July 5, 2007

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If it’s for free, it’s for me
New Thalian offers park plays for two generations
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

New Thalian Players are back for a third summer at Veterans Park in Manchester, this time producing two musicals instead of one.

The community theater group presents the revival version of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, based on the Charles M. Schulz “Peanuts” comic strip, Friday, July 13, and Saturday, July 14. The 1950s revue show The Taffetas runs Friday, July 20, and Saturday, July 21.

“I think we just wanted to grow the program ... to give people a chance to come to the park twice,” said producer Carey Cahoon.

New Thalian wanted to choose shows that would appeal to families, Cahoon said. “The Taffetas will appeal to a different generation,” but is “beautifully orchestrated, with great harmonies,” Cahoon said.

“Of course, Charlie Brown is just a classic,” Cahoon said. Kevin Roberge plays Snoopy; he appeared as Danny in New Thalian’s first park performance, Grease, in 2005. Roberge founded the new Pirate Stage Company. Steve Ihde played Sonny in Grease and appears as Schroeder in Charlie Brown. Adam Young plays Charlie, Corey Sulzen plays Linus, Corissa McKallagat plays Sally and Mary E. Reilly appears as Lucy.

“The charm of Charlie Brown is that they are adults in children’s bodies,” Cahoon said. The original musical dates back to 1967, but the revised version New Thalian includes new songs by Andrew Lippa, and featured Anthony Rapp and Kristin Chenoweth when it ran on Broadway.

The Taffetas is a take on 1950s girl groups like The Maguire Sisters, The Fontaine Sisters and The Chordettes. It features songs like “Mr. Sandman,” “Johnny Angel” and “Where the Boys Are.” Four sisters from Muncie, Indiana, are doing their first appearance on “Spotlight on Music,” a national Sunday night TV show.

The cast of four is “really becoming a great sister act,” Cahoon said. Ashley Hughes played Sandy in Grease, and Becca Shimkin performed as Philia in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, New Thalian’s 2006 park offering. Carryl Hauser was also in Forum. Lisa Newcombe performed in New Thalian’s Hot Mikado!, which won four NH Theatre Awards.

Each show will set up and rehearse in the park for a week prior to the show, except on Thursdays during concerts. The same production team is behind both. The well-known Scott Severance directs and Henry Kopczinski musically directs.

Cahoon stage-managed Grease, Forum and Hot Mikado!, and directs and does scenic design for educational groups including Saint Anselm College.

These outdoor shows aren’t cheap to produce, and this year the city is kicking in some funding. New Thalian also receives sponsorships and gifts-in-kind. Admission is free, but donations are requested and audiences have been very supportive, Cahoon said.

Not homeless yet
The rise in property values in Manchester isn’t good news for everyone. New Thalian Players had some bad news this year when landlord changes caused them to lose their formerly super-cheap office and rehearsal space.

“So far we’ve been very lucky; it hasn’t made huge impact on [the] rehearsal process,” Cahoon said regarding Theater in the Park.

Brady Sullivan is committed to making space available in the Millwest building at 195 McGregor St. for costume storage, said Wendy Trommer, who was president of the New Thalian board until June 30. The group currently shares more than 6,000 square feet there with costume maker Mary Selvoski, proprietor of Mary’s Closet. Brady Sullivan will probably find 1,000 or 2,000 feet for New Thalian’s costumes, while Selvoski “will be seeking her own arrangements,” Trommer said.

NTP has built a reputation for quality production, as well as a store of costumes, props and equipment that they rent to other groups. They have been performing in the Manchester area since 1983, and evolved from a drama group at the now defunct Notre Dame College.

New Thalian is also losing its office and rehearsal space at 300 Bedford St., most likely at the end of July. It’s now owned by out-of-state College Street. The property manager has offered to help find temporary space if needed, Trommer said. New Thalian has a deal in the works to lease space from HippoPress, according to Trommer and Hippo publisher Jody Reese.

Businesswoman May Gruber donated set storage space to New Thalian at 150 Dow St. while New Thalian was still part of Notre Dame, said founder Beth Ann O’Hara. However, now the Palace Theatre is renting space there, and New Thalian has moved most of its items out.

Fortunately, New Thalian has had support from a few local realtors and the theater community, Trommer said.

“When space is at a premium, you take what’s available,” Trommer said. The Manchester Community Players offered to store lights and sound equipment. The Acting Loft offered to seek board permission to allow New Thalian to build sets there.

Chris Poulin is now president of the New Thalian board, and Trommer will continue to facilitate the moving process.

O’Hara is concerned about the lopsided gentrification of Manchester. The sports arenas are successful, but a city needs a soul, and that comes from culture and education, she said. She envisions a performing arts center that would include a theater with about 300 seats, as well as black box theaters to offer venues for classical music and plays. There’s no reason Manchester shouldn’t be able to attract professional TV or film actors who seek stage opportunities and places to try out new, controversial work, O’Hara said. Two of O’Hara’s daughters are actors themselves, Sarah and Laura Silverman. Funding the center could involve a tax credit scheme, as well as theater naming opportunities, she said.

Bring a chair
• New Thalian’s shows start at 8 p.m., but pre-show entertainment starts at 6:30 p.m., including highlights from other theater groups, a preview of The Taffetas and a reprisal of Charlie Brown.
• Bring lawn chairs, blankets and bug spray. You can bring snacks, and there is a food vendor in the park.
• Check newthalianplayers.org for weather cancellations. If it rains during the show, the production will continue as long as it can safely. The Players have rain dates for the third weekend in July.
• Veterans Park is at Elm and Merrimack streets, a block north of Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.

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