Curtain Goes Up On New RTC Season

 Curtain Goes Up On New RTC Season

By Dan Guarino

Even in mid-winter the Rockaway Theatre Company’s newly renamed John Gilleece Theatre at Fort Tilden is buzzing with life. Stage lights glow, auditions and rehearsals are happening, music and voices rise, and set building is in full swing, as the Rockaway Theatre Company (RTC) brings a slate of new productions to the stage. This year big musicals like “Rent,” “Urinetown” and “Footloose,” the raucous comedy “Shakespeare in Hollywood” and drama “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” will all take the spotlight.

“The Rockaway Theatre Company is beginning its 27th season, and I couldn’t be more excited,” RTC’s Susan Jasper says, as they prepare to welcome audiences to the formerly-named ‘Post Theatre’ now renamed in honor of RTC’s beloved longtime creative director and co-founder John Gilleece, who passed away in October.

How does RTC top their highly praised, often completely sold-out previous season? Jasper states, “We set the bar very high with our two sold-out musicals, ‘Cabaret’ and ‘Hello Dolly,’ two very clever comedies, ‘Regrets Only’ and ‘God of Carnage’ and one classic drama, ‘The Miracle Worker,’ which did not leave a dry eye in the house. 2023 was a well-rounded season, and each piece was beautifully done with fabulous sets and exquisite costumes.”

 However, she notes, each season RTC strives to reach higher, grow and improve. “We have a line-up which will be even more thrilling for our audiences. Three blockbuster musical productions, one classic Tennessee Williams’ American drama, and a hilarious comedy by one of our favorite comic playwrights, Ken Ludwig. We have employed the talents of some of our most seasoned RTC directors and choreographers to head up these productions.”

Now in full rehearsals, first up will be “Urinetown – The Musical,” a free-wheeling musical/comedy/satire filled with romance, intrigue, social comment, perils, a revolution or two and pointed parodies of other popular musicals, like “Les Misérables,” social dramas and even itself. At one point narrator Officer Lockstock admonishes another character, Little Sally, that “too much exposition” can kill a show. “Or even a bad title,” she shoots back!

Originally premiering at the NY International Fringe Festival, “Urinetown” moved to Off-Broadway, then Broadway, earned 10 Tony award nominations and won three. RTC’s production, directed by John Panepinto, will give audiences deep laughs, edge-of-seat story twists and, and lots to think about after the show.  “Urinetown” runs for 12 performances, including four matinees, from April 5-21.

RTC then stages the classic Tennessee Williams’ drama “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” which dives into the tensions, desires and secrets of a Southern family as they gather for what may be the last birthday of wealthy patriarch Big Daddy. The film version of this Pulitzer Prize winning play starred Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor and garnered numerous awards, including six Oscar nominations.

In the hands of seasoned directors/actors Susan Corning and Jodee Timpone, RTC’s production will make the stage sizzle with the themes of greed, deceit, social mores, decay, superficiality, smoldering desires, repression, and death as sparks fly between the characters. As family illusions and falsehoods fall apart, one character wonders aloud, “What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof? I wish I knew. Just staying on it, I guess…as long as she can.”

All are invited as “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” springs to the stage from May 31 to June 16.

A music, dance and drama tour de force, the ever popular “Footloose” will leap into the spotlight this summer with 11 performances from July 26 to August 11. The story, adapted from the tuneful 1980s movie, follows teenager Ren as he moves from Chicago to small-town Bomont and comes right up against the town elders who want to ban dancing.

This RTC production is headed up by director Nicola DiPierro-Nellen and assistant director Erech Holder-Hetmeyer, each also amazingly talented dancers, performers, and choreographers themselves. DiPierro-Nellen co-directed RTC’s stunning “Cabaret,” while Holder-Hetmeyer choreographed the fabulously lavish “Hello Dolly” last year. The show will feature numbers like “Footloose,” “Holding Out for A Hero,” “Dancing Is Not A Crime” and “Let’s Hear It For The Boy.”

Next up: the hilarious “Shakespeare in Hollywood,” by comic master Ken Ludwig, running from September 20 to October 6. Susan Jasper notes, “We are honored to welcome Mr. Bernard Bosio, a very skilled director…back to the RTC family.” Bosio, who directed 2006’s uproarious comedy “Noises Off,” will “bring a fresh approach to this year’s comic production.”

Take 1930s Hollywood, mix in real-life characters like studio mogul Jack Warner, James Cagney, Groucho Marx, censor William Hays and even Tarzan’s Johnny Weissmuller, and shake into a wayward production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Now conjure up two characters, Puck and Oberon, as they come to life from the actual play to join the glittering farce, and comedy gold and mayhem swiftly ensue!

Rounding out this spectacular RTC season is the musical that rocked Broadway, “Rent,” and changed the ways musical theatre could be done. Based loosely Puccini’s opera “La Bohème,” this Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner set in the late 80s-90s, centers on NYC East Village friends struggling with hardship, being broke, social tension, the AIDS crisis, drug abuse and political unrest, and coming to some striking realizations about life.

RTC’s “Rent” is directed by Gabrielle Mangano, who previously directed “Cabaret” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” with assistant director Adele Wendt, co-director of “Mean Girls Jr” and featured in numerous RTC productions. “Rent” runs from November 15 to December 1.

Tickets are now available for all shows at Best to book early, as many shows sell out quickly. Plenty of free parking and handicapped accessibility are available. “Truly, there is no better entertainment value anywhere,” Susan Jasper notes.

“We hope to see everyone at the John Gilleece Theatre this season,” she says, inviting all to come and enjoy. Especially those who have never been to an RTC production. They “need to come up and see why our motto is ‘Bringing Broadway to Rockaway.’”

Or as many an excited audience member has exclaimed after an RTC show, that was “better than Broadway!”

 Photos by Dan Guarino.

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