“We’ve been called a ‘steppingstone to Broadway,’” said Doug Farrell, company manager and vice president of the Woodstock Playhouse, which launches its 2016 summer stock season on Friday, June 17, with a production of Guys and Dolls. The theater’s annual gala dinner fundraiser will be held June 18 at Cucina Restaurant, preceding the Saturday night show.
Since it was taken over by the Hurley-based New York Conservatory for the Arts (NYCA) in 2011, the Playhouse has held auditions in New York City for its summer shows, this year including Beauty and the Beast, a new drama entitled Cherry’s Patch, and the musical Pippin. “The actors we hire are rising professionals or pre-professionals coming out of theater programs across America,” said Farrell. “The directors and choreographers are from New York City.”
Over the past 30 years, a multitude of local kids have gone through NYCA, learning to sing, dance, act, and collaborate with others in lively productions, some of those students going on to theatrical careers. Farrell, the non-profit’s vocal director and musical director, now also manages the Playhouse, with the goal of continuing its historic role in the community.
The circular theater at the entrance to Woodstock, created by Robert Elwyn in 1938, was recently recognized as a historic site of American theater and music history by the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area. Among its performances were the last great sound-out concert of Jocko Moffit, featuring Richie Havens, in 1968, acknowledged as a precursor to the 1969 Woodstock Festival. The Playhouse has also been seen as one of the first rural extensions of Broadway and was home to the Margaret Webster Shakespeare Company, in partnership with actress Eva LeGallienne. Celebrated actors appearing on its stage have included Leo G. Carroll, Anne Meara, Larry Hagman, Diane Keaton, Judd Hirsch, Estelle Parsons, Lee Marvin, Chevy Chase, and many others.
The June 18 dinner will mark the 78th anniversary of the Playhouse. Cucina will accommodate 60 guests for wine and appetizers, followed by an Italian meal, coffee, and biscotti before the 7:30 p.m. performance of Guys and Dolls. After the show, there will be a champagne/chocolate meet-and-greet reception with the cast and directors of the Woodstock Playhouse Production Company.
This rendition of the classic musical stars Kelly Murphy as Salvation Army Sergeant Sarah Brown. At a recent rehearsal, said Farrell, “Kelly started singing, and everyone in the building stopped to listen to her voice ringing out. She has a perfect spin on her voice — it’s hypnotizing.” The show will be directed and choreographed by Andrew Parker Greenwood, who has done several other musicals for the Playhouse, including Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. “He has a great feel for the old-time musical,” noted Farrell.
Beauty and the Beast, opening July 8, is directed by Frank Sansone, a NYCA graduate who is now an Equity actor moving into directing and choreography. His experience performing on Disney cruises suits him well for Beauty and the Beast, now that he has settled in New York City.
On the last weekend of July, the Playhouse presents a drama, Cherry’s Patch, based on the experience of two firefighters who died in the 9/11 disaster, friends of playwright Ron Scott Stevens. The action takes place in a Brooklyn firehouse, where the crew blames one of their members for the death of their beloved leader. As they work through accusations, the politics and budgetary problems of the firehouse come to light, giving an inside look into the lives of firefighters. Proceeds from the show will go to the local fire department and their families.
“This is a rich and deep play,” said Farrell. “It puts you into the shoes of other people, and you begin to understand why they are the way they are, the way only theater can convey a human energy. People sit in the same room with each other and feel the ripple of what’s happening — like an ocean wave that hits us, and we feel the force of that wave.”
The final show of the season, Pippin, will open August 5, directed by Randy Conti. The 70s musical, originally choreographed by Bob Fosse, tells the story of a young man searching for his “Corner of the Sky,” as one song puts it. “Revivals of this show are sometimes taken out of their element and commercialized,” said Farrell. “Our approach will be about the magic, the spirit of the Hudson Valley. Where else can you go to feel that connection to the quiet of your own heartbeat, away from the hustle and bustle of New York and the Internet? All those things fade — but hopefully not the human spirit.”
The Woodstock Playhouse, 103 Mill Hill Road, presents Guys and Dolls from June 17 to July 3, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $32 to $40. On Saturday, June 18, the gala dinner at Cucina costs $150, including the show, with festivities beginning at 5:15 p.m. Tickets are available through https://ulsterpub.staging.wpengineplayhouse.org.