For quite some time, the most interesting aspect of the Cohoes Music Hall was its wonderful 144-year history.
Owen Smith, however, and the Playhouse Stage Company are changing that. These days, the theater has a lot more going for it than just some old stories about how legendary figures such as Buffalo Bill Cody, Jimmy Durante and George M. Cohan once played there. With shows like "Always ... Patsy Cline" finishing up in October, and "Million Dollar Quartet" ready to take the stage tonight (Nov. 1), the Cohoes Music Hall is alive and well, its future as a major venue looking safe and secure.
While local stalwarts Molly Rose McGrath and Benita Zahn received great reviews for their performances in the stage biopic about Patsy Cline, "Million Dollar Quartet" offers another look at some fascinating musical history from around the same time, and the cast includes some performers with Capital Region connections. The story is set in 1956 and brings to life an impromptu jam session at Sam Phillips' record studio in Memphis involving Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.
Smith, the producing artistic director for the Playhouse Stage Company, is directing the production, and got fellow Bethlehem High School graduate Colin Summers to play Perkins. Based in New York City, Summers is a busy musical theater performer and has played Perkins in "Million Dollar Quartet" on five previous occasions around the country.
"I was a senior at Bethlehem and Colin was a freshman, and I hadn't seen him in 20 years," said Smith. "Colin was the first step towards bringing a great team together for this challenging piece. You need some talented people with some specific skills to do this show, and once he agreed and was excited to do it near his hometown, we asked him if he knew a couple of guys who had also done the show together."
Making up the rest of the big four in the cast are Colin Barkell as Johnny Cash, Jefferson McDonald as Jerry Lee Lewis and Kavan Hashemian as Elvis Presley. Madeline Metzger plays Dyanne, Elvis's girlfriend. Playing Sam Phillips is Parker Cross.
"The show has really come together for us nicely," said Smith, who has Brian Axford, another Bethlehem grad, as his musical director. "Our stage at the music hall has a nice look and feel to it as a record studio. It's a perfect venue for this show."
"Million Dollar Quartet"' was written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, and had its Broadway debut in April of 2010. It ran for 439 performances until June 12 of 2011, and was Tony-nominated for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical.
"This show has been on my list for some time, and I saw it at Proctors and on Broadway," said Smith. "I think it works even better at a more intimate venue like the music hall. Our theater is the perfect size because it is an intimate story of these four legends coming together."
'Gloria' at ACT
Opening Friday night at Albany Civic Theater will be a production of "Gloria," Brandon Jacob-Jenkins' Pulitzer Prize nominee for drama in 2016. Patrick White is directing the show, which marks Vivian Wilson-Hwang's return to the area stage after giving birth to a son.
"I really didn't think I would come back this quickly, but it's a great role and an opportunity to work with Patrick," said Wilson-Hwang, a native of Cape May, New Jersey, who has lived in the Albany area since 2007. "There's a lot of buzz around this play about some of the events that happen, so I don't want to give away anything. But I was really drawn to the play. It's modern, it's fresh, it's very well written and Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins is a great contemporary playwright."
Sara Paupini plays Gloria, an aspiring writer who becomes unhinged and shoots several of her fellow office workers.
"It's about dealing with a tragedy and the race to capitalize on that personal tragedy," said Wilson-Hwang. "It's about people and how they handle their own ambition."
A clinical psychologist at the University at Albany, Wilson-Hwang has been acting off and on since she was an undergraduate student at Tufts University near Boston.
"I was in the Boston area for six years, so it was a bit of an adjustment to move to the Albany area," said Wilson-Hwang, who made her Capital Region debut with Confetti Stage. "Getting involved with the theater community is a great way to meet new people and make friends."
"Gloria," she says, is not a play for chiildren.
"There's some colorful language in it and there are people in the play who are really mean to each other," said Wilson-Hwang. "It's about office dynamics and office politics in the media world. The topic is for adults."
Also opening this weekend will be a Local Actors Guild of Saratoga production of Terrence McNally's "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" at the Saratoga Arts Center.
Set in a gay community on Fire Island (Long Island), the story follows two straight couples who spend the Fourth of July weekend in a house inherited by one of the characters from her brother, who died of AIDS. The play opened off-Broadway in New York City in 1991 and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play.
Roseann Cain is directing the production, which stars Chris Foster, Colleen Lovett, Mary Darcy and J.J. Buechner
'Million Dollar Quartet'
WHERE: Playhouse Stage Company, Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen St., Cohoes
WHEN: Opens tonight (Nov. 1) and runs through Nov. 11; performances at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $27-$17
MORE INFO: (518) 434-2035, ext. 100, or visit www.parkplayhouse.com
'Lips Together, Teeth Apart'
WHERE: Local Actors Guild of Saratoga, Saratoga Arts Center, 320 Broadway
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Nov. 11; performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: (518) 393-3496, or visit Local Actors Guild of Saratoga on Facebook
WHERE: Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Nov. 18; performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $18-$10
MORE INFO: (518) 462-1297, or visit www.Albanycivictheater.org