Theatre group 90 Miles Off Broadway returns as 90 Miles Theatre Company

Joy Arzaga
Pictured are the cast members of 90 Miles Theatre Company, Inc’s production of “Sylvia,” which was directed by Joan Gerardi. Left to right: Eve Waltermauer, Sunny Edelman, Ben Abrams, Olivia Benedict, Dushka Ramic and Lisa Danner. (photo by Joy Arzaga)

90 Miles is dead; long live 90 Miles! Yes, the bad news is that after 52 glorious years of providing community theater to the New Paltz area, and a long, unsuccessful effort to raise enough funds to acquire a permanent home, 90 Miles Off Broadway dissolved its not-for-profit entity in May of 2016. Longtime manager Kim Lupinacci was ready to retire.

The good news is that a lot of the creative types who had been involved with the troupe over the years wanted to keep it going, according to Philip Corso, president of the new entity called 90 Miles Theatre Company, Inc. The old 90 Miles transferred its remaining assets — including a barn in Clintondale filled with sets, props and costumes — to the new company, which put on its first play, A. R. Gurney’s Sylvia, at the Reformed Church of New Paltz in May 2017. The title character being a dog, part of the proceeds went to support animal rescue charities.

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Corso stepped in to take the reins of the reinvented theater company upon moving back to the area from Florida. He had grown up in Highland and “loved to sing in school plays,” he said, but got few opportunities in a school district that doesn’t emphasize theater. So he turned to 90 Miles Off Broadway, appearing in his first role at the age of 15, as Clarence in a 1992 production of Gypsy.

After majoring in English and Elementary Education at Mount St. Mary’s College, Corso went on to get his Masters in Education at SUNY New Paltz and found professors in the Theatre Arts Department who were willing to nurture his stage obsession. Before long he was back with 90 Miles, directing such productions as The Sound of Music, The Women, 9 to 5 and The Addams Family Musical. Nowadays Corso is a teaching assistant with the Newburgh School District; “I like working with the little kids,” he says.

As board president at the 90 Miles Theatre Company, Corso sees his particular mission as being “a liaison for reaching out into the community.” He wants to expand the little theater’s base of support — and participation as well. “Scouting people all over the Hudson Valley seems to be my gift,” he says. “We’re always looking for actors, directors, musicians…. It’s important for me to bring in young people, not only onstage but behind the scenes.”

After years of bouncing from venue to venue, the new iteration of 90 Miles seems to have found more solid footing at least in the short term. Corso says that the company has worked out an arrangement with Highland High School to host large productions like musicals, while smaller-scale plays will be hosted on the historic Moreno Stage at Boughton Place. The short inaugural season will wrap up at Boughton Place on August 26 with a production titled Beach Party Cabaret: An Evening of ‘50s and ‘60s Music. Auditions will be held on July 7 and 8.

Regular cabaret performances are part of the changes that Corso and his team foresee for 90 Miles’ near-term future; but some past practices have been too successful not to keep — including Judy Elliot’s Children’s Summer Theatre program. Auditions for an original musical titled Sanctuary will be held this weekend at the Reformed Church of New Paltz Social Hall, from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, June 24 and from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 25. Sanctuary will be performed July 19 through 22.

Coming up in November, Shrek! The Musical kicks off the 2017/18 90 Miles season, directed by Joy Arzaga. That will be followed by a Holiday Cabaret, a Broadway Cabaret pitting Lloyd Webber against Sondheim and a stage production of The Graduate. In the longer term, the troupe is looking into hosting some sort of new playwrights’ festival, reinstating its old tradition of granting scholarships to high school graduates interested in pursuing theater degrees and, in what Corso calls the “ten-year” plan, building or otherwise acquiring a new theater. To support the latter campaign, check out the There’s No Place Like Home Fund on the organization’s website at http://90milestheatercompanyinc.com; donations can be made via PayPal or credit card.

Meanwhile, get ready to be entertained! “We try to appeal to all tastes: modern, classic, musicals,” says Corso. “We try to put on the most professional theater possible. But at the end of the day, I really believe in the ‘community’ part of community theater.”

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