‘Cats’ just scratches surface of intriguing Guild season

Exciting musicals, romance, inspiration, humor and high drama will be there for the picking during the 2019-2020 season of the Vero Beach Theatre Guild. The 62-year old organization has organized a new season that, despite the cliché, has something for everyone.

Jon Putzke, Theatre Guild president, feels that the season’s three musicals, three comedies and three Apron Series dramas will appeal to different audiences because of the genre of the shows.

The season begins July 10-28 with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s groundbreaking musical “Cats.”

Based on 20th century poet T.S. Elliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” the 1982 musical is really less of a musical, with its conflict, plot-driven libretto, than a musical revue, designed to showcase song and dance. Typically, the musical is very demanding on costumes, makeup and dance.

It is a collection of musical vignettes set in a junkyard beneath a full moon, where a clowder of “Jellicle” cats gather and show off their personalities. A little bit of a story line does develop when poor old Grizabella enters. The younger cats, who despise her for her age, send her off as she ascends to the heavens in search of the next of her nine lives.

It is directed by Michael Naffziger, the theater department head at Indian River Charter High School and a Tony-nominated scenic designer. Naffziger also teaches VBTG acting classes using techniques developed by the legendary Sanford Meisner and Michael Chekhov (nephew of playwright Anton Chekhov).

“I just came back from a rehearsal and I am absolutely blown away,” says Putzke.

“It is something that Guild audiences have never seen before. First of all, the set is absolutely incredible. It’s Broadway caliber. He has brought in several other lighting experts along with his own lighting company, and added so many effects; just incredible. And the woman who did the costumes, Cat Faust, is amazing. The costumes are just to die for.”

“A Bench in the Sun” follows, running Sept. 18-29.

While not as well known, Putzke says the show, which takes place on a bench in a senior citizens community, is a comedy through and through.

“It’s the funniest little comedy ever,” Putzke says. “When I first read the script and found out that Tim Conway had been one of the leading characters, I said this is the funniest thing. I thought maybe the show was written for him. I think the audiences are going to love this show.”

The renowned musical “Camelot” runs Nov. 13-Dec. 1.

Putzke, who led the project in choosing the season, says they are especially excited about putting on this new version of the classic, which has recently been released by the publisher, Music Theatre International.

“I think we’re one of the first theaters to get that version of it,” says Putzke.

The 1960 musical, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, is based on T.H. White’s novel “The Once and Future King” about the King Arthur legend and the romance between Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot.

According to theater history, in a pre-Broadway tryout of “Camelot” in Toronto starring Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet, the premiere lasted four and a half hours. The curtain reportedly came down at 12:40 a.m., bringing in a multitude of quips including this witticism from Noel Coward: “… the show was longer than ‘Gotterdammerung’ and not nearly as funny.”

It was edited, severely, and soon became a Broadway hit, with Goulet, who portrayed Sir Lancelot, adopting the musical’s iconic song “If Ever I Should Leave You” as his signature song.

“This new version has been rewritten in a way that makes it more fun,” says Putzke. “It’s got the same plot and same lush music, but just presented in a different way.”

“Always a Bridesmaid” runs Jan. 15-26. The comedy, by the same trio of playwrights who wrote “Dixie Swim Club,” is a funny look at lifelong friends who, for one reason or another, are always walking down the aisle.

They always promised to be at each other’s weddings, but no one ever said how many weddings that would be.

“Jesus Christ Superstar,” another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, is well-timed to set the stage for Easter, running March 11-29.

This iconic rock opera centers on the last week of Jesus Christ’s life, with a driving score that brings a modern look at the classic story of sacrifice, love and redemption. One of its most memorable songs is “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” sung by the character of Mary Magdalene.

A favorite of both community and professional theaters since it first blasted onto stage in 1971, it most recently had a live TV revival starring John Legend as Jesus and Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene.

“Moonlight & Magnolias” finishes the season with comedy and high style, May 6-17.

The new comedy by Ron Hutchinson is set in 1939 Hollywood and revolves around a roomful of writers attempting to come up with a rewrite to “Gone with the Wind.” The farce is designed not only to evoke laughs, but to also give a sly insight into the zaniness of Hollywood in the 1930s.

In addition to the Mainstage season shows, VBTG will present its popular Apron Series – three staged readings of classic dramas held in front of the stage’s “grand drape.”

Staged readings are directed and employ actors holding scripts, to which they may refer, while interpreting lines with full-bodied emotion and character intent. Done correctly, they can be as satisfying as a fully realized production.

Putzke says the Apron Series is bringing in new audiences, especially younger patrons more interested in serious drama than musicals.

The three dramas this season are all by the highly revered American playwright Arthur Miller.

“The Crucible,” Oct. 4-6, is rife with political innuendo. Although set in 1692 and concerning witch hunts in Salem, Mass., the play was written as an allegory to the mass hysteria and repression caused by the 1950s McCarthyism.

“A View from the Bridge” runs Jan. 31-Feb. 2. Set in the 1950s in the tough Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook, the play concerns an immigrant Italian family.

“Death of a Salesman” runs April 3-5. One of the greatest of American tragedies, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play is set in 1940s New York City and revolves around Willy Loman, a hapless salesman who represents the loss of the American dream.

The Vero Beach Theatre Guild is at 2020 San Juan Ave., Vero Beach. Tickets to its mainstage series are $150 for a six-show package and $30 for single tickets. Tickets to the Apron Series are $30. Discounts to both are available for students. For more information, call 772-562-8300 or visit VeroBeachTheatreGuild.com.

Leave a Comment