big part of her life, so she volunteers at the 52nd Street Project, where she and her husband were recently honored for their twelve years of work with the organization. She has also served as an Alumni Board Member for Miss Porter’s School, an ambassador to Playwrights Horizon’s Gen PH Program, a Resource Council member for 7 Stages in Atlanta and volunteered for the Governor’s Honor’s Program, The National August Wilson Monologue Competition, and The Drama League. A proud MFA graduate of The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, she also studied at the London Academy for Music and Dramatic Art and is an elite member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab.

Parker Esse is a multi-award-winning, and story-driven director/choreographer. After performing regionally, in national tours, and as a featured performer on Broadway in the Tony Award winning Fosse, he began collaborating exclusively on multiple Regional and Broadway shows as an associate director/choreographer including Broadway’s Tony Nominated Finian’s Rainbow and A Tale of Two Cities, as well as five Encores! productions (NY City Center). As Choreographer, Parker exploded onto the scene with the groundbreaking/reimagined Oklahoma! (Arena Stage) and Stephen Sondheim and Wynton Marsalis’ A Bed and a Chair directed by John Doyle (NY City Center Encores!). He has directed/choreographed for numerous NYC, Regional and International Theatres. He is an eight-time Helen Hayes Nominee for Best Choreography, winning for Arena Stage’s Oklahoma!, The Pajama Game starring Donna McKechnie and recently for Anything Goes starring Corbin Bleu. Recent director and/or choreographer credits include: the highly acclaimed revisal of Rags (Goodspeed); La Traviata (The Kennedy Center’s WNO); pre-Broadway Toronto engagement of Jukebox Hero featuring Foreigner’s Greatest Hits (Ed Mirvish Theatre); pre-Broadway world premiere of Love And Other Fables (Theatre By The Sea); 45 Minutes From Coontown (York Theatre Co.); The Buddy Holly Story (Casa Manana); Lyrics & Lyricists Celebrates Oklahoma! at 75 (92nd St. Y); and most recently the record-breaking Newsies (Arena Stage). BFA NYU Tisch, Cap21 Alumni.

Melanie Flanagan is a musical theater teaching artist who loves to combine music and movement to create stories with aspiring artists of all ages. From imagination play with kindergarteners, to teen conservatory acting classes, to choreography with senior citizens, Melanie delights in sharing theater arts with anyone who’ll say “yes, and…” She’s been teaching with Theatre Under The Stars in their community engagement and conservatory programming for the past two seasons. She also teaches early childhood music classes when she’s not tutoring middle school math and science. Before she moved to Houston in 2018, she worked with Lincoln Center and The Little Orchestra Society in New York City, creating and managing interactive theatrical experiences for young audiences. She has produced and directed performances across the United States, collaborating with opera singers, movie stars, aerialists, giant puppets, and marching bands. Melanie is thrilled to bring her enthusiasm and expertise to the young artists at HSMT.

Colleen Grady originally from Saskatchewan, Canada, Colleen has been in the United States since 1997 after graduating with a BFA in Costume Design from the University of Regina. She has designed costumes in Canada and across the United States. She was the Costume Shop Manager and Resident Designer at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia for 19 years prior to becoming the Costume Shop Manager and Designer at Theatre Under the Stars. During her time at the Walnut Street Theatre, Colleen trained more than 60 apprentices in the costume shop during a their year long apprenticeships in the Walnut Street Theatres extensive program. Many of those apprentices have gone on to be costume designers and technicians in New York and across the country. Some of Colleen’s design credits include: Select Walnut Street Theatre Designs:  Evita, Fiddler on the Roof (Barrymore Award), La Cage Aux Folles (Barrymore Award), Love Story (American Premiere), Les Misérables (Barrymore Nomination), Singin’ In the Rain (Barrymore Nomination), and Godspell. Off-Broadway:  Summer of ’69. Select TUTS Designs: Bonnie and Clyde,, The Sweet Potato Queens, Oliver!, Heathers, In the Heights, Dreamgirls, Guys & Dolls, All Shook Up, Disney’s Beauty & the Beast, A Chorus Line, Elf and Pure Country.

Olson Scott Kelly is the Artistic Associate at Theatre Under the Stars in Houston, where he serves as Assistant Casting Director and Company Manager, helping to overseeing artistic production & development. He made the move to Houston after working for Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera as their Company Manager and Artistic Intern. Olson is an alum of the acting program at the Conservatory of Performing Arts at Point Park University, where he graduated from in 2017 with honors. While in Pittsburgh, Olson co-founded, produced and directed more than 20 shows for PARK Productions. He has worked professionally with La Jolla Playhouse, Pittsburgh Public Theatre, and SummerStock Austin. Since joining the team at TUTS in 2017, Olson has worked on over a dozen main stage productions, as well as the 49th and 50th season galas (featuring Beth Malone & Idina Menzel, respectively), and the Tommy Tune Awards, for which he served as director of for the 2020 online show. 

Alissa LaVergne grew up dancing in southeast Texas. After graduation, she went to Sam Houston State University and received a BFA in Musical Theatre and Dance. While in college, she started her professional career dancing with the Houston Symphony’s A Very Merry Pops, Royal Caribbean Cruiselines, and Hello, Dolly! at Theatre Under The Stars. Alissa became a Radio City Rockette in 2009 and recently finished her 10th season with the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. With the Rockettes, she has performed on the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”, “Celebrity Apprentice”, “America’s Got Talent”, “The 2017 Tony Awards”, “Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting”, and numerous other television appearances. Her other professional credits include the New York Spectacular (Radio City Music Hall), A Chorus Line (Sheila Bryant), West Side Story (Estella/shark), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Beatrice), Spamalot, White Christmas, Guys and Dolls, Mary Poppins, and Oliver!

Cathy Marmolejo is in her 11th year of teaching at the Academy, but has taught for over 25 years. She teaches tap, ballet, jazz, 4-6 year old musical theatre classes, outreach, field trips, and wrangles for the main stage shows. Cathy most recently choreographed, as well as performed in, James and the Giant Peach for the TUTS Musicals for Young Audiences (MYA) production in Zilkha Hall, and then re-choreographed the show for Miller Outdoor Theatre. She also choreographs in many schools throughout the city. Other MYA performances include Scrooge (Mrs. Cratchit), The Shoemaker and the Christmas Elves (Gretchen), and The Phantom Tollbooth. Some other favorite performance credits include Guys and Dolls (Sarah Brown), Hello, Dolly! (Irene Malloy), You Can’t Take It With You (Essie Carmichael) and Mousetrap (Mollie Ralston) to name a few. Cathy has a bachelor of music education degree with a minor in dance and theatre. She is a professional musician, playing bassoon, clarinet, and bass clarinet.

McKenna Marmolejo is returning for her second year as a teaching artist for HSMT. As an Academy alumnus, she assisted in teaching several Academy classes and jumped into teaching at HSMT excited for the opportunity to teach with the knowledge she learned as a student. As a teaching artist, McKenna has taught the 4-6-year-old musical theatre group, Acting, and Dance. Before moving to Los Angeles, CA in 2018, McKenna spent several years on the mainstage at Theatre Under The Stars, including performances of Heathers (Veronica), Bring it On (Campbell), as well as spending some time down the street at the Alley Theatre. McKenna’s hobbies include watching the Monterey Bay Aquarium sea otter webcam and traveling to the national parks with her blue heeler puppy, Pilot.

Michael Mertz is a veteran educator, coach and professional musician. He has appeared throughout North America and Europe, performing, accompanying, and composing music for theatre, television, corporate events, and advertising. Locally, you may have seen and heard his work in productions at Theatre Under The Stars, Alley Theatre, Stages Repertory Theatre, Main Street Theater, HITS Theatre, Bayou City Concert Musicals, University of Houston (in collaboration with Tony Award winning composer Jerry Bock), University of St. Thomas, and College of the Mainland. Mr. Mertz brings a wealth of experience working with young people in the Houston area as an instructor in Voice, Piano, and the Performing Arts. He is an accompanist for HSPVA Dance Department and Music Director for Unitarian Fellowship of Houston.

Jacob Shideler is the Program Manager for Community Engagement at Theatre Under The Stars. Jacob began his career in marketing for the Walt Disney Company in Los Angeles, California, which eventually led to two years as On-Air Talent for Radio Disney. Concurrently, Jacob worked full-time as the Education and Community Programs Coordinator for Los Angeles Opera. Years of hard work in this role, and a strong desire to impact his community, led to a promotion to serve as Tour Manager. In 2015, Jacob was offered the Manager of Artistic Operations role at Los Angeles Opera, a challenging function that invited Jacob to explore his artistic vision, expand his sense of artistic planning and execution, and further sharpen his musical ear under renowned opera casting director, and mentor, Joshua Winograde. Jacob is an alumni of the music program at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. As a vocalist himself, Jacob has performed in various soundstages, recording studios, and theatres throughout California and Europe. Originally from League City, Texas, Jacob is passionate about playing a key role in advancing Houston’s vibrant arts scene.

Brenda Varvoutis comes to HSMT from a long background of teaching choir in the state of Texas. Her High School choirs and the Bay Area Youth Singers have earned many Best in Class and Sweepstakes Awards throughout her 30 year teaching career. Her students excel in the All-State process and Texas State Solo and Ensemble Contest. She is a member of Texas Music Educators, Texas Choral Directors and Texas Music Adjudicators Association. She is frequent judge, clinician and accompanist in Texas. She has been Music Director for numerous galas and special performances with HSMT students including the Houston Symphony Children’s Concerts. She has been thrilled to share her passion for Music Education and Musical Theater with HSMT students. Ms. Varvoutis was named 2017 Region 4 Teacher of the Year, one of the top 20 teachers in the state of Texas!

Sally Wilfert has appeared on Broadway in the Tony Award winning production of Assassins, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and King David. She also toured the country as Rona Lisa Peretti in the first national tour of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Off-Broadway, Ms. Wilfert’s credits include See Rock City (Lauren), Make Me A Song: The Music of William Finn (Sally), The Mistress Cycle (Tess) and The Prince & The Pauper (Mary Canty). At Carnegie Hall she has appeared in Cole Porter’s Jubilee, South Pacific in Concert (starring Reba McEntire), and Sondheim: A Tribute, (all for PBS). Performing with the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center and Tokyo, she was featured soloist, singing “Somewhere” for their performances of West Side Story Suite. Wilfert has performed throughout the country, including shows at the LaJolla Playhouse, Cincinnati Playhouse, Baltimore Center Stage, Houston’s Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS), Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Maltz Jupiter Theatre, New Haven’s Schubert Theatre, Barrington Stage, Goodspeed Musicals, Hartford Theatreworks, The Fulton Opera House, Connecticut Grand Opera, and The Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati in such shows as Mamma Mia (Donna), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Mona), Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz (World Premiere Ethel Gumm), Damn Yankees (Meg), Kiss Me Kate (Lily/Kate), The Light in the Piazza (Margaret), Footloose (Ethel), Little Miss Sunshine (World Premiere), Marry Me A Little, Les Miserables (Mdme. Thernardier), The Last Five Years (Cathy), Amadeus (Constanze), Enchanted April (Rose), Into the Woods (The Witch), The Threepenny Opera (Polly Peachum), Elegies: A Song Cycle (Woman 1) to name a few. Her television credits include “The Blacklist” (NBC), “The Ameri-cans” (Comedy Central,), “Law & Order Criminal Intent” (NBC), “Loving” (ABC) and the web series “Submissions Only”. Follow on Twitter @SallyWilfert, Instagram: @salgalwilfert Web:

Mikeitta Williams is the Manager of Education, Mikeitta has been with TUTS Education since 2006. Choreography credits include: Theatre Under The Stars – Tommy Tune Awards, Humphreys School of Musical Theatre: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Once on This Island, HSMT Performance Troupe, Houston Symphony Family Series, and NAACP Fine Arts Extravaganza. A vocalist, dancer, and actor, stage credits include Iowa Summer Stock’s Chicago, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Sweeney Todd and performances at The Ensemble Theatre, Main Street Theatre, Houston Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Theatre District Open House.