Finian's Rainbow Featured in Westport 2005 Season at Newly Renovated Home

News   Finian's Rainbow Featured in Westport 2005 Season at Newly Renovated Home The Westport Country Playhouse will open its newly renovated home and simultaneously launch it 75th anniversary season on June 16 with a production of the E. Y. Harburg-Fred Saidy-Burton Lane musical Finian's Rainbow.

The production is adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore, who staged the piece at Irish Rep in Manhattan in 2004. No cast has been announced for the fantastical tale of Sharon, who has left Ireland with her father, Finian, to settle in the mythical Southern state of Missitucky. Finian has stolen a leprechaun's pot of gold, and the angry sprite, named Og, has followed the thief to America, where they encounter romance, but also bigotry, economic disparity and social injustice.

A new production of J.M. Barrie's Dear Brutus follows, running July 7 24, with Gregory Boyd directing. Interest in Barrie's work has increased since the release of the film "Finding Neverland," which details how Barrie hit upon the creation of Peter Pan. Dear Brutus starred a young Helen Hayes, Louis Calverg, William Gillette and Violet Kemble-Cooper when it debuted on Broadway in 1918.

Next is Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding, July 28 - Aug. 14. Joanne Woodward, who will end her run as artistic director after the 2005 season, will direct. Finally comes Journey's End by R. C. Sheriff, directed by Boyd, set for Aug. 18-Sept. 4. The war drama is set in a dugout in the British trench before St. Quentin during World War I. The play premiered on Broadway in 1929, with Jack Hawkins in the cast. It ran 485 performances. It was revived for a short Broadway run in 1939.

The above line-up will be followed by the Playhouse's first-ever winter play series, consisting of one play in October, a holiday show in December, plus a third production in March 2006. Dickens' David Copperfield, adapted by Giles Havergal, will be the Dec. 1-18 holiday show. The other two shows are to be named later.

The Playhouse presented an abbreviated two-play "on the road" season in 2004 as it waited for its classic barn-theatre home to be modernized and renovated. Both shows were presented at Westport's temporary home at The Ridgefield Playhouse for Movies and the Performing Arts. The Westport Country Playhouse was converted from an old barn in 1930 by Lawrence Langner, the head of the Theatre Guild, and architect Cleon Throckmorton. There had been several plans over the years to convert the building into a year-round arts center, but the building's fair-weather outfitting had made this a practical and financial impossibility.

The current renovation, in the works for years, will replace the ancient pews with benchs that will have the feeling of pews. The Playhouse will get a roomy, L-shaped lobby overlooking the garden and bathrooms on both the orchestra and balcony levels. Roofs beams which have obscured patrons' views of the stage will be removed, and an orchestra pit will be added to assist in the production of musicals. Actors will get new dressing rooms and designers will be given a new scene shop. The seating capacity will shrink from 707 to 580.

Retained will be such traditional playhouse features as the colored bunting draped over the balconies, and the original proscenium arch.

The total cost of the renovation was $17.8 million.

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