Ivoryton Playhouse Celebrates Centennial Season

This isn't just any season for the Ivoryton Playhouse-this is a major landmark for the historic theater, which is celebrating its 100 th anniversary in 2011.

Kicking off this month, the Playhouse is presenting seven productions through November, plus a host of special events and performances this spring to tie in with its 100th birthday, and five children's shows this summer.

One of the small theaters' secrets of success at a time when many theaters are struggling to stay afloat is that its creative team listens to and responds to what audience members say they want to see on stage.

The original intention for the centennial season was to celebrate the theater's history with older plays, but that changed last year, says Jacqui Hubbard, the Playhouse's executive director, after The Buddy Holly Story sold 97 percent of seats.

"That's unheard of for us," she says. "It's a show that appealed to all ages and so we chose plays that cross age boundaries and the season is now more looking forward-we're [planning to present] shows that people want for the next 100 years."

This is why, Hubbard says, due to popular demand, the season kicked off with the musical The Irish...and How They Got That Way by Frank McCourt (running through Sunday, April 3-see Bob and Karen Isaacs's review on page 42), which was produced at the Playhouse five years ago.

"I haven't changed the story, but since I'm English directing an Irish production, I've given it a wider world view to [extend] to any people who have struggled with oppression, deprivation, and liberation," says Hubbard

"I do have an actor from Dublin, Morgan Crowley, who's performed in Riverdance and the Three Irish Tenors," Hubbard adds. "The whole cast is terrific, but Morgan brings a little more authenticity, [more] Irish-ness to the show."

Up next is Alan Ayckbourn's How The Other Half Loves, about how three married couples whose lives are entangled in an adulterous affair (running

April 13 through May1). Hubbard admits that the play, which will be directed by Larry Thelen, is a bit of a risk: Ayckbourn is England's most frequently produced playwright, but she's not sure how he'll play in Connecticut.

"He's a very funny playwright and it's a very smart comedy," she says. "He plays with the concept of time and space and turns it on its head."

The comedy continues with the 1967 Broadway classic Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon-a sure bet on this side of the pond (running June 8 through

June 26).

"When we talk to audience members, Neil Simon always comes up as the number one playwright they love to see," Hubbard notes. "His plays continue to have universal appeal. We've done a lot of Simon shows, but this is the first time we're dong this one. It's about young love-what's not to love about that?"

The 12-time Tony Award-winning show is being directed by Bruce Connelly, who will then play the lead role in the musical comedy The Producers by Mel Brooks and Tom Meehan (running July 6 through 31).

"I saw Bruce play the part at the Seven Angels Theatre [in Waterbury] and knew it was the perfect role for his larger-than-life personality," Hubbard says, adding that only Mel Brooks can write something as "horrifically politically incorrect as [the play's musical number] 'Springtime for Hitler' and get away with it."

Hubbard has found that people want music in the summer, so next is Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, a tribute to the legendary "Man in Black," created and directed by Richard Maltby, Jr., and conceived by William Meade (Aug. 10 through Sept. 4).

"Different people play him. It's more a concept piece about the character or spirit of Johnny Cash, not a book musical," Hubbard explains.

"He covered everyone-kids really loved his version of the Nirvana song 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,'" she adds. "He did all that edgy, rebel stuff; he wasn't a squeaky clean country singer, so the show appeals to younger audiences as well."

The music continues with The Marvelous Wonderettes by Roger Bean, directed by John DeNicola, an upbeat pop musical featuring top hits from the '50s and '60s (Sept. 28 through Oct. 16).

Hubbard credits her mother with the selection of the last show of the season: The Woman in Black, a ghostly tale adapted for stage by Stephen Mallatratt (Nov. 2 through 20).

"If my mom likes a play, I'm pretty sure our audience will like it," Hubbard says. "My sisters took her to see it in London-it's been running on the West End for 21 years-and she loved it. It had her screaming and jumping out of her seat. It's good, simple storytelling."

For individual tickets and subscription information, call the Ivoryton Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

Special centennial events include a 100th Birthday Gala Celebration on May 21 (limited tickets, $125 each) and a town-wide celebration featuring free family theater performances on May 22. For more information, visit the Playhouse website.

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