Monday, June 11, 2012

Bye Bye 2011-12, Hello Summer

With the Elliot Norton Awards two weeks ago, and last night's Tonys, the 2011-12 theater season officially comes to a close.  And the Summer Theater Season begins!
As a Boston-based (well, Cambridge, actually ...) theater artist, I bemoan the loss of the outdoor summer theaters of my past ... The long- defunct Open Door Theater in Jamaica Plain and the more recently lost Publick Theater along the Charles River in Brighton.
For me, the Open Door was a rite of passage, a rough hewn natural amphitheater (a big ol' hole in the ground caused by pre-historic glaciers, or so I've been told).  The theater was, as the late Susan McGinley, founder and force-of-nature, called it, a cross between theater and summer camp.  Each night the entire company was involved in both set-up and strike in the transformation from verdant gorge to rough-hewn theater, from lighting poles and set pieces to the makeshift dressing areas made up of open automobile trunks propping up mirrors and a truck trailer costuming storage unit.

At the Open Door, I made lifelong friendships and professional relationships.  I had the opportunity to play roles "against type": a less-than-macho wit-matched Petruchio opposite actress and former BU acting teacher Josie Good; a lanky Sancho Panza opposite the Don Quixote of the sonorous Patrick English.  It was also where, in the summer of 1981, I was given the opportunity to make my Boston directing debut with HAVE, a sprawling Hungarian peasant tragedy/epic, with a cast that included many who went on to become some of Boston's bright lights, from former Shear Madness star Michael Poisson, the voice-over and theater actress Dorothy Gallegher, Marina Re (now based in NY), to the award winning actress and teacher/coach Paula Plum; Portland, OR's Mikki Lipsey; Kelvin Keraga, James Mullen, Brooke Stark ...  (it was a cast of, if not hundreds, dozens, like, two dozen plus...).  For The Open Door Theater's 20th Anniversary season, I directed the Boston premiere of the Frank Galati adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath, a production that earned me the Boston Magazine Best Theatrical Director award in 1995, and set the wheels in motion for my permanent return to Boston from my seven year sojourn in NY, and led to the development of my company, Raven Theatrical (94-98, Elliot Norton Fringe award in '97).  That Grapes cast included Liam "Kelly" Sullivan in his post-academic debut as the younger Joad brother Al, the ten year old Ari Graynor, Boston stalwarts Donna Asali, Susan Bigger, Bob Deveau, and Bill Doscher;  George Hahn, ; as well as my Raven Theatrical cohorts Patrick Donnelly, Ken Mason and Kelly Lawman, with an original musical score by Peter Bufano of the eclectic musical group Cirkestra.  That production of The Grapes of Wrath was cited (along with the children's musical "Emil and the Detectives") by Boston Magazine when awarding me Boston's Best Theatrical Director, 1995.

My experience at the Publick, besides many shows as an audience member, was limited to one: I played the Groucho role in A Day In Hollywood/A Night In The Ukraine.  It was directed by Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos, and was one of, if not his first forays into directing a musical.  Needless to say, Spiro went on to become the Lyric Stage Company of Boston's Artistic Director, where he has very successfully directed many well received and award winning productions of both  musicals and straight plays.  Besides me, the Marx Brothers quartet was comprised of some of my closest friends: Jimmy Russo as the Chico character,Jim Quinn as the "Zeppo", and  Lisa M. Troy (who later eventually became Mrs. Jim Quinn) as the "Harpo".  While I (and most of the critics) was disappointed in my vocal work in the show (none of us felt I really reached a Groucho sound ...), I was extremely pleased with myself, physically.  Still today, I can look at the video of the show, turn down the color, and enjoy my physicality, having captured Groucho's walk, his ability to leap with abandon, and to circle around the Margaret Dumont character like an airplane around the Empire State Building.  (It was also one of my Mom's favorite roles of mine, and she would giggle and laugh just at the memory of "the way you jumped up on that piano").

So as the summer rolls around, in comes ROLLER DISCO: THE MUSICAL, at Oberon, playing Wednesday and Thursday nights all summer.  Based on the movie "Roller Boogie", it sends up the era in a similar vein as XANADU, which had a great run at SpeakEasy Stage Company that just closed last Sunday.  Unlike XANADU, however, this show has an original score that pulses with the beats (and bass lines) of the 70's disco anthems and ballads, and the cast is all rollerskating, all the time.  Having seen an early preview, I'll only say that it is it's own show, reminiscent of Xanadu but with an original approach that works well in the Oberon space.

Also this week, CAR TALK: THE MUSICAL (is every summer show titled with a colon and the suffix "The Musical"?).  This is the debut of a newly rewritten version of the show produced last year at Suffolk University, directed by Suffolk's Wesley Savick, and co-produced by Underground Railway Theater and Suffolk University at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge.  This week, there are 2-for-1 preview tickets available.  The cast features some of Boston's funniest musical performers, including Maureen Keiller, Leigh Barrett and NH's Scott Severance.


  1. Kevin,

    Wonderful reminiscence about the late, lamented ODT. (Though I never worked at the Publick, I saw a number of shows there and I'm very sorry I missed your Groucho!) Just for the record, Donna Asali, another Boston theatre stalwart of the era, was in your production of "Grapes of Wrath" as well.


    1. Thanks Bob. Yes, indeed, Donna was a great asset to that production, not only as a versatile actress in a number of roles, but she also saved us by stepping in and coordinating costumes for this large cast playing multiple roles, just as the costumer was melting down. (I won;t forget the moment when that original costumer held up a shmata, I asked who it was for and got the reply "Let's see who it fits!" That was the start of my descent into smoking again after a five year quit ... rather than hit her with a shovel, I picked up smoking again. Thankfully, last year saw mw smoke my last cigarette ever ... I'm completely free of the evil habit!).