2013-03-22 / Columnists

The Rockaway Theatre Company Rocks

By Norm Scott

“My goodness, this show it is so good is like going to Broadway,” a Howard Beach resident was overheard saying after Act I of the RTC production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, performed at Our Lady of Grace and Ave Maria Church in Howard Beach, thus making another fan out of someone who had just dropped in to see an “amateur” show by buying a ticket as a donation and saw something so totally unexpected come to life. She had a hard time wiping off the look of astonishment. “Do people get paid,” she asked? When told “No” she was surprised. The music, the singing, the acting, the energy, the staging, the costumes, the creative use of scenery in a make-shift space not designed for the kind of theater RTC was used to working in has blown away yet another fan of what just may be the biggest “quality theater” secret in New York.

Due to Sandy damage of the Post Theater in Fort Tilden, RTC was forced to relocate the show and postpone it from last December to early March, forcing a recasting, resetting, restaging, re-justabout everything. Not easy under any circumstances but as always with the RTC crew, everything was done with absolute professionalism reminiscent of the highest level of theater experience.

I had the pleasure of attending and taping both Saturday night shows and was as thrilled as ever at seeing an RTC production. I’ve learned so much about theater as an audience member and from being a sometime participant as part of the “crew,” especially when I appeared in one of the plays. From backstage to front stage and everything in between, the experience has been rich and has enlightened me when I do attend both Broadway and off-Broadway productions as to the paraphernalia of the theater experience.

While I enjoy RTC shows so much, I am not the most enthusiastic participant when it comes to dragging myself into the city. Thus, I had no real interest on a Sunday afternoon in attending the New York Theatre Company review, “Happy Hunting,” (not a show sponsored by the NRA), at St. Peter’s Church on 54th and Lexington. But I took the car all day on Saturday and I owed one to my wife who seems to spend all day trolling TDF for half price tickets so she can torture me into attending yet another show at which I will fall asleep – but at least I can sleep at half price.

The NY Theatre Company terms their recent four play series as “Musicals in Mufti,” meaning they do not wear costumes or use sets and due to one week rehearsal times walk around with scripts in their hands. (There are only a few performances of each play over a weekend.) There is some light choreography and some heavy duty singing by a fabulous cast. Happy Hunting was a 1956 Ethel Merman vehicle in which she starred with Fernando Lamas (and theater lore has that being a well-known disastrous relationship). Klea Blackhurst plays the Merman role and you would think old Ethel was reincarnated. What a stage presence! All the actors sang and danced and acted and it was all so good. Good like every RTC production has been. But being an RTC experienced “pro” I see all theater through new eyes. This show had a “talkback” where the actors plus special guests come back out in civilian clothes and chat with the audience, something we see increasingly as a way to enrich the theater experience. Things were tight Sunday as they had to perform a 7:30 show and needed to get out to eat dinner. Acting is a tough profession.

Who were the special, special guests? They were Estelle Parsons, who had been in the original show in 1956 and a legendary dancer and choreographer, Luigi, who, sadly, had to be helped onto the stage. But then again, he is 88.

Well, we were treated to over a half hour of theater lore and stories. Even the actors were fascinated to learn new stories about the characters they were playing and about the original actors who first played their roles. The NY Theatre Company people had done tons of research on Happy Hunting and asked Parsons and Luigi many questions to clarify issues lost over the years.

Well, what started out as an “owe you one” to my wife, turned into a fabulous afternoon and evening. I am getting to like the theater and give a lot of credit to my experiences with the Rockaway Theatre Company. Still, when push comes to shove and it comes to going into the city to see a play, I’ll still take a movie.

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