Category Archives: Main Stage

Reflections on West Side Story – Take Three

Editor’s Note: In our current production of West Side Story – we have three “veterans” of Town’s 1998 production. David Swicegood (Director) and Tom Baldwin (Doc) penned their thoughts earlier in the series. TAKE THREE is courtesy of Kerri Roberts who is playing the role of Maria. 

In the summer of 1998 I was 21 years old, preparing to start my senior year of college, and engaged to be married. I was privileged to study voice at Columbia College with the incomparable Lanny Palmer, who encouraged me to go and audition for West Side Story at Town Theatre. I was not a Columbia native and had not been involved in any theatre outside of Columbia College where I was active in opera, and Columbia Classical Ballet where I danced for four years during college. I had absolutely no idea about the community theatre scene in Columbia. I remember being so nervous about auditioning, but so excited about the potential of doing something new. To be honest, I don’t remember much about the audition process except the director, David Swicegood saying to me, “I’m SO glad you could sing!” I immediately felt welcomed and right at home in that little old theatre! It’s been that way ever since.

I genuinely have no negative memories associated with the 1998 production. It was, in fact,  truly ground-breaking in my life. I had been a singer. I had been a ballerina. I had been in operatic productions. For me, West Side Story was the first time that I experienced the thrill of doing all the things I loved – singing, dancing and acting – all in one medium.  I came alive with it! That was when I first discovered my passion for musical theatre. David was such an easy, kind, inspiring director, who truly loved what he was doing, and the environment of the show was always positive in my memory. I remember the week of intense choreography sessions when Maurice Brandon Curry came to teach us the whole show! Maria doesn’t dance all that much, but it was still so fun to learn from Maurice and to watch the rest of the cast, many of whom would not have called themselves dancers, come together and nail these iconic dances! Christopher McCroskey was our music director and working with him was also a pleasure. This production team, along with Janet Kile as the costumer, worked together so well to create a show that was truly a joy to be a part of. I felt nothing but encouragement!

For sure, the best part of West Side Story 1998 was the people. David, Christopher, and Janet are all still very dear to me and I treasure any chance I get to see them and/or work with them. Brian Childers was so talented and such an easy stage partner as Tony. It has been so great to watch him go on to have a successful career! That was when I met Shannon Scruggs, who has become a friend, a director and a colleague for whom I am very grateful! Agnes Babb and Lou Boeschen are also “Town family” that I first met in West Side Story! I have such fond (and funny) memories as stories of all the Jet and Shark guys and girls, some of whom actually came to my wedding a few months after this show closed. I’ll never forget the connection with Robby Sweet (Chino) during the last scene of the show and the tears in his eyes almost every time.

When I learned that Debra Bricker Brewer would play the role of Anita, I remember feeling very intimidated. She had been a ballet teacher, known for her sharpness and demand for excellence. But she embraced me as a sister rather than a student and we had the best time playing these roles together. She killed it as Anita! We still squeal out “Querida!!!” whenever we see each other!

Tom Baldwin was just as precious as Doc the first time around. And although Maria and Doc are only ever on stage together in the very last scene, Tom was always encouraging to me and kind. He only ever called me Maria after that! Who would have thought that 20 years later we would serve the same church in worship each week and be getting to reprise our roles in West Side Story 2018?! The first time he was technically too young to play Doc and this time I am technically too old to play Maria, but we’re making it work!

Will and KerriOf course, I could never leave out Will Moreau.  West Side Story 1998 was also his first show at Town Theatre, so we were “newbies” together.  Will played the role of Bernardo, Maria’s protective older brother. He was much more experienced and mature in his craft than I was, but he quickly came alongside me and encouraged me.  He saw my potential and never missed an opportunity to tell me what he thought about it.  After this show, we didn’t work together in the theatre for 18 years! BUT we reconnected through the world of social media while my family was living on the mission field in Zambia, Africa. I didn’t know that much about Will and his personal passion and work in 1998. But I got to know him over the years by watching and reading about his life online! And he did the same with me.  We developed a true respect and affection for one another over the years.

When I came back to the States and got reconnected with my theatre family at Town, Will was one of the people I was most excited to see! Everyone loved being around Will! We would chat whenever we would see each other around the theatre. Then when the audition announcement came out for My Fair Lady we giddily talked about auditioning! He was SO excited about the possibility of playing the role of Alfred P. Doolittle, as was I about playing the dream role of Eliza Doolittle! The day that we got the call offering us the roles of Alfred and Eliza we both happened to be at the theatre.  Will came running to the lobby to find me and we hugged and jumped around squealing! I will always treasure having that show together. It gave us the opportunity to spend time talking about life and faith over coffee, to play family again on stage (however dysfunctional), and to share in the comradery of a fantastic cast.

Last fall, just a couple of weeks after Will had actually gone to share about Native American culture with my youngest daughter’s class, we lost him so suddenly. One of the kindest, most genuinely loving people I’ve never known. I am grateful to have called him a friend. To have played his daughter on stage, but first to have played his little sister back in 1998. Thank you West Side Story for not only being a catalyst for discussions on love, racism, bigotry and violence but also for being the place in my own life where passions and treasured relationships were born! I’m so grateful!


Editor’s Note: In our current production of West Side Story – we have three “veterans” of Town’s 1998 production. David Swicegood (Director) penned his thoughts earlier this week. TAKE TWO is courtesy of the one and only Doc, Tom Baldwin. 

Tom Baldwin as Doc, 2018. PC: Go Flash Win.

Doc’s Memories of 1998:

West Side Story (1998) was my first show at Town Theatre after an eight-year absence. I had just played Senex in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Workshop the year before and was just starting to get the “theatre bug” again. I remember going to the open audition where I sang my eight bars (of something) and tried to dance. Jennifer Austin (who became a lovely friend) was the dance captain. She started giving out a lot of dance commands to a lot of experienced dancers (and me) and, needless to say to anyone who knows me…I didn’t shine. Well, the cast was going to be doing Maurice Curry’s choreography so, as also holds true for Joy’s current wonderful choreography, they were going to need some pretty good dancers. That’s the kind of show it is. Now don’t get me wrong, I knew I was in over my head. I had made a pretty good Freddie Eynsford-Hill, i.e. sings pretty but don’t move too much, but I knew I was no Tony. And, I was 40. What was I thinking?! All I knew was that there were all of those great Leonard Bernstein songs and I wanted to be part of them and the twenty-somethings (that includes you too, Ag and Candice!) who cherish this classic work. This thing, West Side Story, builds a bridge across generations. So, I went home, despondent, thinking I wouldn’t get a call back from David. I popped my VHS tape of the movie into my VCR and started listing to the opening overture. When it gets to “Maria,” tears start streaming down my face. I made a decision to do something that I would never recommend to anyone who auditions for shows (but, it merely worked for me). I decided to crash callbacks. The night of callbacks, I was sitting down front with my sheet music in my hand ready to sing again and then David touches my shoulder. I look up and he says, “I don’t need to hear you sing again, but I want you to hang around”. So, I did. Apparently, “Doc” had been cast, but whoever was going to do it had to drop out (probably Bubba Fulmer J).  I read for “Doc.” I was cast as “Doc.” The rest of the experience was just funny, touching, exhilarating and one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had.

Here is a list of fond memories from the show:

  • True, real life brothers, “Womb-to-tomb”, “Sperm-to-worm”, Brian and Mark Childers (“Tony” and “Riff”).
  • The night that Jonathan Monk (“Baby John”) and Will Moreau (“Bernardo”) couldn’t spin Doc’s combo back staircase/storefront for the last scene with Tony and Doc. Will said, “Doc! The latch is stuck!” LOL
  • Baby John, Chino and Doc singing the “Maria” echo from the wings.
  • Brian (“Tony”) letting out an “Ow!!…Ow!!!!” one night when I clocked him real good!
  • Lee Reynolds (“Glad Hand”), during a rehearsal, standing in the circle looking serious in the Tony death scene in a tweed coat and heart-covered boxer shorts.
  • Debra Bricker (“Anita”) thinking I was shy. Ha!
  • Robbie Sweet (“Chino”) – An all-around good guy and a good friend.
  • Kati Baldwin – My seven-year-old daughter standing in a chair on the front row, applauding during a curtain call with a look of wonder on her face.
  • David Swicegood – How do you make it look so easy when it obviously ain’t? Grace in the face of adversity should be his middle name.
  • Shannon Willis (Scruggs) – You grew up to be quite a woman from the little teenager that I once knew.
  • Kerry Grimsley (Roberts) – Wow! You’re still here! Still brilliant and beautiful. I get déjà vu all over again when you turn the gun on the crowd. It’s good to see that some things haven’t changed.


Reflections on West Side Story – Take One

Editor’s Note: In our current production of West Side Story – we have three “veterans” of the show one being the director, David Swicegood. David directed Town’s 1998 production and it was stellar. Here are some of his memories of that show that you may enjoy.

“One of my fondest memories of West Side Story in ’98 was, having David Swicegoodcast almost the whole show {at least in my mind}, but I still hadn’t seen a Maria. The last person to audition was a lovely young dark-haired girl who looked EXACTLY how Maria should look. I closed my eyes and said “Please God. let her be able to sing!” Well, her name was Kerri Grimsley {now Roberts} and when she began singing I literally cried! Her voice still takes my breath away, and I couldn’t be happier to have her play Maria again, as beautiful as ever and a voice possibly better than it was 20 years ago.

I also had a “youngish” man named Tom Baldwin who auditioned for the role of Doc, a non-singing but important character role. The script described the character as being in his 60s and Tom was much younger than that! I had a good feeling about Tom however and cast him as Doc. He was so good! I thought about him when I found out I would be directing the show again and, to my surprise, he came to auditions! And now he’s the right age to play Doc! He actually wrote on his audition form “I am the ONLY Doc!” And he is.

My long-time friend Maurice Curry came down from New York to collaborate with me as the choreographer for the show in ’98 and did an amazing job! We tried to get him to come back and do it again, but due to his responsibilities as the Executive Artistic Director of the Eglevsky Ballet Company in New York, was unable to commit to it this time. The wonderful Joy Alexander took the helm as Choreographer and has been AMAZING!! Things DO work out!

During the ’98 show, I also got to work with a very talented young lady named Shannon Louise Willis, whom I had directed in The All Night Strut, my first directorial job at Town Theatre. She was Rosalia in ’98 and was fantastic, as she always is! I directed her again the next year in Sweet Charity, and you probably know that, in addition to singing, directing and choreographing at Town, she is now the Executive Director of the theatre. Just shows you that when theatre is in your blood, it’s there forever.

I also would like to mention that several of my ’98 cast have gone to professional careers in theatre, film and television including Brian Childers, Mark Childers, Melinda Schmidt {now Wrenn Schmidt professionally} and Jennifer Austin. I’d really like to think I played a small part in instilling in them {and all the cast, then and now!} a love of performing and especially the joy of live theatre.

One last memory to share ~ I had finished casting the show in ’98 except the role of Bernardo. I got a call from Sandra Willis, Town’s Executive Director at the time, and she sort of whispered: “Bernardo is in my office!” I asked her to see if he could wait a few minutes and I raced to the theatre and met Will Moreau who, of course, became Bernardo. It was his first show in Columbia and Will became a household name and mainstay of Columbia theatre. Not only was he a good actor but also a great friend and tireless advocate for many causes until his untimely passing last year. He is greatly missed and will long be remembered for his contributions to our city. Rest in peace, friend.”

~David SwicegoodWSS will

“Tale as Old as a Third Time”

By Kristy O’Keefe
Member of the 2005, 2009 and 2018 casts of Town’s Beauty and the Beast

In 2005, I walked through Town’s doors to audition for the Midland’s debut of Beauty and the Beast. As a childhood favorite Disney tale, I was ecstatic to be cast as a Teabag (yes, I still remember my choreography)!  I looked up to so many of the talented actors, and often remember reciting the Silly Girl’s lines in the wings…I thought they were so hilarious! One of the production dates even fell on my 11th birthday so…I brought my friends to the production!  I will never forget peaking through the wings (yes, I know, against the rules) and seeing all my friends with their light up roses.  After the show, I introduced everyone to Belle, the Beast, Babette, and all my favorite dancing utensils! When the production came to a close, I was devastated.  I continued to perform “Be Our Guest” every night in my living room!

Flashforward to 2009—Town announced it was bringing Beauty and the Beast back, due to popular demand! I vividly remember jumping around the house celebrating and chose an audition song that day! I was cast as a wolf and plate, alongside some of my best friends.  This 2009 production will always hold a special place in my heart—having danced with one of my biggest role models, Agnes Babb.  Being the youngest of the wolves, I felt very intimidated by all of their dance experience.  Agnes made me feel so welcome and even named me “leader of the pack.” Little did I know this was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

As we open Beauty and the Beast for the third time at Town, I can’t help but reflect on how magical each production has been.  “Be Our Guest” becomes more and more extraordinary with time—even if we want to pass out on the last kick-line! The chemistry between each cast is different, yet beautiful.  As we raise the curtain this weekend, I am so grateful to have Agnes by my side once again.  Thirteen years later, and I am still ecstatic to perform my favorite Disney tale with some of my best friends—I guess I don’t have recite the silly girl lines in the wings though. Thank you, Shannon Scruggs, for casting me and Ag as part of such an enchanting production that has truly touched my heart in so many ways. Will there be a 4th?  Well… “If it’s not baroque, don’t fix it!”  ag and K

From left to right Agnes Babb and Kristy O’Keefe, 2009 and 2018

The Game’s Afoot comes to Town

DSC_2272_HRIt is December 1936 and Broadway star William Gillette, admired the world over for his leading role in the play Sherlock Holmes, has invited his fellow cast-members to his Connecticut castle for a weekend of revelry. But when one of the guests is stabbed to death, the festivities in this isolated house of tricks and mirrors quickly turn dangerous. Then it’s up to Gillette himself, as he assumes the persona of his beloved Holmes, to track down the killer before the next victim appears. The danger and hilarity are nonstop in this glittering whodunit.

Starring in Town’s presentation of this mystery thriller is Chip Collins (Million Dollar Quartet) as William Gillette. Karen Herschell (My Fair Lady) portrays his elegant, though a bit foggy mother Martha. Clayton King (The Addams Family) takes on the role of Felix Geisel, the theatre company’s character actor with Sarah Strobolakos (You Can’t Take It With You) as his wry and outspoken wife, Madge. Town newcomer Kira Nessel, appears as Aggie Wheeler alongside William Ellis (The Little Mermaid) who plays her newlywed husband Simon Bright. Writing her way into the story line is Zsuzsa Manna (You Can’t Take It With You) as Daria Chase, celebrity columnist, with Allison Allgood (Les Misérables) as Inspector Goring. By turns, witty and incisive, then suddenly lost and dim, Goring is disarming in her inability to be defined. Always off the mark, and yet never far from the truth, somehow she always gets her man… Or woman.

The show is directed by Milena Herring with assistance from Jeffery Schwalk, stage management from Brandi Byers, costumes by Jillian Carey and technical design by Danny Harrington.

The Game’s Afoot is generously sponsored by



Pro-rated memberships now available

What would you say if we told you we could save you some money? Well, we can! Even though our season opener, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, has closed, we are now offering pro-rated memberships for a limited time. We have a great line up for the rest of the 99th that you don’t want to miss!

Visit here to read more about our remaining shows. The information below tells you how you can save!

If you need ten or more tickets, check out the Patron and above levels here. Those tickets are interchangeable so, if you miss a show, you won’t lose any valuable tickets.

Our pro-rated memberships are listed below. Each membership gets you one ticket to each of our remaining four productions. And, it will save you money over cash box office ticket prices!

Adult 4-show membership

Senior/Full-Time College/Active Duty Military 4-show membership

Youth 4-show membership

Pro-rated memberships are on sale NOW! Visit us online at or give us a call at 803-799-2510. If you leave us a message, we’ll get back to you by the next business day.

See you at the theatre!

Pro-rated memberships are available! MEMBERS can save MONEY!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Sept. 22- Oct. 8

Based on the Victor Hugo novel and songs from the Disney animated feature, The Hunchback of Notre Dame showcases the film’s Academy Award-nominated score. The musical begins as the bells of Notre Dame sound through the famed cathedral in fifteenth-century Paris. Quasimodo, the deformed bell-ringer who longs to be “Out There” observes all of Paris reveling in the Feast of Fools. Held captive by his devious caretaker, the archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo, he escapes for the day and joins the boisterous crowd, only to be treated cruelly by all but the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda. Quasimodo isn’t the only one captivated by her free spirit, though – the handsome Captain Phoebus and Frollo are equally enthralled. As the three gentlemen vie for her attention, Frollo also embarks on a mission to destroy the gypsies – and it’s up to Quasimodo to save them all.

Starring in the challenging role of Quasimodo is Jeremy Reasoner (Million Dollar Quartet, The Little Mermaid). His attention is focused on the entrancing Esmeralda, taken by Blakelee Cannon
(The Addams Family, Shrek the Musical) and Sheldon Paschal (Million Dollar Quartet, The Addams Family). The deceptive Dom Claude Frollo is being portrayed by George Dinsmore (Spamalot; The Buddy Holly Story) with Captain Phoebus in the hands of Town Theatre newcomer, and choir master for this production, Augie Gil. The king of the gypsies, Clopin, is being played by Will Moreau (My Fair Lady, Annie Get Your Gun).

A sweeping score and powerful story make The Hunchback of Notre Dame an instant classic. Audiences will be swept away by the magic
of this truly unforgettable musical.

show calendar

Director ~ Jamie Carr Harrington
Musical Director ~ Michael Simmons
Choreographer ~ Tracy Steele
Lead Costumer ~ Jillian Carey

This show is generously sponsored by:

Town’s 99th season ~ early bird pricing now!

Town Theatre is excited about our 99th season — complete with something for everyone. Beautiful music, holiday cheer, heartwarming stories, a little mystery and toe-tapping fun! Each of these shows is NEW to Town — a hard task to accomplish when you are our age! Purchase your 99th season membership BEFORE JUNE 1 and enjoy the same price that you paid for the 98th!

Purchase HERE or call 803-799-2510 12 noon to 5 PM.

Sept. 22 – Oct. 8, 2017

Based on the Victor Hugo novel and songs from the Disney animated feature, The Hunchback of Notre Dame showcases the film’s Academy Award-nominated score. The musical begins as the bells of Notre Dame sound through the famed cathedral in fifteenth-century Paris. Quasimodo, the deformed bell-ringer who longs to be “Out There,” observes all of Paris reveling in the Feast of Fools. Held captive by his devious caretaker, the archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo, he escapes for the day and joins the boisterous crowd, only to be treated cruelly by all but the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda. Quasimodo isn’t the only one captivated by her free spirit, though – the handsome Captain Phoebus and Frollo are equally enthralled. As the three vie for her attention, Frollo embarks on a mission to destroy the gypsies – and it’s up to Quasimodo to save them all. A sweeping score and powerful story make The Hunchback of Notre Dame an instant classic. Audiences will be swept away by the magic of this truly unforgettable musical.

Dec. 1-17, 2017

A holiday classic from the writer of the musical theatre classic, The Music Man!, and based on the movie of the same name, Miracle on 34th Street features a book and score by none other than Meredith Willson. Single mother, Doris Walker, doesn’t want her six-year-old Susan’s head filled with romantic notions. Their neighbor, Fred Gailey, tries to woo Doris by charming Susan and taking her to see Santa Claus at Macy’s, where Doris works. Doris is not impressed, but when it turns out that Macy’s Santa may, in fact, be the real Kris Kringle, a wave of love spreads across New York City that melts even the most cynical hearts. This joyous, heartwarming musical is the perfect holiday treat!

Jan. 19-Feb. 4, 2018

Based on the celebrated novel by Daniel Wallace and the acclaimed film directed by Tim Burton, Big Fish centers on Edward Bloom, a travelling salesman who lives life to its fullest… and then some! Edward’s incredible, larger-than-life stories thrill everyone around him – most of all, his devoted wife Sandra. But their son Will, about to have a child of his own, is determined to find the truth behind his father’s epic tales. Overflowing with heart, humor and spectacular stagecraft, Big Fish is an extraordinary new Broadway musical that reminds us why we love going to the theatre – for an experience that’s richer, funnier and BIGGER than life itself.

March 2-18, 2018

It is December 1936 and Broadway star William Gillette, admired the world over for his leading role in the play Sherlock Holmes, has invited his fellow cast-members to his Connecticut castle for a weekend of revelry. But when one of the guests is stabbed to death, the festivities in this isolated house of tricks and mirrors quickly turn dangerous. Then it’s up to Gillette himself, as he assumes the persona of his beloved Holmes, to track down the killer before the next victim appears. The danger and hilarity are non-stop in this glittering whodunit.

May 11-26, 2018
The 1950s are out, and change is in the air! Hairspray, winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, is a family-friendly musical, piled bouffant-high with laughter, romance and deliriously tuneful songs. It’s 1962 in Baltimore, and the lovable plus-size teen, Tracy Turnblad, has only one desire – to dance on the popular “Corny Collins Show.” When her dream comes true, Tracy is transformed from social outcast to sudden star. She must use her newfound power to dethrone the reigning Teen Queen, win the affections of heartthrob, Link Larkin, and integrate a TV network… all without denting her ‘do! You can’t stop the beat in this big and bold musical about one girl’s inspiring dream to dance.

Enjoy the Ride

Guest blog by Chip Collins

So what do you do when you are (arguably) the lead character in a musical, but you don’t sing any of the songs?

You enjoy the ride.

When I first saw that Town Theatre was going to produce Million Dollar Quartet, I immediately thought, “I want to be Elvis.”  There was a reason for this – while playing Sandy in Elvis Has Left the Building back in 2014, my character was hypnotized and “became” Elvis.

Chip Collins as Sam Phillips. Photo courtesy of Megan Moore Memories.
Chip Collins as Sam Phillips. Photo courtesy of Megan Moore Memories.

Seemed like a natural progression, right?

Until I read that the characters have to play their own instruments. Uh-oh. The last time I touched a guitar was when someone taught me how to play the first couple of bars of “Hotel California” in high school (no, I don’t remember how to play it now).  So, after obtaining a perusal script, I discovered that the character of Sam Phillips was perfect for me.  And, boy, am I glad I made it, because these fellas (and lady) that are the real stars of this show are awesome.  Our directors, Shannon Wills Scruggs and Jeremy Hansard, have put together an incredible group.

Ladies first.  You can’t have a bunch of men sitting around in a group without a woman to keep them straight, and Sheldon Paschal certainly keeps all the guys in line.  She brings a sultriness to the studio that keeps all of the guys just a touch off center (which is where artists are supposed to be, right?), and her rendition of “Fever” brings another dynamic to the show.

I’m not the only one who was hypnotized in Elvis Has Left the Building. My partner in crime, Charlie Goodrich, had that misfortune (or perhaps, fortune?) as well.  But here, Charlie has traded in the white one-piece jumpsuit for an all-black wardrobe, playing a dead-on likeness of Johnny Cash.  There are times when I close my eyes and listen, and I am really not sure whether I’m listening to Charlie or Johnny, and that is a testament to Charlie’s talent.

In this show, Elvis is played by Matthew Harter, who joined us later on in the process, and I am SO glad he did.  There are some people you just look at or listen to the first time, and you know they’re special.  Matthew is one of those people.  Even though he is the youngest person in our cast, you would never know it.  His voice is just pure, and he has really channeled all of the things that made Elvis the superstar that he became.

Of the four superstars in the Million Dollar Quartet, the one I knew the least about was Carl Perkins.  However, after watching and listening to Alex Cowsert play him night after night, I want to know more.  When I hear Cash, Elvis, and Jerry Lee Lewis, it’s only natural to compare the people playing them to the actual person.  Well, when I listen to Carl Perkins, I will forever compare him to Alex. When he is playing and singing, the boy OWNS the stage.  He performs with such a conviction that you want to focus on him and have him keep playing.

Jerry Lee Lewis?  The man was overflowing with energy, and Jeremy Reasoner is no different.  We’ve seen his singing talent on stage in Les Miserables and The Little Mermaid, but he will blow you away when you see him on the piano.  There are some people who are musically talented in just about every way possible, and he is one of those people.  He’s our de facto musical director on stage, and he really keeps things together.

I would be remiss if I did not talk about our killer rhythm section/studio band. Mikey Lowrey gives us a great steadiness as our drummer (and he chews his gum on the beat, too).  Caleb Everson on guitar is such a talented guy with a quiet self-confidence about him, and you never know what he may be playing during down times (personally, I’ve heard both the theme song to “Jurassic Park” and Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” – goodness knows what else he has thrown in there.  And Landon Osteen on the stand-up bass and acoustic guitar really makes these songs special.

It is truly a blessing to be able to sit back and hear these folks perform.  Come to think of it, I’m glad I don’t have to sing.

It lets me enjoy the ride.

The Story Behind the Play

Photo courtesy of Facebook.
Photo courtesy of Facebook.

Guest blog by Milena Herring

It has been a dream of mine to direct You Can’t Take It With You for a long time. My love affair with this Pulitzer Prize-winning play began in 1969 when I watched, with fascination, the rehearsals of a Workshop Theatre production of You Can’t Take It With You. As an adolescent who loved everything to do with theatre, I often went to rehearsals with my mom when she was in a show. This was before Workshop had a home theatre of its own.

The play was rehearsed and performed in one of the wonderful old theaters on the base at Ft. Jackson. I was enchanted by the ‘30s style and setting, and I thought it was the funniest play I’d ever seen. And no wonder- – it was directed by Mary Arnold Garvin and starred some veteran Columbia actors including Jim E. Quick, Bette Herring (my mom), Tinka Tiemann, Malie Bruton Heider, Johnny DeHart, David Smoak, and Gene McKay, to name a few.

Flash forward 14 years to 1983. I was a young twenty-something, newly settled in Manhattan, trying to find work as an actress and director. One of my dear friends in New York was a fellow Columbian, Karl Allison, who had been in the city for a decade and was making his mark as a successful producer of Broadway and off-Broadway plays.

His most recent production, still in previews, was a revival of You Can’t Take It With You on Broadway. Directed by Ellis Raab, it starred Jason Robards, Colleen Dewhurst, James Coco, and Elizabeth Wilson. Karl invited me to be his date on opening night at the Plymouth Theatre and to the cast party afterward at the Rainbow Room. After quickly accepting his invitation, I spent the following weeks searching for an elegant dress to buy and expensive jewelry to borrow.

After being introduced to numerous bold face actors and celebrities on the way into the theatre on opening night, I worried I wouldn’t be able to focus on the play. But as soon as the curtain rose I was immediately transported to the comfortable, eclectic home of the Sycamore family in 1936. The production was marvelous with outstanding performances by Robards as Martin Vanderhoff, Wilson as Penny, and Dewhurst as the Grand Duchess who wrung a laugh out of every line she uttered. The play was as hilarious and joyful as I remembered from my youth but the biggest impact of the production on me was that the director and actors created real people out of what could have been just zany stereotypes. Moreover, the director knitted the entire ensemble into a big, lovable family that anyone would be proud to call their own. The show ended with the audience and the actors singing “Good Night, Sweetheart.”

Then it was off in a limousine to the cast party. Stepping off the elevator on the 65th floor of the NBC building into the iconic Rainbow Room, we were greeted by a waiter with flutes of champagne. A full band was playing music from the 1930s at the other end of the room. Karl led me to a table beside the famous revolving dance floor. Suddenly, I found myself sitting next to Robards at a table that included, off and on throughout the evening, Lily Tomlin, Dewhurst, George Hamilton, Coco, Meg Mundy and many, many other actors and industry people. Everyone was in high spirits since it was clear the show was a big success. The rest of the night is a blur but the next morning, Frank Rich, theatre critic for the NY Times, highly praised the production in his review and declared it “A family to adopt.”

Directing the Town production of You Can’t Take It With You brings my love affair with this play full circle. This cast is truly a dream team and is complemented by an equally talented crew and production team. Danny Harrington, Town’s technical director, has created a beautiful set and Jillian Carey’s costumes perfectly match the characters and the era. It has been a privilege to work with everyone at Town Theatre again this year. This play has been with me since the beginning of my life in the theatre. And it is an honor to say it has never been a disappointment.