Follies Gets Summer Stock Run at CT's Ivoryton Playhouse, July 23-Aug. 2

News   Follies Gets Summer Stock Run at CT's Ivoryton Playhouse, July 23-Aug. 2 River Rep, the resident professional troupe at The Ivoryton Playhouse in Connecticut, stages an ambitious project July 23-Aug. 2: Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's large-cast Follies.

An examination of youthful ideals vs. the regrets of age, the show is set in a decaying theatre that's about to be torn down. Showgirls and stars from many editions of "Weismann's Follies" are reunited for one night only to face their pasts, as ghosts of their former selves awaken in the theatre.

(In the historic Ivoryton house, in Ivoryton, CT, the walls of the theatre are lined with hundreds of headshots of performers who have played the space. Many are long dead, making the venue a natural for the sometimes eerie show at hand.)

The Sondheim score is known for its lacerating character songs and pastiche tunes that suggest periods and composers of the golden age of musical theatre.

Warren Kelley directs and choreographs a company that includes River Rep favorites Evan Thompson (as Weismann), Joan Shepard (as Hattie), Julia Kiley (as Sally) and Owen Thompson (as Theodore Whitman). The four, along with Kelley, are producing partners (with Jenn Thompson) in the Equity River Rep troupe, now in its 17th season.

Steven Katz is musical director, with Joseph Ganci as conductor. The cast includes Ron Bagden as Buddy, Todd Thurston as Ben, Jean Tafler as Phyllis, Amy Lee Williams as Young Phyllis, Stephen Brennan as Young Ben, Katherine McClain as Young Sally, Michael Jacobs as Young Buddy, Susan Terry as Carlotta, Jean DeGrooth as Solange, Lori Conley as Emily Whitman, Constance Tredwell as Stella, Carol Connelly as Heidi, Susan Gayle Pynn as Dee Dee, Michael Sayers as Sam Deems, Gary Sullivan as Roscoe, and Arthur Pignataro, Michael Cartwright, Kimberly Canning, Dianna Tucker, Leslie Bradshaw, Tom Bruett, Rainbow Dickerson, Curt Foy, Tracy Liz Miller, Heather Camille Nolan, Kathryn Procko, Michael Sayers and Monica Vazquez. The Ivoryton Playhouse is at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton, 45 minutes from New Haven. For information, call (860) 767-8348 or visit the website at www.riverrep.com.

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The 2003 summer slate also includes Neil Simon's The Good Doctor featuring Ivoryton favorite Warren Kelley, the troupe's artistic director, Aug. 6-16; and Joe DiPietro's Italian family comedy, Over the River and Through the Woods, Aug. 20-31, with Evan Thompson and wife Joan Shepard. The season began with The Comedy of Errors and offered Sherlock Holmes.

The Equity-affiliated River Rep is run by partners Warren Kelly (artistic director), Joan Shepard (the actress managing director), producing directors Julia Kiley, Evan Thompson, Jenn Thompson, Owen Thompson (all resident favorites as actors and directors), and production manager Arthur Pignataro. Jane Stanton is artistic director emeritus.

The non-profit playhouse, renovated in recent years, is a former recreation hall built for employees of the local (now-defunct) pianoworks. The Ivoryton Playhouse was an active summer stock house 1930-1976 when New York stage manager Milton Stiefel offered stars in comedies, mysteries and dramas. Stiefel discovered the 1908 venue while vacationing and thought it would make a nice summer theatre.

The space was built by the piano company that ruled the town. It was a hall for films, meetings and theatricals. The city, formerly called Centerbrook, was renamed in 1888 in honor of ivory used for piano keyboards.

After Stiefel's reign ended in 1976, the summer stock venture went through several managements before River Rep settled in 1987 and stuck there. River Rep has produced more than 65 shows, including one world premiere under a small professional theatre (SPT) Equity contract.

The subscribership is mostly residential, but there are tourists, too, Joan Shepard told Playbill On-Line.

Stars from Katharine Hepburn to Ethel Waters to Marlon Brando walked the boards there in the Stiefel era.