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Forestburgh Playhouse turns 75

By JONATHAN CHARLES FOX
Posted 6/9/21

FORESTBURGH, NY — My first visit to the Forestburgh Playhouse was in the summer of ’96, when the theatre was celebrating its 50th anniversary. Without checking, I can’t recall the …

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Forestburgh Playhouse turns 75

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FORESTBURGH, NY — My first visit to the Forestburgh Playhouse was in the summer of ’96, when the theatre was celebrating its 50th anniversary. Without checking, I can’t recall the show I saw that night, but I do remember being enthralled. It wasn’t just with the actors, the costumes, or the small band of live musicians in the orchestra pit. It was something less tangible— more like a feeling, a vibe. There was magic in the air that night, and it has not dissipated over time.

The Forestburgh Playhouse is the oldest continuously operating summer theater in New York, just seven miles south of Monticello. Founded in 1947 by John Grahame and Alexander Maissel, it was originally the Forestburgh Summer Theatre until 1980, when the name was changed to the Forestburgh Playhouse.

Just one of a handful of small summer stock companies left in the country, the 292-seat theatre operates during the summers only, from mid-June through Labor Day; productions include Broadway classics, musicals and original shows for children.

Every year, the playhouse hires a company of actors, dancers, musicians, designers and technicians. Under an agreement with the Actors Equity Association (AEA)—the union of professional actors and stage managers—the playhouse employs professional actors, often with Broadway or other major credits, as well as a company of non-union professionals who earn credit toward their own eventual membership in the AEA.

According to the history page of the playhouse website, long before I discovered what is often referred to as the “Miracle of the Forest,” “an intrepid group of artists from Greenwich Village made their way to the Catskills Mountains in 1947. While searching for the perfect locale for a summer theatre, they discovered a beautiful barn nestled in the Town of Forestburgh, NY—and at that moment, the Forestburgh Playhouse was born.”

In 2014, Franklin Trapp joined the Forestburgh Playhouse’s 68th Anniversary Season as the playhouse’s new producer. Franklin has a long association with the playhouse and began his theatrical career there as a resident company member in 2001. When he learned that then-producer Norman Duttweiler was looking to retire, Franklin “could not resist the opportunity to return to Forestburgh and ‘maintain and grow the rich cultural legacy that the Playhouse provides for Sullivan County.’”

In anticipation of the playhouse opening its doors for the 75th diamond anniversary season last weekend, I grabbed an opportunity to chat with Trapp, who was excited to share his enthusiasm. “This year, we celebrate our 75th anniversary and our cultural legacy in the Sullivan Catskills,” he said. “We are excited to give audiences an experience you’ll never forget, including a vibrant lineup of musicals, plays, cabarets and theatre for young audiences and more.”

When asked about the obstacles that the playhouse was presented with in 2020, Franklin had this to say: “After an incredibly challenging year, the playhouse has received a massive amount of support from our friends and patrons, and that support gave us the ability, hope and courage to mount our diamond anniversary season.”

Elaborating, Trapp said, “I am especially proud of the steps we have taken over the past year to create safe, comfortable and innovative programming. The playhouse is more than just a theatre in the middle of the woods. We hold a legacy and history of creating art and sharing it with our community. This summer will be no different.”

Through Saturday, July 3, the playhouse is offering a dizzying array of musical performances outdoors. Based on the success of last year’s inaugural Forestburgh Under the Stars program, the playhouse will feature internationally known cabaret and Broadway performers like Kathryn Allison, Nicholas Rodriguez, Karen Mason and last weekend’s Alysha Umphress and Morgan James (see page 19). After that, the curtain goes up on shows indoors on the main stage, including “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “BEEHIVE,” and the world premiere revival of Rodgers and Hart’s “Babes in Arms.”

 Close to 35,000 patrons attend various performances every year, and the growth shows no signs of slowing down. As the Forestburgh Playhouse enters its 75th diamond anniversary season in 2021, it continues to thrive and make summer nights special for residents and visitors alike.

For more information, tickets and reservations call 845/794-1194 or go to www.fbplayhouse.org.

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