Michigan's Cherry County Playhouse Will Shutter

News   Michigan's Cherry County Playhouse Will Shutter
Cherry County Playhouse, a Michigan summer stock institution since 1955, will cease operation immediately and not play a 2004 season, chairman of the board Eugene Franks told the Muskegon Chronicle.

For the past 13 summers, the professional Equity troupe that originated in northern lower Michigan's Traverse City area has presented at the 1,750-seat Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts in Mukegon, the western lower Michigan lakefront city.

The reason for the closing of the company was a reduction in contributions from businesses and individuals. It's the economy, in other words.

Playbill On-Line was not able to reach company president Pamela Gallina, but the latter was quoted saying nothing short of an angel with a lot of dough could save the company. Dennis Edenfield is listed as artistic director on the current version of the Cherry County website, which reflects summer 2003 information.

The Chonicle reported about 18,000 people attended Cherry County's four 2003 productions. The season included John Davidson in Chicago, Peter Scolari in Barnum and Sandy Duncan as Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!

According to the Chronicle, Cherry County had announced a 2004 season of Hello, Dolly!, Always...Patsy Cline, Damn Yankees, Smokey Joe's Cafe and West Side Story. In 2002 Lawrence Thelen, a producing associate and literary manager of Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut, was named artistic director, but was not asked back. He replaced Bill Castellino in the troupe that had been founded back in 1955. Castellino and the board parted company over artistic and business differences.

The name "Cherry County" is a bit misleading. The theatre was founded by actress Ruth Bailey in northern lower Michigan in 1955 in the cherry-producing area of Traverse City.

It all began in a tent, as one of the first professional theatre companies in Michigan. Stars came to Cherry County for the next 30 years; Bailey sold the operation to comedian Pat Paulsen and writer producer Neil Rosen and shows were staged at the Park Place Hotel in Traverse City. The operation was moved south to Muskegon (not in "cherry county," but the name stuck) and into its largest venue yet in 1991. After the deaths of Paulsen and Rosen, Castellino took over as producing director in 1999, and continued to April 2002.

Over the years the theatre was well-known as a summer home to TV, movie and stage stars acting in light summer fare typical of summer stock. Despite reports that there were less stars in recent years, Castellino told Playbill On-Line his tenure included star casting ("as many as ever," Castellino said). In the summer of 2001, attendance hit an all-time high of more than 30,000, Castellino said. During his tenure, Cherry County started a cabaret series, staged a world premiere of a teen show, Crash Club, and reached out to the community more than in the past.

Castellino worked for producer Rosen for four years at Cherry County in the 1990s. In Rosen's last summer, he asked Castellino to help with what would be the Michigan producer's last season in 1998 (when Castellino directed the world premiere of Another Summer, a musical version of On Golden Pond). The board then invited Castellino to continue. Castellino filed a wrongful discharge lawsuit after he and the board parted ways, and the suit was settled out of court. The settlement was amicable and the sides wished each other well, Castellino said.

For Cherry County Playhouse information, visit cherrycountyplayhouse.org.

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