Wednesday, June 30, 2010

North Shore Music Theatre Returns

(NSMT photo)

In an economy where many theatre companies are struggling, or closed, the resurrection of the North Short Music Theatre is a hopeful anomaly.

Founded in 1955, this award-winning theater of Beverly, Massachusetts closed last year, deeply in debt. William Hanney, who also operates the Theatre by the Sea in Rhode Island, as well as a chain of movie theaters in New England, bought the NSMT and is giving it new life for this season, beginning this week with “Gypsy”, which runs during July, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in August, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” from late September through early October, and “A Chorus Line” in November. “A Christmas Carol” will be brought back in December, directed by former artistic director Jon Kimbell.

For details on the upcoming season and more on the North Shore Music Theatre, have a look at this website.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Upcoming Plays - July 2010

A full and busy summer ahead of us with upcoming plays for July:

At the Acadia Repertory Theater of Mt. Desert Island, Maine -- “SHIPWRECKED!” by Donald Margulies runs July 2nd through 18th.

“The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougement (as told by himself). Thrill to this 19th-century adventurer who is either the best storyteller or biggest liar in history!”

The Arundel Barn Playhouse of Kennebunkport, Maine is currently running Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” through July 17th.

The Barnstormers Theatre of Tamworth, New Hampshire presents “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, July 6th through 10th. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Burt Shevelova and Larry Gelbart.

Following week, it’s the suspenseful “Wait Until Dark”, by Frederick Knott, July 13th through 17th.

The Barrington Stage Company of Pittsfield, Massachusetts is currently running “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” through July 17th. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler from an adaptation by Christopher Bond. Musical Direction by Darren Cohen, directed by Julianne Boyd

Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, Massachusetts will present “The Guardsman” by Written by Ferenc Moln├ír, July 13th through 31st. Directed by John Rando.

“Terrified that his wife is bound for infidelity, an actor decides to test her loyalty by doing what he does best: putting on a character. And so begins The Guardsman, a hilarious tale of treachery, deception, and assumed identities that has inspired three separate films. The actor’s charade grows more and more complicated as he realizes that the Guardsman is a harder role to tackle than he ever could have imagined. Witty, charming, and delightfully clever, The Guardsman is packed with twists from beginning to end.” Cast includes 2007 Tony winner Mary Louise Wilson.

The Cape Playhouse of Dennis, Massachusetts is currently running Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” through July 3rd.

Also, “Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings” runs July 5th through July 17th.

The Dorset Theatre Festival of Dorset, Vermont will present Noel Coward’s comedy “Fallen Angels” July 14th through July 26th.

The Gloucester Stage Company of Gloucester, Massachusetts will present “Tender” a new play by Kelly Younger, directed by Eric C. Engel July 8th through 25th.

“The family home, wallpapered with a lifetime of I.O.U’s, is about to go into foreclosure and Christopher, the Patron Saint of Travelers, is on standby. All that is tender is not green in this humorous and heartbreaking family drama by one of America’s emerging playwrights. Tender was developed with support of New Repertory Theatre, Watertown, MA.”

The Hackmatack Playhouse of Berwick, Maine will present “Leading Ladies” July 14th through July 24th, a comedy by Ken Ludwig (Moon Over Buffalo, Lend Me a Tenor) “features two down-on-their-luck actors with a scheme to dress as ladies in hopes of inheriting an elderly woman's money. Romantic entanglements, mistaken identities and comedy abound!”

The Ivoryton Playhouse of Ivoryton, Connecticut presents “The Buddy Holly Story” July 7th through August 1st.

The Mount Washington Valley Theatre of North Conway Village, New Hampshire will present the musical comedy “Singin’ in the Rain” July 13th through 24th.

The New Bedford Festival Theatre of New Bedford, Massachusetts celebrates its 20 year anniversary with the production of “Gypsy!” July 16th through 25th. “Based on the memoirs of entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee, GYPSY tells the story of Rose who is determined to make her daughters stars of vaudeville and in doing so looses one and makes a star of the other while leaving her own ambitions and dreams unfulfilled.”

The New Century Theatre, Northampton, Massachusetts, is also celebrating its 20th anniversary, and presents “To Forgive, Divine” July 1st through 10th. Written and directed by Jack Neary, “Father Jerry Dolan, a genial parish priest, dealing as best he can with the pressures and responsibilities of a job not often appreciated for its demanding workload, finds himself at the center of a challenging and unexpected situation. With great humor and an understanding of what happens when life's choices go awry, TO FORGIVE, DIVINE's story soars.”

And NCT follows with their next show, “Intimate Apparel” by Lynn Nottage, July 15th through 24th. “In the early 1900s, a gifted African-American seamstress creates intimate apparel for New York Society Ladies and Prostitutes alike. Her life becomes romantically intertwined with her clientele, challenging the sexual taboos of the age.”

The Newport Playhouse of Newport, Rhode Island is currently producing “Suitehearts” by William Van Zandt and Jane Milmore through August 1st.

“A young couple checks into a New York hotel for a romantic weekend. An older couple has inadvertently booked the same honeymoon suite! After they scuffle over the accommodations, no one is where or with whom they should be. With plenty of sight gags and one liners, this play will have you laughing all the way through!”

The North Shore Music Theater of Beverly, Massachusetts celebrates its grand re-opening with the musical “Gypsy!”, starring Vicki Lewis.

The Peterborough Players of Peterborough, New Hampshire will present “Freud’s Last Session” July 7th through 18th. This is the New Hampshire premiere of the new play by Mark St. Germain.

The Summer Theatre of New Canaan, New Canaan, Connecticut presents the Lerner and Loewe musical “Camelot!” July 18th through August 2nd.

The Ogunquit Playhouse of Ogunquit, Maine currently presents Rogers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” through July 24th, starring Rex Smith.

Theatre by the Sea of Mantunuck, Rhode Island is currently producing the musical “Hello, Dolly!” through July 11th.

The Weston Playhouse of Weston, Vermont will present the Vermont premiere of the mystery comedy, Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” July 15th through 31st.

The Westport Country Playhouse of Westport, Connecticut presents “Happy Days” by Samuel Beckett, with 5-time Tony nominee Dana Ivey.

“From the Nobel-Prize winning author of Waiting for Godot—recently revived on Broadway to wide acclaim—comes a play of luminous beauty and rare power. Samuel Beckett's masterpiece, the story of a woman's cheerful optimism in the face of a trifling universe, is among the most inspiring and exhilarating explorations of what it means to be alive.”

The Williamstown Theatre Festival of Williamstown, Massachusetts presents “Samuel J. and K” by Mat Smart, directed by Justin Waldman, July 7th through 18th.

“Samuel J. surprises his adopted brother, Samuel K., with a trip back to his birth country of Cameroon for college graduation—but Samuel K. has no desire to face a place and a past that abandoned him. Samuel J. and K. challenges the traditional definitions of family and asks if a place we’ve only imagined can become home overnight.”

The Winnepesaukee Playhouse of Laconia, New Hampshire presents “Scotland Road” July 7th through 17th.

“The Titanic meets The Twilight Zone…A beautiful young woman is found floating on an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic. When she is rescued, she says only one word: Titanic. Trouble is, it’s 1992. Who is this woman and how is she so well-preserved? Is this all an elaborate hoax or are supernatural forces at work? One of the world’s foremost Titanic experts is determined to find out in this intriguing mystery that may leave you asking if anyone is really who they say they are.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Valley Players - Summer Stock on Mt. Tom

Summer stock sometimes provides the audience a chance to see young actors and actresses rising in their profession before they become famous. Sometimes it provides a chance to see veteran actors and actresses whose career high points are long past. They may be guest actors that week, or part of the stock company.

Summer stock is probably the most egalitarian environment for theatre there is.

About a year ago, we took a look at the Valley Players of Mountain Park, whose theater perched atop Mt. Tom in Holyoke, Massachusetts. In its day, from 1941 to about 1962, it was considered the largest summer theater in New England.

Here we have a look at another play produced by this company, the comedy “Three on a Horse.” It was August, 1942, World War II not a year old and many summer theaters were adversely affected by gas rationing since they were out in the country, for the most part beyond the reach of trains and trolleys.

Joseph Foley starred, and founders of the Valley Players Lauren Gilbert, his wife Jackson Perkins, and Jean Guild were also in the cast. Directed by Dorothy M. Crane, another colleague made this an almost entirely home-grown production, where administrative staff doubled as actors.

We can look at the cast for a good example of some actors on the rise (though who never became household names), and veterans whose career peaks were behind them.

Alfred Paschall played a supporting role. I think he was the same actor who played a handful of minor Shakeapearean roles, usually in the ensemble, on Broadway from the late 1930s to early 1940s.

Willard Dashiell, an older actor in another supporting role, had a handful of minor Hollywood movie credits in silent films, his last film role as a “businessman” in the 1934 film “War is a Racket”. He appeared on Broadway throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. Evidently at the time, Mr. Dashiell was living in the area. The program notes of him, “We consider ourselves very fortunate that an actor of such wide experience and fine reputation lives here in this community and can take part from time to time in our plays.”

Frank Rollinger, in another supporting role, played summer stock and regional theater, including in the company of the famed Pasadena Playhouse. He also did some radio shows, including appearing on “Suspense”

John McQuade, who plays the role of “Patsy”, was beginning his career, which would soon involve a number of television roles in TV’s Golden Age, including “Studio One”, “The Philco Television Playhouse” and “Robert Montgomery Presents.”

He had a handful of roles on Broadway through the 1940s, including a couple of stints at what may have been the same Shakespearean productions the above-mentioned Alfred Dashiell appeared. His final Broadway appearance was in 1963, though his TV career lasted longer. He also toured with Maurice Evans and Dame Judith Anderson in “Macbeth”

The Valley Players played an important role in the formative years in the careers of many actors, but like most summer theaters, flew by the seat of its pants. You could buy reserved seats tickets in downtown Holyoke at the Park Pharmacy on Dwight Street, or in the Highlands section of town at Martin’s Pharmacy on Hampden Street. You could also call Dickinson’s Drug store in Northampton at telephone Northampton 3466 for reservations. Probably the reason why drug stores filled in for the box office is that most people did not own a phone at this time to call for reservations, and getting up the mountain, in wartime with gas rationing, was not always convenient. The neighborhood drug store served as a command post for all things vital, prescriptions, news from the front, casualty lists, and theater tickets.

Attendance was heavier on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, “and the call for tickets has become so great on Wednesdays and Saturdays that you will be wise to reserve your seats for those nights at least two or three days in advance.”

It was an 8:30 curtain on weeknights, 2:30 on the Wednesday matinee. You could purchase autographed pictures of the company in costume at 65 cents each.

For more on lead actor in this production Joseph Foley and the Valley Players, have a look at this earlier post.

Note: Program and vintage postcards are from the author’s collection, special thanks to Gail Watson.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lunt and Fontanne - the New England Tour From Hell

Husband and wife acting team Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, famed for appearing in witty, sophisticated comedies, toured New England in “I Know My Love” in the summer of 1951. Apparently, it was The Touring Production from Hell.

Fresh from its run on Broadway at the Shubert Theater from November 1950 through June of 1951, the play, directed by Mr. Lunt, was set in Boston from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Lynn Fontanne has an interesting Broadway credit of being the one who designed and “executed” a hat she wore onstage.

It seems that when the play went on tour their luck ran out. From the book of theatre “incidents” by Brad Schreiber, “Stop the Show!” (Thunder’s Mouth Press, NY, 2006), an entertaining collection of theatre stories, “I Know My Love” first encountered problems in Hartford, Connecticut, when a robbery backstage occurred.

On to Springfield, Mass., where actress Esther Mitchell, one of the original Broadway cast members who played a maid, got smacked on the head by a prop box. She suffered a concussion.

On to Portland, Maine. Star of the show, Miss Fontanne, tripped on the hem of her dress while exiting her hotel, and fell. She broke her arm. According to the book, her husband, Mr. Lunt, was so rattled by this he just ran off. Ever the trooper, Miss Fontanne tied her broken arm up in a scarf and found herself a doctor. That night on stage, she wore her arm in a sling. Her husband apologized for momentarily losing his senses and his nerve.

The show went on, continuing the tour westward, but did not leave their bad luck in New England. Appearances in Pennsylvania and the Midwest were hampered by severe snow, staff illness, and a railroad strike.

In 1964, two years before they retired from acting, Lunt and Fontanne were given the Presidential Medal of Freedom award by President Lyndon Johnson. Perhaps it should have been a Medal of Honor for conspicious courage. Except for that moment in Portland when Alred lost it.

(The photos above are in public domain, from the Library of Congress, New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection.)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Jane Cowl at the Court Square Theater

Jane Cowl, actress, playwright, and “Juliet” of a generation, toured with “The First Mrs. Fraser” at The Court Square Theater in Springfield, Massachusetts, April 1948. You might recall the darling diva from our earlier post about her blowing up at an incompetent young Jimmy Stewart and getting him fired. Here, she’s all composed and playing the grand lady of stage at the end of her career.

Born in 1884, this Boston native was one of the great stage actresses of her day, who performed in a few silent films, originated the role of Dolly Levi in Thornton Wilder’s “The Merchant of Yonkers”, and during World War II headed New York’s Stage Door Canteen.

She was in her mid-60s when she appeared as Janet Fraser in this comedy by St. John Ervine, which was revived on Broadway in November 1947. Unfortunately, it played only 38 performances through December before producer Gant Gaither sent it on the road.

The play was actually made into a film in 1932 with Dorothy Dix in Jane Cowl’s role. Also in the cast of this play was Reginald Mason who came with Miss Cowl from the original New York cast, and had Broadway credits as long as your arm.

This play capped the 1947-48 season at the Court Square, and was also a kind of cap to Jane Cowl’s stage career. She died two years later.