Go ‘Under the Sea’ as Stage Right kicks off new season
At Stage Right Theatre Company, it’s show time and party time.
Stage Right is set to begin a new season after a whirlwind 20th anniversary year that featured an added performance location at Westmoreland County Community College, an ambitious undertaking to break a Guinness World Record and a full schedule of student and professional productions.
“It was incredibly satisfying and proved to our organization we can do pretty much anything we set our minds to – but it was a lot,” says artistic director Tony Marino. “We want year 21 to be a little more of a party to rejoice and celebrate with our favorite people,” which include the communities that support the theater company.
Opens with Ariel
The party begins with a popular family show, “Disney’s The Little Mermaid,” to be staged Sept. 20-22 at The Palace Theatre, Greensburg. An opening night reception will follow the Sept. 20 performance in the theater’s Megan Suite.
Grace Rusnica of Irwin plays Ariel, a mermaid who longs to give up her ocean home to live “where the people are” on dry land. Last season, she played another Disney princess, Snow White, in the Stage Right musical.
“I am so excited to have the amazing opportunity of playing Ariel,” Rusnica, a senior at Hempfield Area High School, says. “Ariel has always been one of my favorite princesses, so I know this will be one of my favorite roles. She is a curious and caring girl, and I think it will be a challenge to bring her energy and light onto the big stage.”
The musical, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale and the classic animated Disney film, also features Danny Mayhak as Prince Eric, Renata Marino as the villain Ursula and Nick Lenz as Sebastian, the red crab that is King Triton’s (John Noble) servant charged to look over his youngest daughter, Ariel.
“Playing Sebastian is an absolute blast,” Lenz says. “Bringing such an iconic Disney character to life on the stage is a dream come true.”
“One thing theatergoers may notice is that I will not be using Sebastian’s iconic Jamaican accent in our production out of respect for the Jamaican culture which I am not a part of,” he says. “Instead, I’ll be finding new and fun ways to bring this sassy crustacean to life on stage at The Palace Theatre.”
Lenz of Jeannette also has another Disney role — Lumiere in Stage Right’s “Beauty and the Beast” — among his stage credits.
21st season highlights
Following “The Little Mermaid” will be a Stage Right tradition, the Halloween season production of “The Rocky Horror Show,” Oct. 25-26 at The Lamp Theatre, Irwin, and Oct. 31- Nov. 1 at Greensburg Garden and Civic Center, including midnight shows at both locations.
Marino always gives a twist to the campy rock musical and this year is no exception.
“Rocky is back, and we’ve literally been waiting years to do the theme of Woodstock and the ‘60s” that celebrates the music festival’s 50th anniversary, he said. Jason Swauger and Layne Bailey will portray Brad and Janet, with Courtney Harkins as Magenta.
Next up Nov. 22-24 at The Palace Theatre will be a show new to Stage Right, Disney’s Broadway musical, “Newsies,” about Jack Kelly, a charismatic newsboy who rallies a band of fellow teenage “newsies” to strike against unfair conditions.
Stage Right alum Eric Phelps, a New York University graduate and professional actor, will return to take on the role of Kelly.
“‘Newsies’ is a fantastic piece of theater that we can’t wait to share with everyone,” Marino says.
Stage Right’s annual Heart of the Arts Gala honoring the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau will take place Nov. 16 at Rizzo’s Malabar Inn featuring the cast of “Newsies” and the Murphy Big Band.
In December, Stage Right brings back another tradition with performances of “A Christmas Story” Dec. 13-15 at The Lamp Theatre that Marino says is “like getting together with family around the holidays.”
The new year will bring performances of “Cabaret” Feb. 28-March 1 at The Lamp, and “Legally Blonde” April 17-19 at The Palace, starring Lara Hayhurst as Elle Woods in her first show with Stage Right, and Marino as Professor Callahan.
Also in 2020, Stage Right’s student company will perform Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” Feb. 1-2 at Westmoreland County Community College featuring a Cinderella Lunch Ball option for kids.
The 21st season also will include a March event featuring a new work from a local composer, and a “Late Night Library Show,” “where I take a mature classic and make it into one of our crazy library shows – imagine ‘50 Shades of Grey’ turned into a children’s musical,” Marino says.
Add some “incredibly cool new projection technology” that will enhance Stage Right productions and the director says it’s time to get this party started.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.