TBTS Expects Another Record-Breaking Summer

“Theatre By The Sea broke every record last year! Fastest selling opener, matinee, season, all of them. I talk about this and sometimes I think people think I’m [kidding] them!” TBTS’ proud owner enthuses to Motif about his most recent success and how the venerable performance venue is on track to smash their own records in 2017. Apparently, Beehive, this year’s season-opener, has sold even faster than any previous show in TBTS history. “The biggest problem we have,” muses Hanney, “and, it’s a good problem to have – is that we’re already sold to 95, 96% of season capacity. We don’t have enough seats! I tell everyone to subscribe, even though we make less money on tickets that way, because that’s the only guaranteed way you’ll see a show.”

Snagging a ticket to Matunuck’s reigning summertime champions may be difficult, but those who can are in for another season of Hanney’s winning “formula” of jukebox-style musical, followed by a classic, a family-oriented offering, and then a slightly cheeky season closer geared more toward an older, sophisticated audience. The opener, Beehive, is a journey through the music of the 1960s from a woman’s perspective, featuring not only the hits of the decade, but skillful recreations of the artists who performed those songs. From Diana to Janis, Beehive has it all, and continues to be one of the most popular “unknown” musicals of the last 30 years, running for long stretches in venues across the country. Director/Choreographer Russell Garrett has a long history with the show, having mounted four previous productions of Beehive. One would think that so many passes at material, while classic, may become rote or tiring, but Garrett tells Motif that his experience is quite the contrary.

“I love the material and I just have an affinity for the whole decade and the music and the styles. I don’t get tired of it,” asserts Garrett. Asked if there is anything different for him this time around, he responds, “It’s easier this time. Each time I’ve done it, I crystallize how I want to approach certain things, taking what I like and keeping it, getting rid of things I didn’t like. I keep trying to find a different way in, but, just simply *liking* parts that I like and wanting to keep them. This time, the show is different. New songs, new dialogue that hasn’t been done. The creators of the show have provided some new numbers for current productions, as well. ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ has been added, there are some new Supremes numbers.” Garrett, whose personal favorite song of the show is “One Fine Day” by The Chiffons, tells Motif that the only difficulty in restaging Beehive as the years go by, is that younger casts are less and less familiar with the source material.

“To do this show right, you need to have an innate affinity to the material or be introduced. Casts get younger and younger. Every once in a while, a cast member is familiar through parents or such, but often, you go back to Hammerstein or Berlin and they are not familiar with this work, either. Theater is so diverse, the more tricks you have in your bag, the better,” he says. Beehive, which opened the TBTS season on May 31, is clearly a passion for Garrett. “A lot of people have taken these songs all through their lives. It’s been a part of my life since I was a kid. It makes me happy.”

When Beehive closes on June 18, Hanney’s carefully curated season continues with The Music Man (Jun 21 – Jul 15), Disney’s Beauty and The Beast (Jul 19 – Aug 12) and finishes up with The Producers (Aug 16 – Sep 10).

“The hardest thing I have to do each year is pick these seasons,” says Hanney. “I have two, soon to be three, theaters to plan for each year (Hanney also currently owns and operates North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts) and I begin to lose track!” Motif tries to get Hanney to spill the beans on his future plans, but he remains charmingly tight-lipped. He does offer this nugget, however. “Well, next year has a show, one of those shows we see time and time again in the region, and it’s finally available. I predict it will be one of the biggest hits ever for the theater, and we’re toying with the idea of running it longer, five weeks possibly.”

Asked what he is looking forward to the most out of the TBTS 2017 season, he says, “I’m really looking forward to Beauty and the Beast. Amazing cast, one of the best scores ever, the story is terrific, and it doesn’t hurt that we’re coming off of the movie version, either.” The show will be directed by Bob Richard and choreographed by Diane Laurenson, the same team behind last summer’s West Side Story. Also notable is that The Producers will be directed and choreographed by original Broadway cast member, Brad Musgrove.

Last year’s big news, as far as the TBTS venue is concerned, was the addition of air conditioning, finally putting an end to sweltering matinee experiences and actually helping to increase audiences. Asked if any such large-scale improvements were afoot this year, Hanney laughs, “We have a trailer toilet now!” Patrons accustomed to long wait lines at the bathrooms will find some relief, at last, but Hanney reminds Motif that “no one has ever missed a second act waiting in line for the bathroom. We hold the house for them!”

The 2017 season is rounded out by the Children’s Festival, featuring Jack and The Beanstalk on July 7, Li Liu on July 14, Seussical Jr. on July 28, Rapunzel on August 4 and the return of Keith Michael Johnson’s BUBBLEOLOGY on August 11.

Motif asks Hanney, as always, how many local actors are selected for the season, as opposed to New York pros. “You know, I always say this, but it’s true – I love to cast local, as long as the performers are good enough and are right for the roles.” This season has Rhode Islanders featured in every show, including Matunuck native Kendall Hope in Beehive. Rhode Island favorites Tom Gleadow and Maria Day will be featured in The Music Man, alongside Ladelle Arnold, Emily Charleton, Rodney Souza, Jr. and Mike Maino. Reid Taylor is featured as Chip in Beauty in the Beast and Julia Feeney will appear in that show as well as The Producers. “Casting local also means we don’t have to provide housing for them,” jokes Hanney.

“Each summer I grow more and more excited to produce these shows for the amazing audiences at Theatre By The Sea. As you know, it’s not just about the shows, either. You arrive early, you walk the grounds, get dinner at the Bistro, get a cocktail, see the First Act, mingle at intermission outside, see the Second Act and then stick around for the cabaret afterward. There’s nothing else like it. Subscribe now, or you’ll miss out.” Hanney’s passion for TBTS is palpable, and his other projects, both ongoing and the yet to be announced, all bode well for audiences in Rhode Island as well as Southern New England.

“I am confident that this summer’s lineup has what it takes to top last summer’s record-breaking, sold-out audiences,” declared Hanney in the TBTS press release, a prediction that is well on its way to fruition.

Tickets for all shows, if not sold out, are on sale now online at theatrebythesea.com, by phone (401-782-8587), and at the Box Office Window (364 Cards Pond Road in Wakefield, RI) which opens at Noon for in person sales. Musicals run Tuesdays through Sundays. Check Website for exact dates and show times. Season Discount subscriptions are on sale now, call the Box Office for pricing and information. The 2017 Season is sponsored by WJAR – NBC 10.

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