Round of applause for arts groups

Theater: Companies old and new performed well this year, raising expectations for 2004.

Arundel Live

December 31, 2003|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE ARTISTIC highs and lows for Maryland Hall-based arts groups in 2003 were reviewed last week. But here in Anne Arundel County, we have a large number of performing arts groups extending well beyond Maryland Hall's confines to enrich our cultural life.

During this busy holiday week, most arts groups contacted seem generally optimistic about 2004. They range from established groups such as the 25-year-old Pasadena Theatre Company to a one-year-old theater upstart.

The Bay Theatre Company is a 2003 success story. This professional repertory company formed by Annapolis residents Lucinda Merry-Browne and Janet Luby launched its first production in December last year in a nondescript space in Truxtun Park's Griscom Building. With their first show - Christopher Durang's Beyond Therapy - Merry-Browne and Luby proved that hard work, determination and an unerring eye for talent could succeed in creating theater magic in most unlikely spaces.

In February, Loews Hotel's Powerhouse Building was transformed into an intimate theater by the fledgling company for a riveting production of David Mamet's two-person drama Oleanna. In October, Bay Theatre was ensconced in its own theater space at West Garrett Place on West Street. Here, two talented young singing actors brought life to Stephen Sondheim's Marry Me a Little. On choosing and bringing sparkle to this musical of Sondheim tunes that didn't make it into earlier shows, Merry-Browne displayed a gutsy sophistication that is key to her success.

An equally dedicated and talented theater person, Mary James of Second Stage, has encountered greater difficulty in realizing her dream of establishing a permanent theater. Having done only one show - South Pacific - at Chesapeake Arts Center, Second Stage is again looking for a Severna Park home, where the company will be known as Severna Park Players.

"It's hard to be homeless in a community that seemed to cry out for its own theater," James, Second Stage president, wrote in an e-mail. "We do not want to be in Brooklyn Park or in Annapolis but in Severna Park, which is our home."

James is busy directing Colonial Players' coming production of Sylvia, opening Jan. 9.

Now in its 55th season, Colonial Players did lots of things right.

"We started our 2003-04 season with a tremendously successful Over the River and Through the Woods," marketing director Ken Sabel said. "Then we had a huge disappointment when we had to cancel The Piano Lesson due to illness. This is the first time in 55 years that Colonial Players had to do this. Christmas Carol has been its usual success, and we are looking forward to a strong and successful start in the new year with the very funny Sylvia. We have redoubled our marketing efforts and are seeing the results of this in our increased publicity and increased ticket sales."

Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre spokesman Evan Brierley noted in an e-mail that Colonial Players donated part of the proceeds from A Christmas Carol to the Summer Garden, which had to cancel some shows because of Hurricane Isabel.

Said Brierley: "This outside venue's first show of 2003, Evita, was rained out nine times. Hurricane Isabel put two feet of dirty water on the first floor of the building at the end of the season. The stage lighting system was under water."

"In response to the hurricane, the Naval Academy sent 20 midshipmen to remove debris left by the storm," he added. "Summer Garden's building was covered by flood insurance, and donations have been received from friends of the theater. ASGT currently has a hard-working dedicated board of directors who will see that their first show of 2004, Gypsy, will open as planned."

Based at Chesapeake Arts Center since 2001, Merely Players enjoyed success with Oklahoma and State Fair but less with October's production of Once Upon a Mattress.

According to Brierley, a Merely Players former president, the company "now will be producing four shows each year and has recently formed a new division called Merely Child's Play, whose mission is to offer theater opportunities primarily to young and inexperienced children. Merely Child's Play is offering Really Rosie in the Studio Theater this spring, while Merely Players will open West Side Story at the Main Theater."

In a season that featured reprises of vintage radio shows and fabled concerts, jazz expert, radio personality and concert impresario John Tegler recently staged a successful recreation of the Glenn Miller Air Force Band in concert at Chesapeake Arts Center.

Expressing enthusiasm about the growing Annapolis jazz scene that includes enlarged space at Ram's Head Tavern and a new jazz venue at the Powerhouse Building of Loews Annapolis Hotel, Tegler said he will stage several shows there next year. He reports that the Powerhouse facility will present pianist Stef Scaggiari and Sue Matthews in concert next month.

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