Honoring Goodspeed's 50th year

Guests head into the Goodspeed Opera House for its 50th anniversary gala on June 17.
Guests head into the Goodspeed Opera House for its 50th anniversary gala on June 17. Diane Sobolewski

It's been 50 years since the Goodspeed Opera House was restored and reopened, and the golden anniversary was a cause for celebration Monday night.

Inside the opera house, stars and creators of shows from throughout Goodspeed Musicals' storied history staged a 50th anniversary gala performance.

Andrea McArdle, who was plucked from the ensemble to star in "Annie" when it was being developed at Goodspeed, belted out "Tomorrow."

A letter was read from Julie Andrews, who directed "The Boy Friend" and "The Great American Mousical" for Goodspeed. She thanked Goodspeed Executive Director Michael P. Price for "the opportunities you have extended to me ... (that) have given me such joy" and called Goodspeed "the jewel in East Haddam."

The performance reached back to the theater's beginning, with Rita Gardner, who starred in Goodspeed's first show, 1963's "Oh, Lady, Lady!," And it came up to the present, with Klea Blackhurst, who will play the title role in the upcoming "Hello, Dolly!"

The evening, naturally, made reference to some of Goodspeed's biggest successes, including its role as starting point for such musicals as "Annie" and "Shenandoah." Over five decades, the theater has produced 250 musicals, 19 of which have moved onto Broadway.

Price - who has been Goodspeed's guiding light since 1968 - said, "It's been a glorious run. Someone asked, 'How does it feel?' And I said, 'I really don't know,' because it's just been one day after another of growing, gloriously, in this life of musical theater."

He recalled how Goodspeed started in 1963 with eight weeks of theater during the summer - two weeks of vaudeville, two weeks of an old musical, and two weeks of a new musical. The theater was, he said, just another summer stock company.

Now, though, Goodspeed runs musicals for 35 weeks in the opera house and a dozen or so weeks at the developmental Norma Terris Theatre in Chester.

"We're known around the world. Our productions are produced everywhere, all the time," Price said.

Monday's performance took place between a cocktail reception and dinner earlier in the evening and then a champagne and dessert reception afterward.

Among the other stars who returned to revive one of their past Goodspeed numbers were Noah Racey, who performed a charming song-and-dance to "Once in Love with Amy" from "Where's Charley?," and David Aron Damane, who led a stirring "Ol' Man River."

Speakers included "Annie" director and lyricist Martin Charnin and composer Charles Strouse - the latter of whom talked about how Price at first turned down "Annie" before calling them back when he found himself singing songs from the show.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was there as well, telling the crowd, "The state sold this building for one silver dollar. Think about that investment."

He noted that 4.5 million people have been entertained over the years as the result of that silver dollar - and that about $17.5 million each year has been spent in the state "because of this little gem on the river."

Malloy also said, "There is another vision for this place, and that is to build an additional theater that would have the capacity necessary for this to really be a free-standing, break-even, make-a-profit operation year in and year out."

He said he supports that idea.

Malloy said, looking back at Goodspeed's history, that what has been accomplished is quite remarkable.

Price said, "I never thought we would reach this day because we never thought about this day.

"And we don't think about the next 50 years. ... We've just grown in a way that has been miraculous and marvelous and very indigenous to this community and to this state."

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