This is the unedited text of an article published in the July 8, 2010 edition of the Montague Reporter, a local weekly newspaper. In the interest of space and the editors preferences some changes were made to the published version. ~ Ellen Blanchette
For the past several months I have been in rehearsal for Brigadoon, the musical opening this weekend at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls. The Country Players produce one musical a year for the Shea Theater and this year it’s Brigadoon, by Lerner and Lowe, a magical concept of a Scottish town that appears only once every hundred years. It has a love story, of course, and lots of gorgeous music for us to sing, some dancing and lots of fun. For all the hard work and long hours of rehearsals, basically it is the fun of it that makes us want to stick with it, face our fears of making total fools of ourselves, and get out there on stage and sing and dance our hearts out for the audience.
It has always been my dream to be in musical theater. Ever since I was a young child and had a taste of what it felt like to perform on stage, this dream has persisted in my mind. It was why I moved to New York City in the mid-1960’s, why I took classes at HB Studio in lower Manhattan, grateful for the opportunity to study with renowned actors like with Sandy Dennis and William Hickey, and musical performance with George Axeltree. It was why I kept all of my sheet music and kept learning songs well past the age when it seemed to make sense. I love art and writing very much, but music is my heart. So here I am, forty years after my last stage performance back in the theater. As it turns out, I’m not alone in this process. As I talked to my fellow actors this week, I found many who had put aside their love of theater for other pursuits, only to return.
Azelie Aquadro, playing the romantic lead (Fiona) had set aside her love of theater to study English and Linguistics at Boston University. It was her friend, Ashley Blom, who she’d known in high school, who brought her back to community theater. Ashley plays Meg, a lively girl who is surely a bit of a tart, more or less the opposite of Fiona who is waiting for the right man to come along. Both of these beautiful, talented young women bring life to their parts and make the show an absolute pleasure. Azelie has a lovely high soprano voice and a charm and beauty that is unpretentious and delightful. Ashley has a strong voice and stage presence and great comic timing. Playing the male romantic lead is Joshua Kenneth Warren. Josh has a strong elegant singing voice, an ability to make each scene with Azelie (Fiona) truly romantic. The two of them singing their love songs will surely bring some tears.
Ashley Blom plays Meg in Brigadoon. Here in the rocking chair Meg’s mother sat in while her father slept (so the story goes.)There is a real family aspect to the Country Players. Of the Connelly family, there is Amy, the director, her daughters Maureen, the producer, and Emma who is part of the production staff. Then there is Dave Grout who is Maureen’s husband and a very funny man with a natural gift for physical humor in the tradition of such greats as Jackie Gleason. Dave plays Jeff, one of the two strangers from the 20th century that wander into this town caught in time. Along with Tommy (Josh) his traveling companion who is as serious, romantic, thoughtful as Jeff is the cynic, the two play off of each other in a contrast of life views, with Tommy struggling to have faith in what he believes and Jeff arguing for rational thought, with humor, of course. Dave Grout has also served a vital role as assistant director of the show.
Every aspect of the development of this show has been done with good humor, kindness, and great consideration for the feelings of the actors, many of whom are quite young. The cast goes from elders who have been part of the Country Players for many years, to young people who have just started performing. Jack Arnot, playing a village elder, Mr. MacLaren, has been with the Country Players for almost 30 years. Maureen Connelly says she started at 7 years old when her mother took her to audition for The King and I, beginning their involvement with this group that has lasted for over 15 years. Amy Connelly has been a producer, director and much more over the years. This is her first time directing a musical.
The lovely Maureen has a smile that would light a room on the darkest day. She has been exceptionally kind to me as I struggled to find my way to face the challenging reality of working in live theater. We are so lucky to have as our musical director the talented Amy Crawford, whom I have known in the past as the accompanist for the GCC Chorus. She has also worked as musical director for many previous shows. Also, I must give credit to the talented choreographer, Haley Descavich who has worked tirelessly to make us all look good while we dance.
I must say something about the kids who are taking part in the show. They are serious minded and professional in their approach to the show even as they lend a spirit of carefree fun to our rehearsals and demonstrate the kind of joy in their performance that only the young and therefore unselfconscious can display. Among them, Stone Dresser, a fine dancer and charming young man. He was in fifth grade at Sheffield this year, formerly attended Montague Center School. He plans to attend Gill Elementary in the Fall. Spencer Hubert, now in eighth grade at Great Falls Middle School is a member of the Middle School Concert Band and the Turners Falls High School Marching Band, playing trumpet. Spenser sings and dances like a pro. Sarah Rose Aden from Erving will be going into eighth grade at Frontier Regional High School in the fall. This is her third show with the Country Players. Hannah Winans of Conway is 12 years old, just graduated from sixth grade. She has been doing musicals for five years. William Anderson Gregory loves to dance. This is his first theater production, joining his father, Weldon Gregory who told me this is his first show in 20 years, since high school days.
While we have been busy rehearsing, Gail Villieneuve has been busy working on costumes for all of us to wear. She has been assisted by Sharon Weyers and Judy Delany. Judy is married to Dr. Bob Delany who plays Mr. Lundy in the show and has been with the Country players for many years. So it seems to me that I have now joined a very large family, one that loves to sing and dance and play. We are in final rehearsals this week, opening in just a few days. I hope everyone will come see the show. There are still two shows left, Saturday evening, July 17 at 8 p.m. and the matinee on Sunday, July 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the Shea Theater box office in Turners Falls. Reservations can be made by calling 413-863-2281.