The ambitious 2003 summer slate includes a staging of the large-cast Follies, the Stephen Sondheim musical, July 23-Aug. 2; a three-week run of Arthur Conan Doyle and William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes (the Connecticut River region is where Gillette's famous "castle" home rests as a major tourist destination), July 2-19; 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.
Sherlock Holmes features Stephen Kunken (who played Hal in the Broadway and touring company of Proof) as the detective and Jeff Talbott as Dr. Watson. The pair appeared together in the first New York revival of Arthur Laurents' Home of the Brave.
The Equity-affiliated River Rep, now in its 17th season in Ivoryton, 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.
A young Katharine Hepburn, from the area, performed there before she was well-known.
Stars from Ethel Waters to Marlon Brando walked the boards there in the Stiefel era.
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.