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The pros are back in town: Professional musicals return to Potsdam as CPS schedules 2 summer shows


POTSDAM — Amy L. Flack has been hearing echoes since she became executive director of the Community Performance Series two years ago — the echoes of audiences past, applauding the defunct Music Theatre North.

“Ever since Music Theatre North closed in 1995, the community has been clearly indicating that there is a very strong urge to see theater like that back in our area,” Mrs. Flack said.

Music Theatre North was created in 1979 and was the north country’s only professional summer musical theater company, bringing in actors, directors and others to stage hundreds of shows. Music Theatre North also involved the community through its all-volunteer board of directors, educational programs and local participants in productions.

The curtain is rising on a second act with the help of Community Performance Series. CPS is a college-community partnership that presents performing artists and arts education opportunities. It has been in residence at SUNY Potsdam since 1989.

“CPS has been trying to fulfill the community’s desire to see more summer theater since we began producing (musicals) in 2004,” Mrs. Flack said.

She said CPS’s plans for this year — the staging of two fully professional musicals — is its most significant step in that direction to date.

“We’ve hired a few actors now and then over the years to help when local casting wasn’t available, but this is the first time we’ve brought in the majority of the cast,” said Mrs. Flack.

CPS will present “Hairspray” from July 23 to 27 and “Little Shop of Horrors” Aug. 6 to 10 in the Sara M. Snell Music Theater at SUNY Potsdam.

Mrs. Flack said Community Performance Series will continue to offer internships to students and volunteer opportunities to local residents.

“In particular, we have a group of students from a variety of high schools in the area who are working with us,” Mrs. Flack said. “They are understandably, and quite smartly, excited to be able to work with the crew that will be here in Potsdam.”

Depending on community support, there could be more opportunities in future years for such professional and community theater collaborations.

“Because it’s such a big jump for us toward that professional model, one of the things that’s going to be critical this year is assessing community support,” Mrs. Flack said. “We’re here to serve the people in the surrounding community in everything we do with all of our programming. If we get a very strong response, then that’s the direction we are going to steer in.”

Annmarie Duggan helped to launch the new professional effort. She’s a University of Pittsburgh assistant professor who was the resident lighting designer for Music Theatre North.

“She has a tremendous affinity for Potsdam and this area,” Mrs. Flack said. “When we started our program and began to move toward the more professional productions, Annmarie was one of the people we contacted to come back and work with us. She did so very enthusiastically.”

Ms. Duggan, speaking earlier this month from Cortland, where she was designing “The Buddy Holly Story” for Cortland Repertory Theatre, said she was excited to see professional theater back in Potsdam.

“One of the things the north country has over other theaters is that the artists and the community built that theater together, which made it extra tragic when it went away,” she said of Music Theatre North.

Ms. Duggan says Mrs. Flack, who was the CPS summer coordinator before serving as executive director of the Thousand Islands Performing Arts Fund from 2006 to 2011, is the perfect person to have at the helm. She said discussion of reviving professional theater for the Potsdam area has “popped up now and then.”

“But the first time I ever thought, ‘Wow, this might happen,’ was when Amy became part of the equation,” Ms. Duggan said. “I think she’s the one who can get it done.”

Ms. Duggan says she is constantly bumping into people who gained experience through Music Theatre North, including Kerby Thompson, artistic director at Cortland Repertory Theatre. “He was an actor at Music Theatre North,” she said.

Ms. Duggan helped CPS find Donna Drake, who will direct both of the summer shows.

Miss Drake, New York City, was in the original Broadway productions of “A Chorus Line,” “Sophisticated Ladies,” “The Wind in the Willows” and other shows. A television actress as well, she received an Emmy nomination for the 1978-82 ABC program “Dear Alex and Annie.” She is now a director and choreographer. In 2009, she choreographed Catherine Zeta Jones performance for the American Film Institute Awards. More recently, she wrote and directed “Well Strung,” which premiered in May at Joe’s Pub in New York City.

Miss Drake said she and Ms. Duggan have worked together producing shows from Florida to Milwaukee.

“She’s a professor in Pittsburgh and I teach at Pace University (in New York City), so our paths are always crossing,” Miss Drake said.

She said that she’s also looking forward to working with Ms. Duggan and set designer Kenneth Goldstein, an assistant professor at SUNY New Paltz. He has designed at several theaters along the East Coast.

“They are going to bring a lot to the show,” Miss Drake said. “Both are a lot of fun and extremely diverse.”

Ms. Duggan said that Miss Drake is an energetic director.

“‘Hairspray’ and ‘Little Shop’ are right up her ally,” she said. “She’ll push you hard. There’s no energy like she brings to a show. It will be young performers up there, but she won’t be asking them to do anything that she hasn’t done herself.”

Rhonda Miller, director of the commercial dance program at Pace University in New York City, is the choreographer for “Hairspray” and the associate choreographer for “Little Shop of Horrors.” Among shows she has choreographed are three productions of “All Shook Up” at Maine State Music Theatre and “Kiss Me Kate” and “Wild Party” at Schimell Theater in New York City. In 2011, she choreographed “Les Enfants de Paris” for the New York Music Theatre Festival. Her work has also been seen on several television commercials.

Besides New York City-based actors, these local actors have roles in “Hairspray”:

Stacey Oloan of Massena as Amber, David Bish of Massena as the “male authority figure,” Cecilia Snow of Potsdam as Dynamite and Maria Bufalini of Watertown as “one of the nicest kids in town.”

Ensemble members: Rachel Horwitz of Canton; Brody LeCuyer, Tiffany Alderson and Abigail Truax of Massena; Logan Barkley of Madrid; Connory Marsh of Potsdam; Cheyenne Padgett of Winthrop; Shawntel Courtney of Colton and Zack Kelley of Gouverneur.

Local residents scheduled to perform in “Little Shop of Horrors”:

David Bish of Massena as Mushnik, Cecilia Snow of Potsdam as an urchin and Collin Jacobs of Hogansburg as the puppeteer.

The details
WHAT: Community Performance Series’ professional productions of “Hairspray” and “Little Shop of Horrors.”
WHEN/WHERE: “Hairspray” will be staged at 7:30 p.m. July 23 to 26 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. July 27.
“Little Shop of Horrors” will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 6 to 9 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 10.
Both shows will be in Snell Theater at SUNY Potsdam.
COST: Tickets for both shows range from $25 to $30 with discounts for students, seniors and children. Tickets may be purchased at the CPS box office in the lobby of Snell Theater by calling CPS at 267-2277 or online at They are also available at Northern Music and Video, 29 Market St., Potsdam.
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