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Is that music we hear? Goodspeed starts its outdoor concerts Thursday

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Last summer, faced with canceling its indoor 2020 season because of the pandemic, Goodspeed Musicals thought outside the box … and outside the building.

It hosted concerts on the lawn next to its Opera House in East Haddam. The performers and the type of songs had a connection to Goodspeed or to musical theater.

It was a huge hit. Without being able to produce a show inside its theaters this summer (although “South Pacific” is on the schedule for fall), Goodspeed decided to revive the outdoor concerts.

Goodspeed Artistic Director Donna Lynn Hilton said, “This is a nice stopgap. And I think it will be an important step to help people start to feel comfortable.”

Diverse styles of music

The 2021 schedule will feature more performers and more types of music than in 2020. First up are Ben Clark, the composer/lyricist for “The Circus in Winter,” which was at Goodspeed’s Terris Theatre in 2014, and Dee Roscioli, who was in “Wicked,” taking on tunes by the Eagles, Beatles, and more.

Coming up, artists will pay tribute to Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand in one show, and to Pearl Bailey in another.

Hilton said in choosing artists, Goodspeed wanted to provide diverse programming.

Goodspeed staff learned that, of people who bought tickets to last year’s concerts, more than half were not in the theater’s system — meaning they had not gone to Goodspeed before or had not bought tickets to Goodspeed in their own name.

“That told us there’s an audience that’s looking for something from us, and with this summer under the tent, we have the opportunity to really provide something for everyone,” Hilton said. “So if people love country music and bluegrass music, we have something. If they love showtunes, we have a lot of that. If they love classic acoustic rock, we have that. There’s just something for everyone.”

She said that all of the pieces were developed especially for Goodspeed. Last year, the theater essentially hired acts as they existed.

This year, theater officials approached performers who had been involved with past Goodspeed productions. Those performers then created a show that they wanted to share with Goodspeed audiences.

From the lawn to the lot

This summer, the concerts will be in the Goodspeed parking lot instead of on the Opera House lawn. There will be seats (last year, patrons brought their own lawn chairs and blankets), and it will all be under a tent.

Having a tent allows Goodspeed to hold the show even if it rains, although strong winds and lightning will still necessitate a cancellation. And there wasn’t room on the lawn to allow for both the tent and safe spacing.

The concerts will still be by the Connecticut River. Ticket holders can arrive early and picnic on the lawn beforehand.

The tented area will be able to accommodate 150 audience members at the start of the summer and more as time goes on; Goodspeed is leaving two seats between parties for the first month and then one seat thereafter. (Last year on the lawn, there was 12 feet of space between parties.)

Goodspeed recommends that people who aren’t vaccinated follow the CDC and state guidelines for mask-wearing.

Concert-goers will once again be assigned timed entries, so everyone isn’t arriving together.

Remembering last year

Asked about the reaction of longtime Goodspeed fans to last year’s concerts, Hilton recalled, “People were, first of all, really relieved to be outside doing something outside their homes. We had a lot of safety protocols in place last summer, as we will this summer. People had read everything we’d sent them and were so respectful of one another’s safety and our staff’s safety, and just happy to be outside and hear live music and have performers speak directly to them.

“It was really very emotional and I’m sure it will be again this year. You know, every time that the singers would start to speak about it, somebody would choke up in the middle of the act because we knew we weren’t out of (the pandemic), we were very far from out of it at that point, and it was just such a thrill and a relief to be able to be back in front of an audience.”


If you go

What: Goodspeed by the River

When: Starts Thursday, runs at least through Aug. 1 

Times: Varies; check schedule at

Tickets $45 per event; if you buy tickets for three or more events, you save $5 per ticket; tickets sold only by phone

Call: (860) 873-8668 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.

Current schedule:

  • June 10-20: "Turn Back Time: Ben & Dee Rock the 70s, 80s and Beyond"

  • June 22-July 18: "Ambassador of Love: a Celebration of Pearl Bailey"

  • June 23-July 4: "Bennett & Babs: The Songs of Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand"

  • July 7-18: "Together Again: Max & Celeste Sing Their Broadway Favorites"

  • July 22-Aug. 1: "Johnny and The Devil's Box: In Concert"



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