Encores and Curtain Calls

Encores & Curtain Calls: Actors Theater Playouse opens musical review Thursday

“Sitting ’Round The Piano” is a new musical cabaret at the Actors Theatre Playhouse Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, July 31 through Aug. 9, at 7:30 p.m.
 Merrit Brown photo

“Sitting ’Round The Piano” is a new musical cabaret at the Actors Theatre Playhouse Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, July 31 through Aug. 9, at 7:30 p.m. Merrit Brown photo

“When we die, we will turn into songs, and we will hear each other and remember each other.”

— Rob Sheffield

There’s a reason the gods invented music and that is, very simply, because words weren’t up to doing the job.

What job, you ask? The job of moving us to our heights, depths, of blowing the boundaries of our painfully common-sensical human boxes, setting us free from ourselves and giving us a close encounter of the most passionate kind — of the human heart.

As a writer, I will concede there are great and glorious narratives and poems that can leave a haunting and indelible imprint in the soul. Richard Llewellyn’s “How Green Was My Valley” and J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” come to mind as personal favorites in the former category, as do Robert Frost’s masterworks “Birches” “The Road Less Traveled By” and Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” among others, in the latter; but as the English composer Purcell rightly noted, “As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.”

I love that insight, “exaltation” being, by definition, the heightening, the raising in degree and impact over words alone.

Well, strange as it may seem, song lyrics are poetry of a sort; true, when heard or read alone they carry only a faint vestige of their communicative power (just try extracting and enjoying your favorite Joni Mitchell or James Taylor song sans music and see how moved you find yourself). But, still, they are a kind of primary or archetypal poetry.

Why, it may be wondered, do song lyrics read so flat when deprived their music? Because they are light bulbs with no current illuminating them.

Which, of course, brings me naturally and inevitably to the subject of this week’s focus: the Actors Theater Playhouse, on the corner of Brook and Main streets, West Chesterfield, N.H., just outside Brattleboro, Vt. It has just begun getting its country-playhouse feet wet with music and is now testing the waters with two weeks of “Sitting ’Round the Piano; Singers and Their Favorite Songs,” a new musical revue, opening July 31.

It’s actually an anthology of musical theater favorites by a bevy of regional singers, professional and amateur, in two “acts,” including such old and recent show-stoppers as “Send in the Clowns,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” “Summertime,” “Part of Your World,” “This is the Moment,” “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” “I Can’t Say No,” “The Ladies Who Lunch” and many more. The tunes will be spun by the likes of Leslie Cotter, Nancy Groff, Jason Guerino, Julie Olssen, Ken Olssen, Ray Mahoney, Joanne Mead, Mark and Marilyn Tullgren, all under the direction of Mark Tullgren and Ken Olsson.

“The thought was to find a way to bring more musical entertainment to the playhouse in a yearly format similar to the very popular Ten Minute Play Festival, where we could change up the material every season,” says Producer and musical performer Marilyn Tullgren. “So we kicked the idea around and quickly came up with a format devoid of restricting themes or plots ... just the pure fun of singing all those popular show tunes we love so much but never get the opportunity to do. Quickly, we contacted our friends with the simple ‘How’d you like to sing your favorite songs in a musical review the performers themselves create?’ Bingo. We had our cast in no time at all, along with Ken Olsson as our musical director and my husband, Mark, doing the stage direction ... it’s a heart-felt, full-out evening of fun dedicated to the songs we love. The hope is we’ll add new performers and new favorites year after year.”

Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, July 31 through Aug. 9 at 7:30 p.m. All tickets are $10. Reservations highly recommended. The box office can be reached toll free at 877-666-1855. Also, www.ATPlayhouse.org.

An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at josephmarcello@verizon.net.

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