Valerie Wright, fresh out of the Los Angeles engagement of the musical, 3hree, returns to familiar garters July 18, when she plays seductress Lola — a role she danced on Broadway and nationally — in Damn Yankees at the historic Ivoryton Playhouse in Connecticut.
The three-week summer stock booking is a chance for the actress to be close to friends, family and a role she previously explored opposite both Victor Garber and Jerry Lewis. Her performance as Lola in the Broadway revival of the musical comedy asked her to step into the shadow of Gwen Verdon, who created the part in 1955. The Ivoryton production plays to Aug. 4.
Wright comes to the Ivoryton Playhouse, in Ivoryton, CT, at the invitation of Jenn Thompson, whose family runs The River Rep, the professional Equity company in residence at the playhouse, a former recreation hall built for employees of the local pianoworks.
"I've been aching to have her here," said Thompson, who directs Damn Yankees. The two met in 1989 while working together in Hans Christian Anderson at the Fulton Opera House, and became pals. Wright originated the role of Dolly in the current Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway, and understudied for Bernadette Peters. She appeared in the world premiere of 3hree, said to be Broadway-bound, and is heard on the cast album.
"She's not only a incredible talent, but an incredible person to work with," Thompson said. "She's one of the most positive people I've ever met, really enthusiastic about the work, and other people's work." As luck would have it, Wright's husband, Mark Lotito, is featured in They All Laughed! at nearby Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT, this summer, so they can be together with their baby.
Thompson's parents, Joan Shepard and Evan Thompson, are Manhattan based producing partners at River Rep and grown children Jenn and Owen Thompson have worked in the company since its founding (this is the 15th season in Connecticut). Warren Kelly and Jane Stanton are also partners, producing a five-show summer season. In 1930 the community-hall building became a home to stars in summer stock productions under director-producer Milton Stiefel, a former New York actor and stage manager. River Rep took over after a dormant period.
Deborah Roshe choreographs Damn Yankees, which also features Ben Sheaffer as Joe Hardy, Warren Kelley as Applegate and Bethany Smith as Meg. Stephen Katz is musical director.The cast includes Jessica Dillan (Gloria), Joan Shepard (Sister), Evan Thompson (Coach Van Buren), David H. Hamilton (Sohovic), Bethany Smith (Meg), Michael Cartwright (Joe Boyd) Michael Sayers (Adam Welch), Went Odom (Henry), Billy Rosa (Vernon), Christopher Noflke (Ozzie), Russell Whitfield (Bomber), Sheri Ziccardi (Rita), Russ Hammond (Smokey), John Baker (Rocky), Tara Newinsky (Betty), Dana Miertak (Donna), Aryn Lawrence (Kitty), Mark Famiglietti (Mickey), Chris Donovan (Del), Brad Simanski (Bubba).
The River Rep season at Ivoryton includes Lost in Yonkers (July 3-14), Damn Yankees (July 18-Aug. 4), Bus Stop (Aug. 7-18) and Art (Aug. 21-Sept. 2).
Damn Yankees has a score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross that includes "Heart" and "Whatever Lola Wants." The book is by George Abbott and Douglas Wallop. Designers are Timothy J. Amrhein (set), Ort Pengue, The Costume Bazaar (costumes), David O'Connor (lighting).
The Ivoryton Playhouse is at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton, 45 minutes from New Haven. Tickets are $22-$24. For information, call (860) 767-8348 or visit the website at www.riverrep.com.
Lola isn't the only Gwen Verdon role Wright has played. She starred in the rare revival of Redhead at the Goodspeed Opera House in 1998.
— By Kenneth Jones