Tuesday, September 13, 2011

CenterStage Brochure Announces New Initiatives

Posted by Bruce Miller
According to blogger.com, this is our 600th blog post. Considering all the articles that have been posted and then removed, it's probably the 700th post we've written, but ... for better or worse, it's the first time we've had 600 items actually posted at the same time.

When Barksdale was 31 years old, co-founder Muriel McAuley wrote her wonderful book, Moving On. Theatre IV turned 36 last May. Theatre IV doesn't have a book. But I've written a lot of posts on this blog.

One day I'll go back through the blog archives to proof and edit.

I was pleased to receive the beautiful new CenterStage brochure in my home mailbox last evening. I was particularly interested to learn about four news items. At least they were news to me.

1. Three of the four restaurants listed as CenterStage's Premiere Restaurant Partners are located in easy walking distance of the historic Empire Theatre. Bistro 27 (across the street), TJs and Lemaire (two blocks away) all offer a 10% discount to CenterStage ticket holders on the night of the show. CenterStage is clearly a step ahead of Barksdale in pulling this together. Good for them. We all learn from the competition. It's a great perq for ticket buyers. It's time for us to pay a visit on our friends at Bistro 27 and the Jefferson to try to catch up with CenterStage.

2. Young James Wasilewski, who I guess isn't all that young anymore (he will always be "Young James" to us), will be bringing his acclaimed improv troupe, West End Comedy, into Rhythm Hall, the multipurpose performance space at CenterStage. James (pictured to the right) interned with Barksdale his senior year at Randolph Macon, a little less than a decade ago. Now he'll be appearing downtown on four Fridays--Nov 4, Jan 13, Feb 3, and Mar 16.

James has been trying to lure me out to the West End for months, to see his show. Looks like I now will have no excuse not to go laugh at my buddy in his new downtown digs. Tickets are only $10, and the show is for "mature audiences." I don't know if I'm mature yet, but I'm marking my calendar nonetheless. I hope you will too. I think bringing comedy to Rhythm Hall on a regular basis is a great idea.

3. Kathy Halenda, who starred at Barksdale in Mame and Irving Berlin's White Christmas is one of the headliners in CenterStage's new Life Is A Cabaret series, sponsored by U. S. Trust. On Jan 26-29, Kathy will be bringing her Class & Brass: The Music of Judy Garland and Bette Midler show to Rhythm Hall. What a perfect way to heat up a cold winter's night. If Kathy's in town, you know the joint will be jumpin'.

Richmond needs more cabaret. We've made halting efforts at Barksdale, and Glen Allen and Triangle have lately picked up the ball with excellent cabaret acts and series of their own. Maybe one day soon, Richmond will have a flourishing cabaret scene at multiple venues.

4. The biggest newsflash for me (I know, everyone else has probably known for weeks) is that CenterStage is getting into the theatre producing business with a new program called CenterStage in The Community. This causes me to feel both nervous and relieved at the same time.

"Nervous" because this means there is now another producing theatre in town, a BIG one, one with resources several times greater than the resources available over here. New competition is good, but when you're trying to meet payroll and handle the financial obligations of a major downtown facility like the historic Empire, new competition is also scary. Time will tell how many producing theatres a community the size of Greater Richmond can support.

"Relieved" because Barksdale will no longer be the biggest producing theatre in town. I've spent 27 years of my career as artistic director of a tiny, then mid-sized theatre, leaving the "big house" responsibilities to other entities. We've been at the top of the heap (until now) for only nine years. There was a lot less pressure when we were small.

The first production to receive the benefits of this amazing opportunity will be Dessa Rose, co-produced by CenterStage and Firehouse, and directed by CenterStage's multi-talented Executive Director, Richard M. Parison, Jr. (pictured below and to the left).

Before moving to Richmond less than a year ago, Parison spent the previous two years as the producing director at Barrington Stage Company, which the Boston Globe has called "the pre-eminent place in Massachusetts for the production of musicals." Before that, he held producing positions at the Prince Music Theater and the Walnut Street Theatre (with a legendary subscriber base of over 20,000) in Philadelphia.

Here's what the CenterStage brochure has to say about Dessa Rose. "CenterStage and the Firehouse Theatre Project come together to present Dessa Rose, a musical full of love, laughter, hope and a pair of unlikely heroines. One is a fallen lady of society abandoned by her husband, the other a pregnant slave sentenced to death on the gallows. When circumstances thrust them together, they form an uneasy alliance in an attempt to secure them both their freedom and that of their infant children. Based on imagined details of real events, this dangerous adventure of a musical celebrates life in all its joys, triumphs and challenges."

Dessa Rose is written and composed by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the same talented team that created Seussical, which will be produced by Theatre IV at the same time that CenterStage and Firehouse will be co-producing Dessa Rose. Seussical runs April 27 through May 20. Dessa Rose runs May 2 through June 2. Perhaps Carol Piersol will forgive me for bowing out of the Tennessee Williams Festival, and she and Richard Parison will consider joining with us to mount a mini Flaherty/Ahrens Festival. It's at least worth talking about.

It remains to be seen whether CenterStage will continue its CenterStage in The Community program with Firehouse (a GREAT partner), or another theatre, or maybe another performing art form altogether. Perhaps next year they will choose to co-produce with Concert Ballet, the Richmond Philharmonic, or Peter Mark's new Lyric Opera Virginia.

After it's triumphant 2nd Anniversary celebration with Patti Labelle, it's good to see CenterStage coming on so strong. Long may she thrive!

--Bruce Miller

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