MILL HALL - What a difference a year makes at the Millbrook Playhouse.
In most years following Labor Day, finishing touches and confirming availability of plays and musicals usually leads to the old barn theater's announcement of the upcoming summer season.
But there was no announcement last fall, eliminating marketing of subscription tickets for holiday gift-giving. And bus tours that lineup their summer jaunts could not plug into Millbrook's matinee performances dates, simply because the Millbrook Playhouse had neither its 49th season lined up nor an artistic director.
Millbrook Playhouse's Artistic Director Teresa K. Pond.
Millbrook's board of directors didn't hire a new artistic director until November.
That was when Teresa K. Pond, who was living in Alaska, could start to piece together the 2012 season.
Talking with Pond in her theater office a few days after the season concluded, it was apparent that the artistic director was clearly pleased and appreciative of the community and board's support during her first year stint.
As the 2012 season could not be announced till March, Pond made a concerted push to pull together all auditions and casting, hiring technical and box office staff, signing royalty and rental contracts, and the myriad of details for the new AD.
"I could have not asked for a more willing Board," Pond said. "Being my first year (although she directed at Millbrook a few summers ago), all I had to do was ask and the board immediately responded. The board and many of the long-time patrons are really passionate in their commitment to quality theatre in our community."
The 2012 season
More than the usual sprucing up preceded the June opening night. Renovations included replacing the roof of the main barn, modernizing the kitchen, building an outdoor pavilion for the actors and staff and the purchase of a brightly lit portable LED sign placed in the parking lot to advertise the current attractions.
This summer's lineup consisted of four shows in the upstairs Main Stage theater and four in the downstairs Cabaret.
When asked about the biggest artistic and box office successes, Pond pointed to the opening attractions: "All Shook Up," with a big cast of professional and community actors singing the Elvis Presley tunes on the Main Stage, and the farce "Lend Me A Tenor" in the Cabaret. The wild hoots of laughter and great broad characterizations prompted me in my review to urge an encore of "Lend Me A Tenor."
Fortunately, Pond was able to reunite the cast (one traveling from China) for four end-of-season, nearly sold-out performances.
Two shows, "The 39 Steps" and "Dead Man's Cell Phone," are fairly recently released contemporary plays, not previously seen on any Northcentral Pa. stages (Boiling Springs' Allenberry Playhouse also is capitalizing on the popularity of Alfred Hitchcock's fast-paced whodunit by presenting "Dead Man Cell Phone" as its season finale later this fall).
"She Loves Me" was non-tradtional "summer stock" fare, especially when part of the musical's run overlapped the fourth of July holiday, when attendance often dips even with a recognizable title.
"I'll Be Back Before Midnight," an off-beat thriller with plenty of twists, drew mixed reviews from Cabaret audiences.
But a couple of old favorites, "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" and "The Fantasticks," drew good-sized audiences. With area theater veteran Ted Cockley in the cast, "The Fantasticks" helped to fill the coffers in the Millbrook's box office.
For the first time in several years, the hugely popular actor Marc de la Cocha did not appear on-stage this season, but aided Pond and oversaw the expansion of children's shows and theater camps. "Unfortunately," Pond said, "we will not likely be seeing much, if any, of Marc next year as he is devoting most of his efforts to his children's theater."
A survey handed out to Millbrook audiences during each of this summer's productions solicited feedback from patrons on a variety of questions ranging from most favorite and least favorite shows, to suggestions for future shows and even opinions on concessions.
While the artistic director and board finalizes the 50th anniversary season within the next month, some major work on the Playhouse's interior will start soon.
As part of the 50th season, Millbrook will further expand its children shows, having opened early this summer by presenting a week of sellout performances of "Charlotte's Web" for more than 2,000 elementary students of Keystone Central District.
Prior to the milestone year, improvements to the Courtyard will result in a new concession stand and gift shop.
"In the future, we want to add an outside entrance from the parking lot to the Cabaret lobby, and to pave the parking lot," Frederick said. "Our grand plan for Millbrook's longevity is to winterize the Cabaret section of the Barn so we can expand our theater season year-round!"