A theater dream fulfilled

County man brings quality shows to the neighborhood

June 25, 2008|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

Starting next month, Severna Park resident Ron Giddings will bring a new theater company to the Arnold-Severna Park region offering relatively new works from New York City and reintroducing noteworthy shows that were somehow overlooked after initially enjoying major success.

Gidding's Standing O theater company will reduce the need for theater fans to travel to Baltimore or Washington for professional-quality shows. Educational benefits will include reaching out to area schools to provide more opportunities for young people to become acquainted with theater.

"Standing O envisions making theater-going an event offering inspirational, engaging performances that stay with us long after the curtain falls," said Giddings, 27.

His dream of creating such a theater has long been shared by his college friend, Christina Enoch, now at Sarah Lawrence pursuing a master's degree in acting. Enoch will play the lead in On the Twentieth Century, which will open Standing O's premier season with a run today to Aug. 3 at Anne Arundel Community College's Pascal Center for the Performing Arts.

While attending an early rehearsal of this largely overlooked Cy Coleman musical, I was surprised to see such a large gathering of major local talent eager to be part of this venture. Among the cast members are Tom Newbrough, Sue Centurelli, Judson Davis, Alicia Sweeney, Greg Bosworth, John Halmi and Ronnie Schronce.

On the Twentieth Century has never had a major revival despite its successful run on Broadway. It opened in 1979 to run for 449 performances and won five Tonys for best score, best book, best set design, best actor (John Cullum) and best supporting actor (Kevin Kline). The original cast also included Madeline Kahn, who was nominated for a best actress Tony and Imogene Coca for best supporting actress.

The 20-song score by Coleman - better known for his music in Sweet Charity and Barnum - is considered among his best. The book and lyrics are by legendary Broadway duo Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

On the Twentieth Century is based on the 1932 Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur play Twentieth Century, which became a 1934 movie starring John Barrymore as Oscar and Carole Lombard as Lilly.

Oscar Jaffee is an egotistical, once-successful but now desperate theatrical producer who wants to turn his luck around by persuading his estranged girlfriend, the movie star Lily Garland, to appear in his new play. Oscar books an adjoining drawing room to Lily's on the luxury train Twentieth Century, where most of the action takes place on the trip from Chicago to New York.

Lily's current love interest, Bruce Granit, doesn't want her to get involved again with Oscar. To complicate matters, rich religious backer Letitia Primrose has given Oscar $200,000 to produce the play The Passion of Mary Magdalene.

This has exciting music that evokes the 1930s - not a bad place to be in popular music.

Local theater devotees should be brought to their feet at the prospect of Standing O's bringing thought-provoking recent substantive theater works close to home. Although Anne Arundel County is home to prestigious theater companies, including Bay Theatre and Colonial Players, neither they nor any others in this area seem dedicated solely to what is new and challenging.

Standing O will next present john & jen, an intimate musical that looks at the complexities of relationships between brothers and sisters and parents and children. This show is scheduled for weekends from Aug. 29 to Sept. 14 at Chesapeake Academy's black box theater at 1185 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd., Arnold.

The final show of the season will be The Retreat from Moscow, a show on Broadway in 2004 centered on the disintegration of a 33-year marriage from the viewpoints of husband, wife and son. It is scheduled to run weekends from Nov. 14 to 23 at the same place.

For reservations and season subscriptions, call 410-647-8412 or visit www.standingoproductions.org.

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