As we now know, in the wake of COVID-19, both New York and Pennsylvania are on track to reopen for business, with each state following a multi-phased plan. In New York, the first phase went into …
As we now know, in the wake of COVID-19, both New York and Pennsylvania are on track to reopen for business, with each state following a multi-phased plan. In New York, the first phase went into effect last week and pertains to construction, manufacturing and the wholesale supply chain. Phase Two includes some professional services as well as retail, while restaurants and hotels fall under Phase Three. Lastly, arts, entertainment and recreation (in other words, my realm of “expertise”) fall under Phase Four. There’s expected to be a two-week layover between each phase. I’m no math whiz, but it looks like none of us will be attending any concerts or live stage productions until the end of July at the earliest, and that’s if everything goes well.
As a result, theatres throughout the region have been forced to shutter for what looks to be the entire season, including one of my favorites, the Forestburgh Playhouse (FP), aka “The Miracle of the Forest,” which has been one of New York’s premiere professional summer theatres for 74 years running, until now.
Each summer, the playhouse employs actors, technicians, costume designers, choreographers, box office personnel and a host of others, all of whom coalesce as a family for the summer, creating magical theatrical experiences for thousands each year, including myself. I’ve been attending and reviewing shows at the playhouse for as long as I can remember, so when I saw producer Franklin Trapp’s announcement about the cancellation of the 2019 season, I was devastated.
“During its 74-year history, the Forestburgh Playhouse has faced many obstacles and weathered many storms. Today we face an unprecedented challenge,” Trapp’s online video statement informed. “As a result of the current global crisis the future of the Forestburgh Playhouse is in real danger. We are laser-focused on doing everything possible to make sure that ‘The Miracle of the Forest’ will present the magic of live theatre again next year, and we will proudly celebrate our 75th Anniversary next season.”
To that end, Trapp has enlisted some of his many talented alums to assist in the form of live-streamed benefit cabarets that we can watch from the safety of our homes and simultaneously raise much-needed funds to help keep the place afloat. “It’s time for our first online, live, benefit cabaret of the summer,” featuring performers from the 2014 Season (Franklin Trapp’s first year as producer). “For the next few weeks,” the online invite declared, “every Thursday at 7 p.m. will be cabaret night (featuring performers from previous seasons), so mark your calendars!”
I thought back to the 2014 season and recalled seeing some fun musicals, including Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, La Cage aux Folles and Mame, starring M*A*S*H star Loretta Swit (we’ll discuss that another time). I did as Trapp asked, marking my calendar to tune in online last week since he had promised former FP performers Tommy Betz, Ryan Folger, Missy Marion, Caleb Funk, Marina Laurendi, Abbey Sierakowski, Jennifer Evans and Kerstin Anderson, all of whom have been working steadily on Broadway in national tours and sailing the seven seas performing aboard cruise ships.
After a few words from Trapp, Funk opened with a nice rendition of My Fair Lady’s “On The Street Where You Live,” followed by Laurendi on guitar singing Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” The sound quality was less than perfect, but that was to be expected since all concerned were performing over their cell phones and computers from their homes, scattered across the country. Even still, each performance was laced with undeniable talent and passion, tugging at the heartstrings of more than 200 viewers, each virtually “applauding” and showing their love in the comments section provided online.
Fogler, who played the young nephew of Swit’s Auntie Mame in 2014, is an adult now, attending Ithaca College and sang “My Best Girl” from that show before Jennifer Evans took to the mic, gushing about Fogler having played her young son in Mary Poppins that same season. “I can’t believe he’s in college,” she gushed. “And my first professional job was at the Forestburgh Playhouse, which I’ll never forget.” Thanking Franklin for inviting her to be a part of the cabaret, she cited him for giving her “a reason to put on makeup and bringing me back into the fold” before singing a beautiful rendition of “Being Mrs. Banks” from Mary Poppins.
Honestly, everyone (IMHO) did an outstanding job, with Trapp asking each for “one word” to describe what the playhouse meant to them. “Cathartic,” Tommy Betz said, as others chimed in with buzzwords like “family,” “inspiration” and “magical.” Kerstin Anderson, who recently appeared in the Broadway revival of “My Fair Lady” closed the show with a stunning rendition of “I Could Have Danced All Night” as heart emojis and clapping hands floated across the page. What may have been lacking in sound quality was otherwise loud and clear. Live theatre, like the Forestburgh Playhouse and so many others scattered through the Upper Delaware region, must find a way to survive.
Here’s how you can help: Invite friends, family and colleagues to join you in giving $75 (or multiples of $75) as part of their “Alive and Thrive” fundraising campaign to help usher the Playhouse into their 75th anniversary in 2021. To put my money where my big mouth is, I dug deep and broke Dharma’s cherished piggy bank to make our contribution. For more information, visit www.fbplayhouse.org.