The 299 seat Mary A. Alford Memorial Theatre at the Weathervane Playhouse hosted a production of Billy Elliot The Musical (BETM) from August 1-10, 2019.
Weathervane Playhouse had its birth in a barn in Heath, Ohio on July 8, 1969, opening with a most appropriate musical — Good News!. Since those first days, having been housed in a barn, a tent, and a large, open-air pavilion, Weathervane Playhouse moved to its first permanent location in the spring of 1976. The steel-beamed structure created for Weathervane housed the theatre’s productions for eleven years before a tragic fire gutted the structure early on Thanksgiving morning, 1987.
But the community rallied with financial support to rebuild, coming from both the private and public sectors, and enabling the theatre to have a 1988 season. On June 15, 1989, a second phase of reconstruction was completed and the structure was dedicated as the Mary A. Alford Memorial Theatre. And since then, many improvements have been made. Landscaping, additional parking, theater siding, exterior lighting, refurbishing of the restrooms, the purchase of new light and sound systems, and construction of a catwalk are but a few of the improvements made.
Then Weathervane turned its sights to the education and entertainment of children, embarking on a Children’s Theatre structure. This $135,000 building was made possible through a generous donation from long-time Weathervane supporter Larry W. Anderson, in memory of his wife Dawn Holt Anderson. The remaining monies were collected through a sale of personalized paving bricks that currently make up the “Children’s Walk”, a beautiful pathway leading from an outdoor pavilion to the front entrance of the Children’s Theatre. The structure was completed in the spring of 1999.
While primarily a summer stock theatre, Weathervane Playhouse also offers a fall and a Christmas production. The 2019 season consists of:
Rarely in these articles about BETM productions do we get the opportunity to gain indepth insights of a director’s vision for the show at their theatre. Director Kirsten Upchurch, who is also Weathervane’s Acting Artistic Director, was good enough to share her detailed vision for the Weathervane Playhouse’s production:
“Simply put this story is about perseverance of a community. It is about love. It is about hope. It is finding the light in the darkness. Despite the specification of it being a Northern England community, it is a community that could be anywhere in the world, and at any time. Job loss is a common theme in the world today. Not being able to make ends meet, a community where hope doesn’t spring eternal but the determination to make it through and come out on top is really just stubbornness to accept the changes that tear apart our lives.
Their story is one that can be seen in even our own community here in Newark – the struggle to feel like a person that is meaningful, combined with the knowledge that you’ve already accepted your life can never change, and the fear that change cannot be made. There is in this a hope for the one thing everyone can identify as the cause that will succeed – and all the energy of hope is poured into that person or that thing. That is the story we must tell. How to rediscover your hope, your faith.
The juxtaposition of a disenchanted community, with the single thing that could break through the clouds and soar. The identification of the moment of action – where everyone finds their place to belong. It is a story of where to place your faith, on how a community heals, and ultimately a story of hope.
Visually I want to be able to have a few very specific points where things come into crystal clear focus – The pas de deux, moments within each of Billy’s dances as we see him lose himself in the electricity. I want to be able to find a few levels within the different scenes by utilizing the furniture pieces and maybe small platformed pieces. I am interested in exploring the gaps between the moments of hope in a visual representation.”
Weathervane’s BETM company, led by a newcomer in the role of Billy Elliot, Tommy Druhan, came together in rehearsals for the first time on 18-Jul-2019. They’ve rehearsed for 7 hours daily since that time right up until the opening of the production on 1-Aug-2019.
To see a complete listing of the rest of the Weathervane Playhouse cast, just click on the Cast Information button.
Note: Production photos in this article by Diblasio Photography.