Sleepless Beyond the Stage: Building a dream with Richard Bento, President of South Shore Theatre Works

Building a dream always has its share of surprises and challenges. However, with determination, hard work, and more than a touch of luck, those sought after dreams can become a reality.  Sleepless Beyond the Stage explores the reality of making that dream come true, whether by building an organization, finally bringing that dream production to life, or starting a group that makes a difference.

Richard Bento, Executive Director and President of South Shore Theatre Works (SSTW) checked in with Sleepless Critic a few years ago as the theater was just getting on its feet.  Boasting a successful run of Seussical in December, SSTW’s upcoming productions include Blithe Spirit, Ordinary Days, and Chicago.  Richard Bento talks about how this Massachusetts theater has grown in a short time.  Click here for more information, auditions, and for tickets.

SSTW seussical the musical

Past performances of ‘Seussical the Musical’ December 2018

Sleepless Critic: Please tell me about your background and what inspired you to start South Shore Theatre Works?

Richard Bento:  I’ve participated in community and semi-professional theater throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Georgia, and San Francisco.  One of my goals was to have a group of my own who share the same mission and passion I had for the arts.

A few years ago, I decided to participate in theater here and assist another community theater group.  I fell in love with the people.  We shared the same passion.  When we were at a crossroads needing to decide whether we were going to bring this other group to another level or start our own with other people who shared that same drive, I decided to put together South Shore Theatre Works.

SSTW Blithe Spirit

South Shore Theatre Works presents ‘Blithe Spirit’ February 15-17 in Randolph, MA Photo courtesy of South Shore Theatre Works

JD:  What would you say to those who are considering starting a community theater?

REVIEW: Company Theatre’s enhanced, lively production of Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver! ‘kicks this classic up a notch

It was a nostalgic night witnessing Company Theatre’s livelier version of Lionel Bart’s musical, Oliver! having performed in the musical production in high school.  While my part was limited to selling roses on a busy London street, the Company Theatre opened up an entire world for the holidays with enhanced flair for Lionel Bart’s Oliver! continuing through Sunday, December 16 at The Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The production has recently sold out.  Click here for more information on the Company Theatre and their future productions.

Directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman and musically directed by Steve Bass with choreography by Sally Ashton Forrest, Lionel Bart’s Oliver!  is the latest version of this Charles Dickens’ classic.  This family production has enjoyed several tours and revivals in different parts of the world in its close to 60-year history.

It’s is the tale of a workhouse orphan who get entangled in a series of unfortunate events that lead him to face many adversaries, but stays strong in his search for hope and love.  With a large cast featuring memorable numbers such as Consider Yourself, As Long as He Needs Me, I’d Do Anything, and the title song, Oliver, this tale has its share of dark and humorous moments while delivering an important message about humanity that is especially relevant during the holidays.

Company Theatre's Oliver

Matthew O’Connor as Oliver Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

During the holiday season, the Company Theatre tends to make whichever production they have chosen bigger and more spectacular in line with the spirit of the season.  Lionel Bart’s Oliver! stays consistent with that tradition featuring extended, more upbeat musical numbers, grander sets,  and sharper choreography, especially during the sweeping numbers and quicker pacing of Food, Glorious Food and Consider Yourself.

From the humble, stone-lined workhouse surroundings with a single banner that reads, ‘God is Love’ to a bright street setting, Ryan Barrow’s impressive, rolling set design details the diversity of 1840’s London.  Set pieces dropping from the ceiling was a particular highlight.

The musical’s classic line, ‘I want some more’ has never sounded more humble than from the adorable countenance of Matthew O’Connor as Oliver, a sweet, naïve, but daring workhouse orphan boy who, by uncontrollable circumstances, has an opportunity to see life beyond the workhouse walls.  He shares some amusing camaraderie with Colin Paduck as the Artful Dodger, portrayed with a thick, regional accent and a charismatic grin.  They stay in time with the children’s ensemble’s compelling choreography, an energetic bunch light on their feet during some of the production’s most challenging numbers.

Company Theatre's Oliver - Sowerberrys

The Sowerberrys Christopher Spencer as Mr Sowerberry and Christa Dunn as Mrs. Sowerberry Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry are wonderfully wicked together.  With a nasal voice and prominent sideburns, Christopher Spencer is quite comical as dour Mr. Sowerberry and Christa Dunn as stern and maybe a bit tipsy Mrs. Sowerberry.  With a prominent stance and a great voice, Francis Sheehan takes on the gruffly bombastic parish beadle Mr. Bumble.

Company Theatre's Oliver - Oliver Fagin and Artful Dodger

Colin Paduck as The Artful Dodger, Christopher Hagberg as Fagin, Matthew O’Connor as Oliver and the children’s ensemble Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

With a white beard, black hat, and flowing overcoat, Christopher Hagberg delivers a limber, stealthy performance as Fagin.  Hagberg captures the magic of Fagin, his deceptively good nature and comic greediness put on display in the number, You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two and the fiddle-infused Reviewing the Situation.

Company Theatre's Oliver- Nancy, Oliver, Bet, and Artful Dodger

Brittany Rolfs as Nancy, Matthew O’Connor as Oliver, Aliyah Harris as Bet, and Colin Paduck as the Artful Dodger Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

Brittany Rolfs brings sass and saavy to the role of Nancy, a sweet but tough woman who has mixed with the wrong crowd.  From her passionate, tenacious version of As Long as She Needs Me to the catchy harmony of the playful, rollicking number, Oom-Pah-Pah, Nancy is a force of her own onstage, sweet with the children, but always certain of what she wants.

With a deep seated growl and a menacing stare, Damian Smith steps into the role of troubled Bill Sikes.  In this production, The Company Theatre brings a new dimension and lesser known angle to this character as he stalks the city streets.  Remington is a welcome addition to the cast as scene stealing Bullseye, Bill Sikes’s dog.

The Company Theatre is capping off its 40th season with Lionel Bart’s Oliver! continuing through Sunday, December 16.  Click here for how to support the Company Theatre and here for more on their 2019 season.

 

Company Theatre’s co-founder Zoe Bradford talks 40th anniversary, ‘Ragtime’, and the theatre’s exciting future

Underneath a tent on a bright summer day, Company Theatre’s co-founder Zoe Bradford, enthusiastic and smiling, has a lot to celebrate.  The award-winning Company Theatre is as busy as ever as they prepare to open their 40th season with beloved musical, Ragtime   July 27.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Zoe reflects on how Company Theatre has evolved over the years and her extraordinary vision for the future which goes well beyond their 2.3 acres in Norwell, Massachusetts.

Sleepless Critic:  Congratulations on Company Theatre’s 40th anniversary. Even in the last five years, so much has happened from the upgraded, painted theatre with new seating to new, original productions.  Please tell me more about that.

Zoe Bradford:  Now that the theatre is beautiful, we’re envisioning the potential of our outdoor property.  We’ve done a lot with Academy of the Company Theatre (A.C.T.) having an expanded outdoor stage and new pavilion.  Our growing summer program is currently at capacity with 200 kids.  Not only do we need more space and with everybody addicted to their screens, I believe in getting kids outside.  We now have a path to the pond front and we’re holding classes there for water coloring and creative writing.

Freedom for creative expression has been the key for me, so I know it is the key for them.  It’s why I desperately wanted my own theatre and thank God it happened.  It’s not stimulating to work in the confines of another person’s building or organization.  That’s one of the draws here.

Company Theatre's Paragon Park cast

The 2012 ‘Paragon Park’ cast, photo courtesy of Company Theatre

SC:  The original musical Paragon Park took place in 2012.  Are there any original shows you are working on?

ZB:  Michael Hammond and I loved working on Paragon Park together and we want to do another one.  We’re bookending our 40th anniversary with the start of Ragtime and ending summer to summer with a revival of Paragon Park in 2019 as opposed to the season running January to December.

Paragon Park will be the pinnacle of our 40th celebration with a wonderful night of dinner and dancing at Nantasket Beach Resort in Hull.  Preceding that will be a VIP cocktail reception where guests can go on the Carousel and ride the ponies if they wish.  Then we’ll trolley to the hotel for celebration and fundraising.

Company Theatre's original production, 'Paragon Park'

TV personality Scott Wahle with ‘Paragon Park’ cast The Company Theatre’s will reprise its original production of Paragon Park the Musical, which premiered in 2012, image by Zoe Bradford

We’ll also have an outdoor VIP cocktail reception before opening Ragtime and featuring the Model T Ford, which is integral to Ragtime’s story.  It looks like the real thing, built exactly to scale.  Bob Grazioso, who has since retired from technical director but is still active at Company Theatre, built the Model T Ford when we did the show in 2003.  The Ford Motor Company wanted to buy it from us, but we kept it because we wanted to do the show again.

Ragtime's Booker T. Washington with the Statue of Liberty

Todd McNeel Jr. of Boston as Booker T. Washington in ‘Ragtime’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

SC:  When you revive a show like Ragtime, what kind of changes do you make?

ZB:  Life happens.  My thinking has evolved from 2003 to 2018 just from life experience and I have approached Ragtime differently than I did then.  We have three actors reprising their roles and 40 cast members who all feel it is a different experience than last time.

We did Ragtime in 2003 because there are strong, underlying themes of racism in the early 1900s and our attitude was thank God this is all behind us.  Now this show has never been needed more.  Shockingly, things have gone backwards and we have to speak out.  Being a huge sympathizer of Black Lives Matter and having a black adopted daughter puts a lot of things into perspective.

Back then, immigration was sort of in the forefront of the news, but not like it is today.  The show is about immigrants, which is about America and coming to America.

My passion lies in great storytelling.  Ragtime is a prevalent, uplifting show with three beautiful, intertwining stories involving a Jewish immigrant and his daughter, a New Rochelle family, and jazz musician Colehouse Walker Jr. who buys the Model T.  It’s a moving, relatable show about family, choosing family, and acceptance.  It also has a brilliant score and we have a fifteen piece live orchestra.  In my long theatre career, Ragtime is one of my top three shows.  People will leave feeling good.

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(L to R) Finn Clougherty, Jillian Griffin, Cristian Sack, Hannah Dwyer as Little Girl, Michael Hammond as Tateh, Barbara Baumgarten, Brenna Kenney, Melissa Carubia as Emma Goldman (on soapbox), Hilary Goodnow Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

SC:  Period pieces can be difficult from costuming to the fine details and Ragtime must be a monster to put together.

ZB:  It’s challenging, but we have our costumer Bree Plummer.  We would love to have her as a resident, but she is also a teacher so we get her when we can.  I work with a great team of designers including Ryan Barrow and James Valentin to make the most beautiful show possible.  We love period pieces because we can make it interesting.

I’m trying to let others set design because people have to carry the legacy on just in case.  I probably won’t ever retire, but will let people take over certain aspects.  As I let some things go, I plan to write more.

Company Theatre's  2018 'Ragtime'

(L to R) Hannah Dwyer of Scituate as Little Girl with Michael Hammond of Holbrook as her father Tateh Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

SC:  Spring Awakening also took place in the last five years, another daring show.

ZB:  I didn’t cut it, though it was handled carefully.  Though it happened in a different era, the themes are also relevant today and people need things they can relate to.  I also love a good score.  Steve Bass came on in 2016 and we’ve made him our resident Music Director and may keep him on indefinitely.  He’s a young, brilliant pianist and has his PhD from the Conservatory.

Company Theatre's musical, Spring Awakening

Company Theatre’s 2014 musical, ‘Spring Awakening’  Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

SC:  You once said you chose popular shows that sell, but in the last few years, The Company Theatre has been delving into unchartered waters a bit.  Last year was haunted with Carrie the Musical and Lizzie Borden.

ZB:  It’s financially difficult to do that, but we are trying to give the young people what they want.  Lizzie Borden went well because people love local history and some said they have been to her house.  A gruesome tale, but it was also a nice psychological thriller.

We changed a little how we choose our shows, but we still have to please our general audience and offer something for the family, something mature, and our team knows their demographic well and what will be successful.

I’m passionate about big musicals and there’s nothing like the thrill of a live orchestra.  People in the professional theatre world, mentors, and colleagues say they will put eight pieces in here and do a lot of synthetic and prerecord.  You can make a lot of money that way, but we can’t do that.  Michael Joseph said that is standard while he was here and we’ve maintained it.

SC:  What shows do you still dream of doing?

ZB:  I’d love to do Wicked, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I’m also waiting to do Mamma Mia!  We’ll get to it.  It’s all about rights and I’m sure there are new shows coming out that I’d love to get my hands on.

As a non-profit, whatever comes in has to support what we are doing and help us be self-sustaining.  Grants, gifts, and tax deductible donations are the key.  We have better opportunities for community support such as new packages for corporate sponsorship due to having higher end computer capabilities, a better website, and a brand new ticketing service that allows people who wish to support us to advertise.

SC:  What has been your most challenging musical?

ZB:  The Wizard of Oz because the movie is a masterpiece and any derivation from the film would be a disappointment for those who truly love it.  People would fight me on that, but if you take on The Wiz, you can do what you want because no one has a preset notion of it.  The Wiz was recently in Boston and the star of Ragtime portrayed the Wizard.

SC: What advice would you give someone taking on a business in theatre or similar?

ZB:  It’s highly competitive.  Know your vision, don’t give up, and try to think of something that someone else hasn’t already thought of.  Be fresh and original when you can and make sure people know of your existence without being obnoxious about it.  We still struggle with it.  Some people say they didn’t know a theatre is here.

The Company Theatre logo

Company Theatre’s logo, a design Zoe Bradford hand drew 40 years ago

SC:  What do you envision for the Company Theatre’s future?

ZB:  We have to keep growing and in our 40th year, we are finally setting up the Legacy Fund.  Our money rolls in and out with the tide as any non-profit would, but we’re actively fundraising to ensure another 40 years and beyond.

For the last ten years, I’ve wanted to design a new logo.  I remember sitting at a little drafting table back in the 70s and hand drew it when we didn’t have any money or resources.

With art being cut in classrooms and attending theatre in Boston can be so expensive, we’re looking to keep this going so it’s accessible for everyone and expand.  I can see us taking on more property and A.C.T. quadrupling over the next ten years.  We’re not a community theatre anymore, but a year round professional and we’ll evolve again.  We provide many jobs for people, but the other part of my vision is to create more jobs for artisans in the area.  The more people that are working and inspiring people, the better.

Click here for tickets or call the box office at 781-871-2787.  Located at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, click here on how to support the Company Theatre and be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Hingham Civic Music Theatre will soon debut the humorous fairy tale with a twist, ‘Shrek the Musical’

Shrek the Musical

Hingham Civic Music Theatre debuts ‘Shrek the Musical for two weekends only from Oct 21 through Oct 29 Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

Can an intimidating green ogre have what it takes to become an unlikely hero?  Get to know Shrek, Donkey, the Gingerbread Man, Three Blind Mice, The Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio, and many more iconic fairy tale creatures in an entirely new way as Hingham Civic Music Theatre debuts Shrek the Musical at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham Town Hall Saturday, October 21 and continuing for two weekends through Sunday, October 29.  Based on William Steig’s imaginative fairy tale that later launched into a beloved animated film starring Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz followed by many popular film sequels, Shrek the Musical adds a bit more to this thrilling, family adventure.  Click here for more information, tickets, and how to participate in the HCMT Fundraising campaign.

Featuring real life husband and wife Chris DiOrio as Shrek and Leslie DiOrio as Princess Fiona, Shrek is a lone, but not lonely, green ogre who lives a quiet swamp life until life as he knows it is threatened, forcing him to embark on an daunting quest to save a mysterious princess.  With heartwarming songs such as Don’t Let Me Go, Big Bright Beautiful World, This is How Dreams Come True, and the Monkees classic, I’m a BelieverShrek the Musical offers enough witty humor and heartwarming moments that will entertain children and adults alike.

Directed by Lisa Pratt, music by Jeanine Tesori, musically-directed by Mark Bono, with choreography by Tara McSweeney Morrison, Hingham Civic Music Theatre presents Shrek the Musical on Saturdays, October 21 and 28 as well as one Friday performance on October 27 at 7:30 p.m.  Sunday matinees will be held on October 22 and 29 at 2 p.m.  All shows take place at Hingham Town Hall, 210 Central Street in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for further details, tickets, and be sure to follow Hingham Civic Music Theatre on Facebook for upcoming events and more.

South Shore Theatre Works proudly presents stirring spring musical, ‘Children of Eden’

A little over thirty years ago, a new musical was born, loosely sharing the story of the world’s first family.  Based on the book by John Caird with music and lyrics by Academy Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz, South Shore Theatre Works (SSTW) proudly presents the beloved spring musical, Children of Eden for one weekend only from Friday, May 12 through Sunday, May 14.  All performances take place at Stetson Hall in Randolph, Massachusetts.  A VIP reception will take place on opening night.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Directed by Richard Bento and musically directed by Henry Buck, Children of Eden, a musical loosely based on the book of Genesis, explores in a humorous and bittersweet way, the universal and ever complex relationship between parents and children. Children of Eden features well-known songs from the musical such as Generations, Strangers to the Rain, and Let There Be.

Performances for Children of Eden will be held on Friday, May 12 and Saturday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m.  One Sunday matinee will be held at 5 p.m.  Discount tickets are available for groups, seniors, and students.  Click here for tickets and more information.

South Shore Theatre Works is always looking for volunteers for a wide range of tasks including sewing, the box office, hanging up or designing a flyer or poster, or with media.  Click here for upcoming fundraisers and here on how to support South Shore Theatre Works.  Join their mailing list and learn how to become a member.  South Shore Theatre Works is also on Facebook.