220929ind TBTS2022Review

The cast of ‘Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” is shown on stage at Theatre By The Sea during the show’s three and a half week run from late July to mid August. Cinderella was one of four main stage productions this summer for Theatre By The Sea, which returned this year to a full slate of offerings for the first time since 2019.

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The 2022 Theatre By The Sea summer season delivered on its promise of a box-busting schedule after a global pandemic left the curtains closed for two years.

After COVID hit, Bill Hanney, the theater’s owner and executive producer, had to curtail the summer musical productions until this year when social distancing, restrictions and all-things COVID disappeared enough that the 89-year-old barn theater could resume a  normal schedule of high-end productions.

“Every show went off without a hitch. No covid disaster. It was a fabulous season. I wouldn’t do anything different,” Hanney said in an interview this week.  The hits in order of popularity were “Kinky Boots,” “Footloose,” “Million Dollar Quartet” and “Cinderella.” he added.

Hanney said that the diversity of the musical shows — rock and roll, classics and heart-warming feelings that songs and narratives evoke in an audience — made the collection presented a success with box office sales and a flood of season ticket holders returning.

Let’s do a quick review of these productions that filled the house and each bringing standing ovations when the curtain closed.

Thunderous clapping, cheers and nearly non-stop laughter — except for searing moments silencing an audience seeing the ravages of gender stereotyping — forged the Tony- and Olivier-winning musical “Kinky Boots” into an emotionally-grabbing and entertaining final act for the 2022 season.  

The musical, based on the 2005 British film “Kinky Boots,” tells the story of Charlie Price and a drag queen, Lola, teaming up to save a shoe business based in Northhampton, a flourishing market town, in the East Midlands of England.

Lola crosses cultural and perceived gender barriers and her character presents the question that she actually could be any of us.  She certainly gives us something to think about.

Performers dancing the night away in TBTS’s production of “Footloose” showed what’s possible when the spirit of Terpsichore allowed for fleeting feet. However, not so much the case, however, in the mythical Mid-Western town of Bomont, Utah, which had banned dancing.

Destiny put on a collision course rebelling Chicago teen transplant Ren McCormack with long-time resident and crusading Pastor Rev. Shaw Moore who initiated and defends the tow-wide ban.

Underneath it all, both men are also dealing with the loss of significant people in their lives. Dance for Ren helps him recover while for Moore dancing reminds him of what he thinks made the loss happen.

Nikki Munroe of South Kingstown said at intermission, “I like the crooked stage. It gets your attention with the crooked stained glassed windows. There’s something behind it. Will it straighten out at the end?”

“Million Dollar Quartet” took an audience back to rock and roll’s birth and the launch from poor beginnings of well-known musicians tasting success and trying to hold on to it.

It also has a surprise ending that fits squarely into Theatre By The Sea owner and producer Bill Hanney’s audience-centric focus. It promised to delight anyone with rhythm in his or her bones.

The production was worth the time and ticket price to experience a sense of the 1950s music and the birth of rock and roll, both now faded into gauzy history so many decades and generations later.

The show was set in an unexpected jam session that happened on December 4, 1956 — of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee.

It was clear from this first song to the last that Colin Summers (Perkins), Sky Seals (Cash), Taylor Isaac Gray (Lewis) and Alessandro Viviano (Presley) pulled off a sound-alike resonance that this audience’s loud applause showed they hit the mark.

One visitor to the theater, Tony Sciolto, with his wife Nikki Munroe, are music devotees. They travel to regional venues for concerts as well as to local spots, such as the Pump House Music Works, to hear tunes from all kinds of bands and players.

“This was very realistic, especially Johnny Cash,” said Sciolto, who at nearly 75 and has followed music all his life

In Cinderella, Director Kenny Ingram and his cast brought laughs, smooth dance moves and a few hours of melodies that reached the rafters of this classic that appeals to children and adults alike

So much talent came from the stage in equal measure that the audience kept interrupting performers with applause and cheers unlike most musicals this summer in the 89-year-old barn theater on Cards Pond Road.

“It’s like Aladdin let the genie out of the bottle,” commented New Yorker and native South Kingstown resident Paige Munroe, 30, visiting relatives and stopping by to catch the musical. She’s young enough to have seen it many times on television as she grew up and was part of homemade plays with sisters Veronica and Christine.

In addition to the work provided on the stage, this year the theater also pitched in for the future of the art form with an endowed internship from local author Don Winslow. It was created to honor his mother, Ottis Winslow, who was the house manager at the theater for decades.

“The intent is to provide a practical, hands-on education for a local student interested in the business aspects of theater, honoring my mother in a practical way in a place that meant so much to her,” he said.

The internship will be an annual award paid for directly by the family to cover an intern’s salary for the theatrical season.

So, as this season drew to a close, a happy Bill Hanney was exuberant about productions, audience reception, staff initiatives behind the scenes and cast performance.

“I think these were the kinds of shows that people wanted to see,” Hanney said in the interview this week. Judging by the packed shows for each production, he isn’t wrong.

And he might not have been wrong a year ago when he said in 2021, “This year we survived it all. We’re still here and it has built on us coming back next year stronger than ever and with a full schedule of what people expect.”

The theater’s 2021 season had ended with a nearly sold-out house for the award-winning “Mamma Mia!” and in overtime through an unscheduled additional performance of the American jukebox musical romantic comedy.

This week, he said with the confidence he often portrays, “I delivered a season promised three years ago and we pulled it off when the shows hit the stage. Other theaters may not have been so lucky.”

Write to Bill Seymour, freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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