Dear Ace: What’s up with the Paramount staging The Pirates of Penzance on the same day as Charlottesville’s New Lyric Theater? Also, Camelot is being performed first at the Paramount, and then, months later, by Play On! With so many musicals to choose from, why the overlap?
Dear Toby: Cut-throat competition, aggressive audience recruitment, and leg-breaking requests: Yes, it seems that local theater is quite the perilous industry. But blatant show-stealing? That seems a bit extreme, even for these artistic types. To help sort out this curtain-raising quagmire, Ace tracked down a few of Charlottesville’s underground theater dons.
The first stagehound Ace talked to was Alex Citron, executive director of Play On! theater company. Citron told Ace that, although he’s not exactly happy about the dueling Camelots, neither is he overly concerned, since the performances are a full seven months apart. He did, however, speak with the Paramount about it, and told Ace, “I didn’t get any impression that they were trying to impact what we were doing. One of the explanations they gave me was that they buy packages of touring shows, and so, if they’re interested in shows A, B and C, they also have to take show D.” The folks at the Paramount confirmed this, as well. Pres-ident & CEO Chad Hershner explained that the theater sometimes books performances as much as a year and a half in advance, and that he is already in talks with groups planning to perform in spring 2008.
As far as Ace is concerned, you really can’t have too many guys in full armor brandishing swords and belting out show tunes. Ace suggests that you buy tickets to both, simply to confirm that there will never be a better King Arthur than the star of the 1987 Broadway revival: Mr. Robert Goulet.
Of course, the more intriguing question is why there would be two competing Pirates of Penzance on the very same night (October 12). Greg Harris, founder of the New Lyric Theatre, told Ace that the paired Pirates placement left him “baffled. Dumbstruck.” He also pointed out that “we announced our Pirates of Penzance in November. It’s on the website. I know they knew about it, and they went ahead and did it anyway.”
But Hershner was quick to assure Ace that there was absolutely no nefarious scheduling intent. It turns out that he had booked the visiting New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (or NYGASP, if you’re feeling cheeky) to appear well before the other theaters announced their schedules. Unfortunately, October 12 just happens to be when the troupe is rolling through town. After hearing about the dueling farces, Hershner even tried to get NYGASP to do a different show that night, or at least change their Charlottesville performance date, but nothing doing. So if you’re going to blame anyone for this snafu, Toby, blame those stubborn Brooklyn street toughs in the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players.
So, yes, while it might be fun to think of the Paramount as a conniving, community theater-crushing juggernaut, Ace can reliably assure you that it simply isn’t so. And surely there’s room enough in this town for all of ’em—after all, Ace saw both Antz and A Bug’s Life, and goshdarnit, each had its merits!
But should any Lancelots or Pirate Kings show up in the Rivanna wearing cement boots… Well, you can’t say you weren’t warned about the seamy underworld of regional theater.
You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 17 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.