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For many, it’s Christmastime (yes, it’s one word) with “kids jingle belling” and “much mistletoeing” (uh huh) that springs to mind as the most wonderful time of the year, but, for me, it’s summertime and the good old-fashioned barn theatres that beckon during the warmer months.
I’m a big fan of good old-fashioned musicals, tap-dancing chorus lines, and earnest, fresh-faced, young hopefuls singing and dancing their hearts out nightly. So I feel fortunate to have a real, live summer-stock theatre—The Forestburgh Playhouse (FP)—practically in my own backyard.
While the Upper Delaware River region is dotted with fantastic theatre companies producing a wide array of productions, summer stock, by definition, is a theatre that presents productions only in the summer. The name combines the season with the tradition of staging shows by a resident company, reusing stock scenery and costumes. Often viewed as a starting point for professional actors, stock casts are typically young, just out of high school or still in college.
Such is the case in Forestburgh, NY, aka “The Miracle in the Forest,” where 16 young performers quite literally eat, sleep and breathe live theatre for a few months each year, honing their craft while working alongside seasoned actors, many of whom got their start in just the same manner. Back in the day, performers such as Ginger Rogers, Bob Hope, Ann Miller, Zero Mostel and Debbie Reynolds all appeared in summer theatre productions. Former members of the FP resident company are highlighted at each performance by producer Franklin Trapp for having made the transition from “The Miracle in the Forest” to Broadway, aka “The Great White Way.” Traditionally, the FP season offers dramas and non-musical fare as well, but it’s the all-singing, all-dancing shows like “Me and My Girl” that epitomize the genre and show off what The Forestburgh Playhouse does very, very well.
Written by people I’m unfamiliar with and peppered with tunes that I’ll never retain, “Me and My Girl” is (in the insanely creative hands of director/choreographer Chaz Wolcott) funny, frothy, toe-tapping, beyond-silly and just plain fun—in other words, a glittering example (IMHO) of summer stock. Sound designer Travis Byrne redeemed himself following some hiccups with the last production, and Ashleigh Poteat’s costuming enhanced her equally charming sets, which served to highlight those singing, dancing aforementioned kids, all of whom are bringing it to the stage with great vocals and minute attention to Wolcott’s clever, inventive choreography.
The cast is superbly led by a charming Chris Duir (as Bill Snibson), Brittany Rose (what a voice!), Hammond (as Sally Smith), the formidably talented Kathryn Kendall (as Maria, Dutchess of Dene), the always-entertaining John Little (Sir John Tremayne), and second-year resident company member Jordan O’Brien, who makes the most of her opportunity to step out of the chorus line and shine. Not to be outdone, Eric Graupensperger, Dylan Goike, Mackenzie Meyh and James Johnson all lend their considerable talents and strong vocal abilities to the overall success of the production. While songs like “Once You Lose Your Heart,” the “Song of Hareford,” and “Leaning on a Lampost” may not ring a bell, when performed by Hammond, Kendall (and company) and Duir, respectively, are as memorable as say… “Climb every Mountain.”
Every season, I choose to single out one member of the resident company, many of whom have proven me right by clawing their way to the top in this business we call show. Although these young performers all have talent, this year it’s returning chorus boy Andrew Stevens Purdy who stands out as the hardest working performer on stage. With this glowing cast in this lovely production, that’s saying a lot. Purdy manages to steal the spotlight without overshadowing others, and that is no mean feat. Watch for him in years to come. Just ask FP alums Hunter Brown, Jessica Wagner and Steven Telsey—I’m rarely wrong.
I would be remiss not to mention the considerable contributions of lighting designer Ethan Steimel and music director James Osorio, who had the Herculean task of working with his musicians via monitor from behind the stage, rather than in the orchestra pit, for this production utilizes every square inch of the stage in order to support the dozens of dancers hoofing their way into the hearts of the audience nightly, in true summer stock fashion.
While there are dozens of wonderfully creative and inventive theatre companies scattered across both sides of the river, The Forestburgh Playhouse, now in its 73rd year of continuous operation, stands out as a shining example of good, old-fashioned summer stock.
The FP production of “Me and My Girl” continues through July 14th. For more information, visit www.fbplayhouse.org or call the box office at 845/794-1194.