Woodstock Playhouse alive at mid-season

Seventy six trombones came marching into Woodstock this past week, or at least the rousing Meredith Willson song of the same name from his classic musical The Music Man, which opened last weekend at the Woodstock Playhouse as the repertory theater’s second offering of what’s shaping up to be another spirited season.

“It’s perfect, given that this is the eightieth anniversary of the original Playhouse’s founding,” said Playhouse artistic director Douglas Farrell. “We opened the season with a great evening by Peter Yarrow, who was also celebrating his 80th. Talk about recognizing the role this spot has played in this town’s cultural history!”

The first production of the year, the devil-meets-baseball musical comedy Damn Yankees, drew rave reviews from all who saw it, and following Music Man’s run through July 22, the 2018 Playhouse season will include The Murder Room by Jack Sharkey, a spoof of British mysteries (without singing and dancing) running July 27 through 29, followed by Jerry Herman’s great cross-dressing camp classic La Cage Aux Folles, August 3 through 22.

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According to Farrell, this year will feature only one returning cast member who starred in the Playhouse’s first production of A Chorus Line when the place reopened under Farrell and executive director Randy Conti’s aegis in 2011.

“Each year, our desirability for young actors doing repertory has grown,” Farrell noted, pointing out the numbers of Playhouse alumnae who have ended up in Broadway and touring national shows over the years. “Now people see us as a springboard, a needed stop for their resumes. It’s growing more rare to have returning cast members.”

What hasn’t changed, all agree, are the quality of the Woodstock Playhouse productions, which like Farrell and Conti’s decades of work with the New York Conservatory of the Arts young theater programs they’ve been running out of a campus in West Hurley (where Pele once introduced his stellar soccer moves to American athletes), is always lively, totally upbeat, superbly-timed, and as buoyant as American musical theater has always been.

As for other changes to the Playhouse this season, Farrell noted the growing numbers of local businesses stepping up their support for each summer’s productions from Nancy’s donations of its homemade ice cream every opening night to others who “say it’s now their turn to help out,” according to Farrell.

He pointed out how their next door neighbor, Cucina, has put in a pathway with bridge between their popular eatery and the Playhouse. And other changes are coming.

He and Conti feel what they’ve done with The Music Man for the current production pays homage to the 1950s classic’s original hometown American charms while also accentuating the book’s and music’s enduring contemporary qualities. It’s as snappy now, they’re saying, as the musical was when it first opened and had everyone from jazz masters to The Beatles doing versions of its hits back when.

But the two are particularly proud of the upcoming production of La Cage, which they feel is particularly ripe for a rambunctious new production in the Hudson Valley.

“It’ll be full of surprises,” Farrell noted. “Our star is a Harvard graduate, Kyle Peter Van Zandt, who’s had a fabulous career and is now considered one of  of Manhattan’s top new cabaret acts. And he’ll be on our stage!”

Have there been any anniversary mishaps, we asked, given the age and history, as well as the past tragedies that have arisen over the Woodstock Playhouse’s 80 years of existence?

“Only one thing,” Farrell noted, acknowledging past fires, and even one broken back. “We were all there one evening and suddenly everyone heard a clatter. It turned out to be the fan.”

He paused for dramatic, maybe even comedic effect. 

“It also turned out to June 30, the Playhouse’s anniversary,” Farrell added. “We figured it must have been the founder, Mr. Robert Elwyn’s ghost having some fun.”

Just not as much fun as a season started by Peter Yarrow celebrating his own shared birthday with this stalwart center of Woodstock, or the coming production of La Cage Aux Folles, for that matter.

For more about The Woodstock Playhouse and its current season of plays and musicals, and regular special events (comedian Colin Quinn in a benefit for the Woodstock Land Conservancy in late August!), call 845-679-6900, visit woodstockplayhouse.org, or stop by the place itself on Mill Hill Road in the village gateway.

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