Opera House Theatre Company recently announced its 2020 season, featuring its popular New Year’s Eve gala and show, “La Cage Aux Folles,” followed by “The Sound of Music,” “Annie,” “Newsies,” “Funny Girl” and “The Wiz.” It’s also expanding its outreach programming beyond its nonprofit theatre partnership with Theatre For All and its apprenticeship program for youth. Moving forward, OHTC will include two shows a year from its new Third Act Players, which will debut “Showstoppers” on October 20 at 6 p.m. at Thalian Hall.
Third Act is composed of actors ages 50 and up who get to take on roles they traditionally would not. Take for instance a saucy number from Fosse’s famed “Chicago.” “I never thought I’d get a chance to do ‘Cell Block Tango’ in my life,” Denyse McDonnell tells. Though she never did theatre before moving to Wilmington, McDonnell has done 46 shows to date.
“I just loved to dance and had an opportunity to dance in a show here in 2003,” she recalls. “After that, I started auditioning every chance I could.”
McDonnell will be a part of “So Long, Dearie” from “Hello, Dolly!,” as well as the opening and closing numbers. Reconnecting with folks onstage and sharing in the camaraderie of creative output really has been uplifting for McDonnell.
“Sometimes I just wish my body was a little more cooperative,” she says. “I keep Advil in business, for sure. My biggest regret is I didn’t find theatre when I was very young. I think Wilmington is a special place, though; so maybe I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much had I lived somewhere else and tried it.”
Ray Kennedy has been part of Wilmington’s theatre scene for the better part of three decades. After reading about a Minneapolis company called Theatre 55 (for folks 55 and up) doing “Hair,” he opened the discussion with Alice Morgan of Opera House about launching something similar. Once they passed the idea by artistic director Justin Smith, everyone was on board.
“We hope to do two shows a year,” Kennedy tells, with hopes of producing a full-blown musical next year. For now, the revue will feature numbers from “Mame,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Man of La Mancha,” “Les Miserables” and “Phantom of the Opera.” It also includes music from Grand Ole Opry to Peter, Paul and Mary—the latter featuring Louise Coggins, Cole Marquis and Jeff Phillips.
Four different directors, including Kennedy, Smith, Tina Leak and Jason Aycock, have collaborated on numbers like “Another Opening, Another Show,” and each have taken on individual bits in the show, too. Aycock has brought the moves by overseeing a few solos throughout the show, which include dancers from his family’s clogging studio in Burgaw. Leak is directing and choreographing “Vogue.”
“It is a take on a number the Rockettes did in their 2014 summer show,” she tells. “It starts featuring the lovely Judy Greenhut and then builds to include four men, Lanny Scott, Frank Raley, Steve Rassin and Tony Rivenbark.”
“As far as who [else is] in the show, who’s not?” Aycock adds. From seasoned actors to first-timers, a lot of talent will be seen, the oldest clocking in at a youthful 87.
“These are lovely people of our community that you might see everyday and not realize they have such talent,” Leak says. “To give you a little idea, we have an insurance adjuster, a dermatologist, interior designer, director of philanthropy and community relations, pharmaceuticals research manager, box office manager, staffing recruiter, dance studio owner, distributor for Redken/L’Oreal schools, a plein-air painter, retired dentist, a nurse, a radio personality, and of course the main personality of Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts.”
Debbie Scheu has been known in local theatre for years, mostly for her prolific behind-the-scenes costume work. “Vogue” will showcase a parade of models wearing Opera House’s best couture-esque threads through the decades (a few even Scheu has made). Pulling together the looks are Leak and Kennedy, plus Jayme Bednarczyk (wardrobe supervisor at Dino De Laurentiis Company for 15 years), Suzanne Glapion (costume-maker who also will perform in “Showstoppers”) and local actor Terrill Williams. Scheu, however, is taking center stage with her husband, even if it means overcoming a few nerves. Last time she performed was during musicals in high school. Today she feels more confident approaching the spotlight. “You have a different perspective in knowing yourself better,” Scheu says. “Although, watching the video of rehearsals, I need some coaching!” [Laughs.]
“I think no matter how old we are, we always have that love for performing deep in our hearts and souls,” McDonnell adds. “It’s the joy of accomplishment, being a help to one another, and seeing it all come together so beautifully, then sharing it with an audience. I’ve always believed age is just a number, and it is so true in ‘Showstoppers.’ Maybe it should be called ‘Nonstoppers’—because there is no stopping us, whatever our age is!”