A BREAK IN THE ACTION
I’m taking a break from the Memoir posts relating to the history of the Playhouse today in order to write a little bit about the wonderful celebration for the Brooke Hills Playhouse’s 50th Season on Friday, July 9, and Saturday, July 10, 2021.
On Friday evening, an appreciative audience of Playhouse alumni and regulars enjoyed the talents of a number of modern Playhouse participants at an Open Mic offering.
Then on Saturday, 70 (!!!) Playhouse Players, young and old, past and present, gathered at The Drover’s Inn for lunch. I am so grateful to Mark Cooper, the owner of the Drover’s, for opening for lunch for us. Mark has always been one of our staunchest and most loyal supporters.
Staff members and volunteers from that very first season, 1972, and many other early years were reunited, and the stories flowed freely. Time and again people said things like, “Those summers I spent at the Playhouse were the best summers of my life” or “I wouldn’t trade my Playhouse summers for ANYTHING!” or “The Playhouse changed my life.” or “What I learned during my Playhouse years, I have used over and over throughout my life.” I am telling you the nostalgia was flowing and so were the tears–of joy and remembrance.
Following lunch, many of us stopped at the Franklin United Methodist Church for ice cream–on the house! Over the years this welcoming congregation has supported the Playhouse in numerous ways. During our first season, the first show rehearsed at the church, mainly because it was dry (so much rain that first summer) and also because they had a tuned piano!
After ice cream, more Playhouse alums and present-day participants joined us at the Playhouse for a great reception, complete with cake, shared photos and articles from the early years, and an awesome slide show compiled by Julie Barnhart.
Those of us from bygone decades wandered throughout the Playhouse and were happy to see much newer seats in the house, seats which were very comfortable and didn’t squeak! Oh, the WD-40 that was used on our original seats! We should have bought stock in the WD-40 company; we used so much!
We also expressed joy at seeing that the STEEP STEPS from the dressing rooms to upstage right had been eliminated. An addition had been built on the back of the barn with reasonable steps and providing great crossover access to both upstage right and left. The addition also furnishes some much-needed storage space.
The box office used to be in the corner of what is now an expanded ladies’ restroom. Russ Welch explained that the box office was moved to the lobby when the Playhouse had to provide handicap-accessible restrooms. I have a feeling that Russ was instrumental in the addition on the back of the barn, the conversion of the restrooms, and the building of the new box office. Russ has been active at the Playhouse for an incredible 43 years, and he has done everything from acting and directing to helping to reside the barn in 1984 and replacing the old canvas proscenium with the beautiful barnwood one that we now have.
The afternoon reception was so much fun as more people arrived, and more stories were told. I was absolutely bowled over when I started to list the places our alumni had come from: California, Washington state, Wisconsin, Virginia, Connecticut, Tennessee, New York, northern Ohio, southern and eastern West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas! How about that? Isn’t that in itself an indicator of the love that people hold for the Playhouse?
Eventually, the reception broke up, and some people went to work! Heather Vulgamore Deerfield wrote the script for the Saturday evening performance, “Playhouse Rewind,” while at home in California, and her sister Emily Vulgamore Hores, still active at the Playhouse, recruited people for the show. That evening the two Vulgamore sisters brought tears to our eyes singing “Sister” from Pumpboys and Dinettes.
The script for the show was so well-thought out. It started with the very first Charlie Brown, Tom Cervone (better known as T.C.), relating some of the early history of the Playhouse from the 1970s and introducing that grand song “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” performed by members of the casts of the four C.B. productions. The evening progressed with Playhouse alums and present-day participants reading Heather’s moving tributes to those who have passed on, interspersed with great songs from each decade, performed by numerous Playhouse regulars from every decade.
It was great to see the talented Mizok sisters, now Roberta Fedosh and Rhonda Taylor, at the keyboard providing accompaniment again. They are incredible! No performer ever needs to worry when they are playing. Wherever a singer goes, the Mizoks will pick him or her up and follow until the singer gets back on track. I hasten to add, however, that we have been blessed by so many talented accompanists over the years from Mary Catherine Brehm Allodi, who accompanied that first Charlie Brown cast, to Judy Allison and so many more. What would our musicals have been without them? I shudder to think about it!
The evening progressed through the decades and finally ended with a rousing version of “Dancing Queen” from Mama Mia featuring the evening’s entire, wonderful, multi-talented cast with the audience singing and dancing along! Absolutely fabulous!
I think the take-away from the weekend is that the Brooke Hills Playhouse is still a very special place. Those who have sold the program ads, season coupons and tickets, built and painted scenery and props, built costumes, held book for rehearsals, worked on make-up, acted and accompanied, directed and choreographed, run the lightboard, and wrote the press releases obviously loved what they were doing. Lastly, those who continue to do what needs to be done to get the show on, especially Diana Mendel and Julie Barnhart, along with the present cadre of talented, area volunteers and board members, are owed a huge hunk of gratitude for their dedication to the barn theatre and its continued success.
So, many thanks and much love to all who made this weekend so especially special, and break a leg to the casts and crews as the 50th season at the Brooke Hills Playhouse continues to entertain the Ohio Valley.
My apologies for being too lazy to caption the photos!–Shari