MORGANTOWN — Audiences can laugh along with a musical comedy and tear up with a Shakespearean tragedy this summer when West Virginia Public Theatre presents “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
The season has been halved from last summer’s four shows and other changes also have taken place, including an alliance with West Virginia University’s College of Creative Arts, in an effort to get the struggling theater company back on its feet.
“Through a new partnership with WVU, we are providing in-kind funds so we can hire two new staff members,” said Paul Kreider, president of the board of directors of West Virginia Public Theatre and dean of the College of Creative Arts.
“We’ve created a partnership that will be beneficial to public theater and to the university.”
“A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum” will be presented July 1-10 and “Romeo and Juliet” will be presented from July 8-17. Each show also will have a donation-based preview night, at 7:30 p.m. June 30 and July 7, respectively.
For the first time, the shows will overlap, Kreider noted, making it possible for folks who would have to travel to Morgantown for an overnight stay to take in both shows on the middle weekend.
West Virginia Public Theatre’s financial problems were evident last year, when two of the regular four summer shows were scaled down to smaller productions. By the end of the year, the company’s holiday show that brought in school audiences as well as adults for evening performances had to be canceled, Kreider said.
After that, existing staff members were let go and the company was taken over by WVU, at least for now, in an effort to get West Virginia Public Theatre afloat again, although it still remains a separate 501©3 organization.
“There are several reasons that it’s important for us to do that,” Kreider said. “We want to make sure the cultural and artistic institutions in the area continue to survive. We feel that 30 years of summer and cultural activity for the community has been a positive thing and we would hate to see that end.”
Also, he noted, WVU is in its second year of its new musical theater bachelor’s degree, a professional training program with classes in music, voice, piano, dance, theater and acting, so those students will benefit by being able to appear in or work with West Virginia Public Theatre productions.
However, as in past productions, Actors’ Equity members still will be hired for some roles, with audition held in Morgantown, Pittsburgh and New York City.
“I don’t see that changing too much at all,” Kreider said.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” with music and lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim, is a farce that won a Tony Award for Best Musical, among others, in 1962. It was made into a film in 1966 with Zero Mostel reviving his award-winning role as a slave who wants to buy his freedom.
When it came time to select a second show, Kreider said, board members decided to try a well-known Shakespearean tragedy.
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