For more than three decades, the Anne Arundel Community College's Performing Arts Department has sponsored annual theater trips taking area residents and full-time theater students to Broadway shows.
Until this year, Robert Kauffman - a professor affectionately known as "the Chief" - organized and led most of the trips. He possessed uncanny abilities, predicting hits and securing choice seats to top shows.
Before he retired in January, Kauffman passed the baton to Barbara Marder, chairwoman of the college's Performing Arts Department.
A dozen local residents signed on again this year, joining five students.
Among veterans of at least 10 tours were Millersville resident Charlene Fendley, former Severna Park High School English teacher Connie Ray Hughes, and Colonial Players supporter John Decker of Edgewater. Others making repeat trips included Annapolis-based business owners Ralph and Carlotta Crosby and student Tim Rauser. This marked the first time for local actress Renee Tilton, and for students Mike Burger, Katy Jackson, Christina Sutton and Katelyn Linnell, who played Tiger Lilly in Moonlight Troupers recent Peter Pan.
Although the Chief was a tough act to follow, Marder proved more than up to the challenge. No novice, Marder had been part of these theater trips for more than 20 years. When she assumed full responsibility for arranging round-trip bus transportation, hotel accommodations, a slate of seminars and seats for three shows, keeping costs to $710 for each person with four sharing a room.
As in the past, the Field Studies Center of New York offered its expertise. With its help, Marder was able to get tickets for the smash musical Hairspray.
Full-time students received academic credit for attending the seminars. In addition to a two-hour backstage tour of Radio City Music Hall, Marder and the Field Studies group offered a seminar led by stage manager and director Alan Fox of Salome, starring Al Pacino and Marisa Tomei.
Hairspray actor Clarke Thorell (Corny Collins - the Buddy Deane-based character) led a second seminar. Thorell's anecdotes lent insights into being part of this Broadway mega-hit and praised the charms of Baltimore.
For the third seminar, Marder found playwright Mario Fratti, who helped adapt Federico Fellini's film 8 1/2 into the Broadway musical Nine, which made its debut in 1982 and is enjoying a successful revival starring Antonio Banderas. In addition to relating historical insights into the creation of Nine, Fratti shared his experiences as a New York theater critic and author of 55 plays, all of them produced.
Along with a hit musical, the tour usually offers a Broadway drama and an off-Broadway play. This year's choices were Enchanted April, based on the 1992 film about three genteel English women who leave rainy London for a shared vacation at an Italian villa, and Our Lady of 121st Street, a dark comedy filled with damaged, dysfunctional, often raunchy characters who generally entertain us at Union Square Theatre.
Based on Baltimorean John Waters' 1988 film, Hairspray won eight Tony awards, including best musical, best score, and the top awards for both leads and featured actor. For most of our group, the honors for Hairspray were richly deserved. And for us native Baltimoreans who remember Deane's television dance show, Hairspray is a great fairy tale about days that never were but should have been. Hearing Marc Shaiman's and Scott Wittman's tune "Good Morning Baltimore" while viewing a set featuring Formstone houses fronted with marble steps was a joy that tugged at our heartstrings.