Theatre by the Sea Now Has Air Conditioning!

tbtsThe story could end there, as Bill Hanney, owner of TBTS, has enthused about the new development to everyone who will listen. Advance ticket sales are at an all-time high and the new rust-proof transformer outside (“all that salty sea air, you know,” explains Hanney) has something to do with it. However, the storied old summerstock palace has been steadily increasing its ticket sales every year since Hanney took over and the quality of the shows have at least as much to do with sales as does the fact that matinees will no longer be a risky venture for senior citizens or anyone else who may be subject to heat stroke.

Hanney and Co. open the 2016 season with Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story in previews June 1 with the official opening night, Friday, June 3 (a veteran of TBTS’ Tommy Brent era, Richard Sebellico directs). “This is the biggest first show cast lineup we have ever had, going back 10 or 15 years,” marvels Hanney. “Usually, we start small, going by the idea that the audiences just haven’t shown up (to the area) yet. But, The Rat Pack (2014four-man opener) did so well, we realized that the audience is there, somewhere and they will show up. Last summer, we opened with Smokey Joe’s Café, which had 11 performers, and it did extremely well.”

The concern over the size of the ensemble wasn’t artistic as much as it was financial. “These actors cost money,” explains Hanney, “and if the show doesn’t sell, that puts us in a tough position all summer.” So, buoyed by the promise of last year’s opening show houses, they have approached 2016 with a more title-driven philosophy and decided to test the waters with Buddy. “We’re already tracking bigger and better than any other opening show in 15 years,” he enthuses. “Which is great news going forward, because there simply aren’t that many small-show titles around.” That does not mean, however, that intimate, smaller performances will go away completely. “We will always try to balance out the season with a smaller, less expensive show, not only for financial reasons, but as people buy tickets, I can see what it takes to complete and round out the season.”

Buddy is certainly not a small affair, however, with a full ensemble, many of whom need to play their own instruments with the band while they channel the musical legends we lost on the infamous Day The Music Died. Auditions for Buddy were also far different than the standard cattle call in New York that garners the casts for your typical musicals. “We had all the usual auditions in New York, but those who made it to a third round … we rented a music studio and a truckload of instruments and they had to come in and prove that they could do their thing for real. Our Buddy, Michael Siktberg, passed all three tests amazingly well; wait until you see him!”

One assumes that holds true for the actors portraying Ritchie Valens (Albert Jennings) and The Big Bopper as well, but Buddy is more than just a recreation of a final concert, it is a somewhat poignant love story and history lesson as well. As usual, Motif asks how many local actors are in this sizable cast. “Well, (longtime TBTS mainstay and North Kingstown resident) Maria Day is here (as Vi Petty) and she’ll be returning as the Wicked Witch later in the season (for Wizard of Oz). JP Ferragamo is playing The Big Bopper and he’s from Wakefield. As I always say, I love to hire locals. It’s good publicity, we don’t have to house them … the biggest challenge of this theater is the housing! But, in the end, it’s always about how good you are.”

Hanney tells us that advance ticket sales already auger the best season in TBTS history. “West Side Story is over the top! We may want to add performances. And Wizard of Oz ... well, what can I say about that? It’s Wizard of Oz!” Rounding out the program is Sister Act, which Hanney’s other theater, North Shore, produced to rave reviews. “We were actually able to get the same cast, but spend more this time. The secret is getting the right Deloris. Without that … not so much.”

And, in addition to what Hanney feels will be the best year ever, is that new AC unit. He promises, however, that it will be used only sparingly, as required. “You do not expect to come to Matunuck and hear the hum of air conditioning at the expense of the natural sounds, but on the other hand, you also don’t want 500 seniors dying at a matinee,” he offers, (mostly) tongue-in-cheek.

And with the opening of the large-cast Buddy comes another unexpected benefit for TBTS patrons. “We are opening the postshow cabaret earlier this year! The smaller shows didn’t allow that, but a cast this size means we can offer that benefit for folks right away.”

Musicals run Tuesdays through Sundays. Tickets are available by phone (401) 782-8587, online at, or in person at 364 Cards Pond Road, Wakefield. The 2016 Summer Musical Season will continue with West Side Story (June 22 – July 16), The Wizard of Oz (July 20 – August 13, and Sister Act (August 17 – September 4). The popular Friday morning Children’s Festival includes Snow White  (July 8), Lucky Bob (July 15), Disney’s Alice In Wonderland Jr. (July 29), Aladdin (August 5), and Keith Michael Johnson’s Bubbleology (August 12). All shows at 10am & Noon.




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