THE BIG 5-0

Dear diary: The Heights Players season begins on Sept. 9 with Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs," featuring Michael Basile (above) in rehearsal for the role of Eugene Jerome.
The Brooklyn Papers / Greg Mango

The Heights Players’ upcoming season promises
to be something special indeed. It will be a broad sampling of
favorites dating back to the group’s very beginnings.



The reason? This is the Heights Players’ 50th season, and the
board of directors included a survey in their newsletter listing
all the shows the Heights Players had produced in their first
40 years. The survey asked patrons and members which shows they
would like to see, by genre, in the 2005-2006 season.



"There were three factors we had to consider in the end,"
member-at-large John Bourne told GO Brooklyn. "First was
popularity, second was availability [could the Heights Players
get the rights] and third was, did we have a director who wanted
to do the show?"



The result is a season filled with comedy, drama, music and suspense.



The season kicks off with Neil Simon’s celebrated semi-autobiographical
play about two families living under the same roof in 1937 Brooklyn
– "Brighton Beach Memoirs."



"We wanted a Neil Simon," says Bourne. "And there
was ’Brighton Beach’ hitting us right on top of the comedy line."



Originally presented at the Alvin Theatre in 1983, the play earned
a Tony for star Matthew Broderick and ran for 1,530 performances.
At the Heights Players, the show, which runs Sept. 9 through
Sept. 25, will be directed by Robert J. Weinstein.



Ellen Pittari directs "Oklahoma!" by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The duo "have always been very popular with our audiences,"
says Bourne. The landmark musical, which will be staged Oct.
7 through Oct. 23, was based on Lynn Rigg’s play "Green
Grow the Lilacs." The nostalgic story is filled with charming
love songs like "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top"
and "People Will Say We’re in Love"; comic numbers
such as "I Can’t Say No" and "Kansas City";
and rousing ensemble songs including the grand finale, "Oklahoma."



Bourne says "The Man Who Came to Dinner" was the most
popular play of all those listed in the survey.



"I had directed the show. I’d love to do it again,"
he told the board of directors. And so George S. Kaufman and
Moss Hart’s classic comedy, about a famous guest who overstays
his welcome, will be the third play of the season, running Nov.
4 through Nov. 20.



Although contemporary audiences may not recognize the celebrities,
the characters in the play were patterned on theater critic Alexander
Wollcott (the guest), Harpo Marx, Gertrude Lawrence, Noel Coward
and others. The play opened in 1939, ran for 738 performances
and was made into a 1942 film featuring Bette Davis and Jimmy
Durante.



Just in time for the holiday season comes "A Christmas Carol,"
from Dec. 2 through Dec. 18, a musical version of Dickens’ classic
tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and how he learns the true meaning of
the holiday. Jim McNulty directs.



The large number of people who voted for Eugene O’Neill’s "Ah
Wilderness!" came as a surprise to many at the Heights Players,
but Bourne says that because they wanted to do a classic American
playwright and Ted Thompson was eager to direct, it was happily
chosen as the fourth show of the season.



"Ah Wilderness!" which will be staged Jan. 6 through
Jan. 22, is O’Neill’s only comedy. This coming-of-age story takes
a sentimental look at the playwright’s youth. The long-running
Theatre Guild production opened in 1933, and ever since the play
has been popular with university and community theater groups.




Agatha Christie, a Heights Players favorite, gets a hearing Feb.
3 through Feb. 19 when Fabio Teliercio directs "Witness
for the Prosecution." This suspense-filled courtroom drama
is best known as a 1957 Billy Wilder film featuring such celebrities
as Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton.



The next show, Arthur Miller’s "The Crucible," was
the one play that, according to Bourne, the Heights Players board
most wanted to present this season.



"We were looking for ’The Crucible’ because that was the
second play that the Heights Players ever did – in May of ’57
– and that put us on the map," says Bourne. "Within
three months the Heights Players was incorporated as a nonprofit
educational group, we started our workshop programs and decided
we were going to be a residential company in Brooklyn.



"We also wanted a Brooklyn playwright," said Bourne.
"It was a play Ed Healy wanted to do." Of course, Miller,
who died earlier this year, is one of America’s most renowned
playwrights too, and "The Crucible," which the Heights
Players will stage March 3 through March 19, is one of his most
acclaimed works. Although it is ostensibly about the 17th-century
Salem witch trials, the real (though unstated) subject of "The
Crucible" is McCarthyism and the witch hunts of the House
Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s.



"Wait Until Dark" is a very popular mystery, but Bourne
said he was surprised that the play was ranked above several
Agatha Christie plays in the Heights Players’ survey. Frederick
Knott’s edge-of-your-seat thriller is about ruthless crooks,
drugs and a clever blind woman whom the crooks try to bully and
outwit. The Broadway show opened in 1966 with Lee Remick starring
as the blind woman. In the 1967 film, Audrey Hepburn took the
lead. Susan Montez directs the Heights Players’ version, which
is slated to run March 31 through April 16.



The season ends with the blast of "76 Trombones" as
Thomas N. Tyler directs Meredith Wilson’s "The Music Man,"
which runs May 5-21. The 1957 Broadway hit that did so much to
advance the career of its star, Robert Preston (who played Harold
Hill in the 1962 film as well), is about a charming con man who
figures out a gimmick for stealing money from the residents of
River City but ends up having his own heart stolen by the winsome
Marian, the town librarian.



Fifty years of providing good, community theater at affordable
prices in Brooklyn is quite an accomplishment. It’s certainly
cause for a season of celebration.

 

A subscription to the Heights Players
2005-2006 season, which kicks off with "Brighton Beach Memoirs"
(Sept. 9-25), is $80. The Heights Players are located at 26 Willow
Place between State and Joralemon streets in Brooklyn Heights.
For more information, call (718) 237-2752 or visit www.heightsplayers.org.


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