Preview The Book
Cultural treasures :
Delaware Valley boasts rich theatrical resources

by Anita Donovan

The cast from audience favorite Cheaper by the Dozen graces the stage
at the historic Newtown Theatre.

Seventy years ago Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart discovered a quaint stone inn nestled in Stockton, N.J., beside the Delaware River and immortalized it in their lilting ballad "There's a Small Hotel." Since then, many denizens of Broadway have sought a retreat –- and theatrical inspiration – along the beautiful Delaware.

The region has served as home to Moss Hart and Kitty Carlisle, Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Odette Myrtil, Oscar Hammerstein II, and as a summer retreat for the latter's protege Stephen Sondheim. No wonder we are so richly provided with theatrical treats. With a short drive in any direction, one can satisfy just about any taste.

The area boasts both Equity and non-Equity professional theaters, as well as numerous ambitious community troupes. At the county's southernmost point, the Bristol Riverside Theatre (215-785-0100) holds forth in a stylishly reclaimed movie theater at 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol, with a dazzling view of our river. Established in 1987 by Producing Director Susan Atkinson, this Equity theater offers year-round plays and musicals, as well as summer and holiday musicales helmed by Artistic Director Edward Keith Baker.

This year's offerings include:
The Spitfire Grill, September 23-October 12.
Absurd Person Singular, November 30-December 13
Winter Musicale, December 11-21
What You Will (aka Twelfth Night), February 10-March 1
Defiance, March 24-April 12
A Man of No Importance, May 12-31.

Across the river and into downtown Trenton, N.J., we find Passage Theatre (609-392-0766), celebrating its 19th season in the city-owned Mill Hill Playhouse, Front and Montgomery streets. The season lineup includes:
The Summer House, October 30-November 23
Solo Flights, a series of one-person plays, March 5-29
Playwrights' Lab - April 3-5 (new play readings)
Instructions for Breathing, April 30-May 24

A few miles north in Princeton, we find McCarter Theatre Center (609-258-2787), an Equity member and winner of a 1994 Tony Award for regional theater, with two state of the art facilities for drama, dance and opera: the Matthews Theatre, capacity 1,100, and the intimate Berlind Theatre, capacity 360. McCarter hosts numerous solo and short-run events in opera, jazz and world music; one such is American Repertory Ballet's The Nutcracker, November 22-30.
This year's in-house productions include:
Talley's Folly, October 12-November 2
A Christmas Carol, December 7-28
Mrs. Warren's Profession, January 9-February 15
Twelfth Night, March 8-29
The Brother/Sister Plays (a trilogy), April 24-June 21

Just to the east of us, in Montgomery County, two Equity theaters now celebrate their 10th anniversaries. Act II Playhouse (215-654-0200), in downtown Ambler, is an intimate theater just right for small dramas and musicals, often featuring the cream of Philadelphia's actors, such as Tony Braithwaite, Jennie Eisenhower and Tom McCarthy. Suburbanites love the accessibility of this venue, the convenient parking, and the friendly atmosphere. The founder, Stephen Blumenthal, is quasi-retired, but the show goes on:
Magnetic North, October 21-November 16
Look, Mom, I'm Swell, December 3-14
The Philly Fan, February 17-March 1
Iron Kisses, James Still, March 10-April 5
Respect: a Musical Journey, May 5-31

Quiet downtown Souderton is the last place you'd expect to find a savvy Equity theater, but managers Tom Quinn and Hope deFrenes keep Montgomery Theatre audiences delighted with their classic plays and new works in a brand new comfortable theater that feels like a clubhouse (215-723-9984). The 2008 schedule continues, with 2009 to be announced.
The Last Night of Ballyhoo, November 13-December 6

The action doesn't stop with Equity theaters.

Overlooking the river in New Hope, the venerable Bucks County Playhouse (215-862-2041), established in 1939, courageously continues the tradition of "summer stock" in the face of occasional floods, offering a full program of America's classic musicals.

In the past, it featured established actors such as Robert Redford, Shelley Berman, Mimi Hines, Loretta Swit, and Kevin McCarthy, but for the past 15 years, under director-choreographer Stephen Casey, it has become the home of tomorrow's talent. Running continuously from April to December, the Playhouse features singers, dancers and actors who are barely out of their teens but leave audiences amazed and thrilled.

The 2008 season winds down with the following:
Sweeney Todd, November 5-23
A Christmas Carol, November 26-December 21

Another non-Equity professional theater is tucked away in Hopewell, N.J., with a year-round schedule of comedies and musicals, accompanied by a unique offering of delicious coffee and cake. The Off-Broadstreet Theatre (609-466-2766) is now in its 22nd season, and boasts a loyal subscriber base and an extended band of local actors who love to work there. The next season schedule is to be announced.

At nearby College of New Jersey, on Route 31, Ewing, the venerable Shakespeare '70 company (609-882-5979) offered a production of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth, this fall.

Community-based thespians take over where the pros end, with no fewer than six companies spanning the county and another half dozen on the New Jersey banks. Bensalem's Playmasters (215-245-7850), located in Neshaminy State Park on State Road, offers four comedies a year, and summer readings. Their 57th season will include:
Inspecting Carol, November 28-December 14
Almost Maine, February 18-March 8
Rumors, May 1-17

Up river, Actors' NET of Bucks County (215-295-3694) sits neatly behind the seawall at Morrisville in a converted municipal garage that turns out to be perfect for a theater. One of the busiest companies around, it mounts eight major productions plus several summer shows, kids' extravaganzas, holiday revues, and outdoor musicals in the town's riverfront park.
Plans for 2008-09 include:
The Investigation, October 24-November 9
Seascape, December 5-21
Orson's Shadow, January 16-February 1
The Last Days of the Dinosaurs, February 27-March 15
Doubt, a Parable, April 17-May 3
Booth, May 29-June 14
Finian's Rainbow, July 10-26

Neshaminy Valley Music Theatre (215-364-4999) hosts a once-a-year musical production designed to raise scholarship funds for Neshaminy High School grads in the performing arts. This year's production, dates to be announced, will be 42nd Street, with one weekend scheduled for the high school auditorium and two more weekends at the Bucks County Playhouse, courtesy of owner Ralph Miller.

The Langhorne Players (215-860-0818), ensconced at Spring Garden Mill, in Newtown's Tyler Park on Richboro Road, closed their 61st season with Michele Lowe's String of Pearls, November 1. The 2009 spring-fall schedule is TBA, and is guaranteed to include some cutting edge drama and comedy.

Town and Country Players (215-348-7566), another successful 60-year-old summer theater, holds forth in a Mickey-Judy barn on Route 263 in Buckingham. The season ends with:
Saddle Up for Murder, November 14-23 (benefit for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation)­­

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