When local theater fans go looking for some live, on-stage, in-person entertainment this weekend, they’ll have a handful of wonderful options to choose from.
For the first time since the COVID-19 Pandemic shut things down in March of 2020, the area’s theater community appears to be in full swing Friday night. Three different productions are getting underway this weekend, another on Wednesday, and included in those shows at Curtain Call, Schenectady Light Opera Company, Troy Foundry and Home Made Theater will be some of the Capital Region’s most recognizable performers.
Former Shaker High teacher Phil Rice will take a break from his directing duties at The Theater Barn in New Lebanon to portray George Burns in “Say Goodnight Gracie” at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham, while the work of former New York State Theatre Institute regulars David Girard and Shannon Rafferty will be on display in the world premiere of Girard’s “Where’s There Smoke: Ilium Burns,” at the Troy Foundry Theatre.
Meanwhile, at the Schenectady Light Opera Company, fan favorite Christine Meglino heads the cast in a production of “Ordinary Days,” and in Saratoga Springs, Toni Anderson-Sommo, another familiar face in the footlights, stars in the Home Made Theater production of “Almost Maine.”
At Curtain Call, Rice, usually one of the Capital Region’s top directors, will be taking his cues from co-directors Carol Max and Steve Fletcher in Rupert Holmes’ 2002 play about “The Life, Love, and Laughter of George Burns and Gracie Allen.” The show opens Thursday and runs through Oct. 17.
It was the third longest-running solo show in Broadway history with Frank Gorshin in the lead before his death in 2005. When Rice got a phone call from Max asking him if he was interested in getting out on stage again, he found himself saying yes.
“Carol picked the show, asked me if I could do it, and when I read the script I really loved it,” said Rice, who just finished directing “Good People” at The Theater Barn. “I thought to myself, ‘well, this is gonna be a challenge,’ but I got the script early and with the help of my wife all summer, I think we did it. It’s nice to know I haven’t quite aged out yet.”
The show consists of Burns talking about his long life in show business, and includes the recorded voice of Allen, his wife and comedy partner for much of his career.
“I’ve always loved George Burns, and I’m old enough to remember him on television, but not radio,” said Rice, laughing. “The show’s a bit different in that you, what we call in the theater world, break the fourth wall, and talk to the audience. There’s also some voice recordings of his wife, some slides and some video clips of his tv show and the movies.”
Rice said he isn’t trying to impersonate Burns in the same way Gorshin did.
“I usually have a beard, I shaved that off, and I found a pair of George Burns glasses, but other than that, I’m really just trying to channel him,” said Rice. “Gorshin was an impressionist. I’ll try to sound like him, vocally, a New York lower East Side accent, but it’s really more about getting inside of his head and channeling his sense of humor.”
Rice has done a few small parts in the last decade, but most of the time he is sitting in the director’s chair. Playing Burns, he said, is his first ‘heavy lifting’ since getting rave reviews as Willy Lowman in a 2010 production of “Death of a Salesman,” also at Curtain Call.
“That was the last really significant part I’ve done,” he said, “and this is the first one-man show I’ve ever done. It’s pretty different. It combines comedy and pathos. I’ve done comedy before, I’ve done Shakesepeare and plenty of serious drama, but nothing like this. It’s something very different for me.”
Another former high school teacher, Anderson-Sommo, will be in action Friday night when Home Made Theater opens its indoor season at a different venue, Saratoga Arts in downtown Saratoga Springs.
John Ciriani’s 2004 play is made up of nine short stories exploring love and loss in the small, mythical town of Almost, Maine. Retired from the Hudson Falls School District, Anderson-Sommo now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing at SUNY-Adirondack in Queensbury. In “Almost, Maine” she plays Glory, a character who has her heart broken when she loses her husband to another woman.
“It allows me to be a little New Age and hippie-ish,” said Anderson-Sommo, who has played a variety of roles at Home Made Theater, including Claire in “Rumors,” Kate Jerome in “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and Lorraine Sheldon in “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”
The run of “Almost, Maine” will include seven performances over two weekends in Saratoga, including two shows on Saturday, Oct. 2. Michael McDermott is directing the show, which also includes Michael Mensching and Joelle Malinowski.
In downtown Schenectady, the Schenectady Light Opera Company will be doing a production of Adam Gwon’s sung-through musical opening Friday and running through Oct. 3.
First produced in 2012, “Ordinary Days” is set in New York City, and shows how the lives of four characters are connected in amazing ways. Meglino, a SLOC veteran who has starred in “42nd St.,” “Sister Act” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” leads the cast which also includes Nik Gatz, Dashira Cortes, Michael Camelo, Regan Zlotnick and Ryan Fuchs. Marc Christopher is the director.
Opening next Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. at the Trojan Hotel in Troy will be Girard’s new play, “Where There’s Smoke: Ilium Burns.” The story uses the unique history of Troy as a narrative backdrop, and includes actual events in the city’s past, including the Great Fire of 1862.
Rafferty, an Averill Park and Russell Sage grad, performed several times with the New York State Theatre Institute, including playing Annie Sullivan in the group’s production of “Miracle Worker,” and also portrayed Sally Bowles in a Park Playhouse production of “Cabaret.”
Joining her on stage will be Schenectady High alum Raya Malcolm and Shaker High grad Angelique Powell.
The show will have preview performances on Sept. 29 and 30, open on Oct. 1 and run through Oct. 16.
‘Say Goodnight Gracie’
Curtain Call Theatre
WHERE: 1 Jeanne Jugan Lane, Latham
WHEN: Sept. 23-Oct. 17
HOW MUCH: $28
MORE INFO: Call (518) 877-7529 or visit www.curtaincalltheatre.com
Schenectady Light Opera Company
WHERE: 427 Franklin St., Schenectady
WHEN: Sept. 24-Oct. 3
HOW MUCH: $32-$25
MORE INFO: Call (518) 730-7370 or visit www.sloctheater.org
‘Where There’s Smoke: Ilium Burns’
Troy Foundry Threatre
WHERE: Trojan Hotel, 41 3rd St., Troy
WHEN: Sept. 29-Oct. 16
HOW MUCH: $22-$15
MORE INFO: Visit Troy Foundry Theatre on Facebook
Home Made Theater
WHERE: Saratoga Arts, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs
WHEN: Sept. 24-Oct. 3
HOW MUCH: $32.50
MORE INFO: Call (518) 587-4427 or visit www.HomeMadeTheater.org