CT's Historic Westport Country Playhouse Has New Leadership

News   CT's Historic Westport Country Playhouse Has New Leadership The 70-year-old Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut has new leadership in Elissa Getto and Janice Muirhead, who will take over duties previously assigned to longtime executive producer James B. McKenzie.

The 70-year-old Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut has new leadership in Elissa Getto and Janice Muirhead, who will take over duties previously assigned to longtime executive producer James B. McKenzie.

The seventysomething McKenzie resigned his 41-year position as executive producer of the famed summer stock organization Jan. 21. He'll focus on commercial theatre, he said, and continue as executive producer of the Peninsula Players Theatre Foundation in Wisconsin and the presidency of CORST (Council of Summer Resident Theatres).

Getto, former CEO and artistic director of the six-venue Cincinnati Arts Association, is Westport's new CEO and executive director. Muirhead, former director of production at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, will be the new artistic manager of Westport. She will oversee day-to-day production details of the summer theatre, which stages six show a year -- new works, musicals and revivals.

In conjunction with the organization's continuing general manager, Julie Monahan, and the Westport artistic advisory council, led by Joanne Woodward and Anne Keefe, Getto and Muirhead will choose programming and steer the future course of the historic summer stock theatre.

McKenzie said of his departure: "It's been a good run: 419 plays and lots of theatrical adventures, but it's time to produce once again in the commercial theatre, where I belong," McKenzie said in a statement. The summer 2000 season is expected to be known by April. Visit the website at www.westportplayhouse.com.

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In 1930, the playhouse was founded by one of the great names in American theatre, Lawrence Langner (who was actually born in Wales) and his wife, Armina Marshall. They purchased a 100-year-old cow barn in an apple orchard adjacent to the Post Road in what was then the fringes of Westport.

According to the playhouse history statement, written by McKenzie, they commissioned designer Cleon Throckmorton to transform the interior of the barn, by then a tanning factory, into a theatre.

In 1931, the curtain went up on the first production at the Westport Country Playhouse. To date, more than 700 plays have been produced and almost four million people have attended.

Performers over the years have included Helen Hayes, Henry Fonda, Ethel Barrymore, Tyrone Power, Jessica Tandy, Gene Kelly and Tallulah Bankhead. More than 75 new works premiered at Westport and transferred to Broadway.

The famed Langner (1890-1962) helped found The Washington Square Players, The Theatre Guild and American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, CT.

-- By Kenneth Jones