The Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center, a new theatre complex in Nyack, N.Y, opened its doors Sept. 27, presenting the gospel musical Abyssinia.
The 700-seat auditorium represents an attempt to create a significant regional theatre in the Lower Hudson River area of New York State.
Located on Nyack's quaint Main Street, the building is a former movie theatre. Its rough brown stone exterior is a sharp contrast with the wood-frame Victorian structures in the vicinity.
The house itself offers decent acoustics and rows of wide, comfortable chairs on a slight grade. The stage, as used by this inaugural production, did not appear particularly deep. Additionally, a sloped, circular platform, in the center of the stage, aided the sight lines, but lent a cramped feel to some of the production numbers.
There is no proscenium arch, per se. An elaborate metal grid, holding spot lights, extends from the back of the stage, over the proscenium, toward the audience. The absence the arch, or a curtain, adds immediacy to the production, particularly when the fourth wall is broken and the audience is encouraged to join Abyssinia's gospel anthems by clapping in time.
The lobby features a gift shop selling theatrical souvenirs. Gray walls match the ceiling's decorative circular white light. A pictorial display dominates the room, depicting the career of "The First Lady of American Theatre" Helen Hayes. Hayes lived in the town for 30 years and expressed the hope the, one day, a small theatre bearing her name would be established there. Theatre veteran Tony Stimac, formerly of Manhattan's Musical Theatre Works, is a force behind the creation of this cultural center and its first executive producer.
Under Stimac's leadership, the arts center is planning an ambitious first season, including seven children's presentations and three major productions: Abyssinia (Sept. 27-Oct. 13); Angel Street, a psychological thriller (Nov. 8-24); and the musical revue Forever Plaid (Dec. 13- 29). A spring production schedule has yet to be announced.
Reservations may be made by calling the box office at (914) 658 6333. Additional information is available by calling (914) 358-2847.
-- By Kevin Reardon