Summer theater always has a warm inviting feeling for anyone who has seen the old Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movies where they say, "Come on, kids, let’s put on a show." And the show always saved the day.
Princeton Summer Theater has some of Garland’s and Rooney’s charm as well, but it also has their energy and commitment, which drives this company’s vision to showcase what they term as "the stars of tomorrow." Begun 30 years ago as an outgrowth of the Princeton University theater program, PST is a "summer boot camp" for young people who want to make theater their career, says the company business manager, Jonathan Elliott. In his fourth year with the company, he is a graduate of the College of New Jersey and will receive a masters degree in arts administration this December from George Mason University in Virginia.
This summer repertory company is managed and run by a group of 25 20-somethings – some current college students, others recent graduates beginning their professional careers in the theater. Elliott explains that the company takes care of all the elements of producing theater – from maintaining the theater itself, to manning the box office, to direction and design, to publicity. "In fact we end up cooking for each other at the end of the day," he says. Selling tickets is a prime incentive for the company as their salaries rely on profits earned.
In addition to his chores as company business manager, Elliott will act in one play and direct the summer’s musical production, "Godspell." As a budding playwright who has had several of his own plays produced and whose play, "Foreward Motion," was published recently by Play Scripts Inc., Elliott is a typical example of the serious young theater students on the fast track to professional careers who make up this industrious company.
Former PST members have included Tony award-winning actress Bebe Neuwirth (for "Chicago"), Tony Award-winning producer Geoff Rich of "Avenue Q," and Winnie Holtzman, who wrote the book for the popular Broadway musical "Wicked" and created the television series "My So-Called Life."
Another alumna, Deborah Savadge, returns to Princeton Summer Theater this season as a guest director after a number of years. She will direct the thriller, "Dial M for Murder." Savadge was part of the company, which was founded in 1968, during four of its earliest seasons. Growing up in the Princeton area, she graduated from Hopewell Valley Regional High School. In a phone interview prior to the company’s first read-through of "Dial M for Murder," Savadge says, "I came down from New York this morning. When I walked into the theater, I breathed in, and suddenly I was back there in those summers years ago. It smells the same."
No doubt these were happy memories as it is here that her romance with one of PST’s founding members, Geoff Peterson, a Princeton graduate, Class of 1969, became a stepping stone to their now long-standing marriage. They met on the Murray Theater stage in 1966 in a production of Rostand’s "The Romantics.") She remembers the first years of Princeton Summer Theater. "We did Chekhov, Shaw, and Shakespeare. And I got to be costumed gorgeously to play in some really great plays."
Since then, Savadge has built a solid theater career. "I’ve had every job there is in the theater. I have done everything from ushering to producing." She is also a playwright and the mother of two sons, also involved in the arts (her son, Jed, is PST’s artistic director). After her stint directing "Dial M for Murder," she plans to focus on finishing the second act of her play, "Love Supreme," which is scheduled for a staged reading in September at Playwrights Gallery in New York City, where she is the director. She also teaches acting and coaches actors for the audition process.
This summer’s season at Princeton Summer Theater features a mix of plays, all with "Princeton connections" to offer audiences a variety of theater experiences – from a mystery, to an intellectual comedy, to a musical, and finally ending with a romance set in war time. All are appropriate age-wise for the young company, says Savadge. "This company has the passion to do it right. They bring us really polished and accomplished theater worthy of a look." She adds that last season’s successes, both with audiences and with local media, particularly with the company’s productions of "Proof" and "Private Lives," helped kickstart ticket sales for this summer. ("Proof" also featured a "return engagement" with former founding director Geoff Peterson, playing a major role under the direction of his son, Jed.)
Savadge describes "Dial M for Murder" as a "nifty puzzle, a wonderful well-made play, a perfect thriller not meant to scare but to intrigue. It asks the question: How well do we really know the people in our lives?" Best remembered as the 1954 movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock, the play is a classic thriller by Frederick Knott, a Princeton native. (Princeton connection #1.) It plays Thursday, June 16, through Sunday, June 26, at the company’s home, Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton campus, kitty-corner to Princeton University Chapel.
"Picasso at the Lapin Agile," by writer and well-known comedian Steve Martin runs June 30 through July 10. This comic fantasy is about a meeting between Picasso and Albert Einstein in a Paris bar in 1904. (Princeton connection #2.) This play choice is appropriate as a contribution to Princeton’s "Think Einstein" celebration of the centenary of Einstein’s "miracle year," 1905, when he published several groundbreaking papers, including "the one" about relativity. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of his death.
‘Picasso at the Lapin Agile" has been described as a work of contrast, one moment wacky and silly then suddenly moving and thoughtful. A surprise character from the future joins the two later-to-be-famous men as they discuss questions about the nature of art, the mystery of life, the dilemma of progress, and the paradox of history. With Steve Martin as the author, rest assured that this is a funny as well as thought-provoking play.
Already the company is working on the score for the third production of the season, the musical "Godspell," playing July 14 through 31. "We’re checking the voices of our company members to see if parts need transposing," says company artistic director and rising senior at Princeton, Jed Peterson. Written by Steven Schwartz, "Godspell" was originally produced in 1971 off Broadway and later on Broadway by Stuart Duncan (Princeton connection #3), now a reviewer for the Princeton Packet. Based on the Biblical book of Matthew, Schwartz uses a series of songs, games, and parables for a Jesus-like teacher to impart to his "disciples" invaluable moral lessons about the choices life gives us, and the difference between right and wrong.
Closing the season is "The Voice of the Turtle," a vintage romance from the 1940s by John Van Druten. Artistic director Peterson says that he was pleased to find that the play didn’t seem dated, adding that since it is set in wartime, it is relevant to current times. A soldier on leave falls for a young actress. The character of the soldier is a Princeton graduate. (Princeton connection #4.) The play provides a glimmer of hope that love can prevail even during troubled times.
Actors in the company will be seen in a number of roles during the season. Other company members include students from Westminster Choir College and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, with, of course, Princeton students and graduates. Certainly, no actor could ask for a better workout than the one offered this summer to Jed Peterson. In addition to serving as artistic director, he will play leading roles in each of the season’s offerings. Deborah Savadge suggests that one of the best reasons to subscribe is to see these actors’ various performances. "It will be fun for the community to see the same actors over and over in completely different roles."
A rising senior at Princeton, Jed Peterson hopes to start his own company after he graduates. In a phone interview, he says he left Princeton for two years to study at the Moscow Art Theater School, which he believes is the best theater school in the world. He returned last summer with "more maturity," he says, and with a stronger ability to focus in his work.
Since Peterson seems to be the busiest man in Princeton this summer with his duties as artistic director as well as moving from the roles of the perpetrator in "Dial M for Murder," to Picasso in "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," to the Jesus character in "Godspell," and finally to the soldier on leave in "The Voice of the Turtle," I ask how he conjures up the stamina for this schedule. As his "co-conspirator" John Elliott says, "We are all working nonstop." Peterson, likely echoing the sentiments of the entire company, says: "This is the most fun I could expect to have. The work we do here is what energizes me." He admits that some of his academic endeavors during the school year can put him to sleep. "But in rehearsal, I’m energized."
Director Savadge sums up the PST experience: "This is good live theater, performed by people who really have the passion and the energy to do it justice."
Princeton Summer Theater
Hamilton Murray Theater, Princeton University, 609-258-7062, www.princetonsummertheater.com.
Dial "M" for Murder. Season opener is Fredrick Knott’s suspense classic made famous by the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock film. Knott is a Princeton native. Through June 26. $13 to $15. Thursday, June 16, through Sunday, June 19, and Thursday, June 23, through Sunday, June 26.
Stand-up Comedy. $8 to $10. Wednesday, June 22.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Opening night for Steve Martin’s comedy about Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso’s meeting in a bar in Paris. The play is an official event in the Think Einstein calendar celebrating the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. $13 to $15. Thursday, June 30 through Sunday, July 10.
Godspell. Opening night for musical by Stephen Schwartz and John Michael Tebelak. Princeton resident Stu Duncan was one of the producers of the Broadway show. $13 to $15. Thursday, July 14, through Sunday, July 31.
The Voice of the Turtle. Opening night for John Van Druten’s comedy about a Princeton University graduate on military leave during World War II. $13 to $15. Thursday, August 4, through Sunday, August 14. @head 12:Berlind Theater at McCarter
91 University Place, 609-258-2787, www.mccarter.org.
Hamlet. Shakespeare’s classic tragedy re-imagined. Contains nudity. $33 to $48. Wednesday, June 15, through Sunday, June 19.
146 Route 130, Bordentown, 609-291-9000, www.theacademytheatre.com.
The Sound of Music. Opening night of the musical about the Trapp Family Singers. $25. Friday, July 8 through Saturday, July 23.
Nunsense A-Men!. Opening night of the whimsical story of the Order of the Little Sisters of Hoboken after 52 sisters die of botulism. $25. Friday, August 5, through Saturday, August 20.
African Globe Theatreworks
Crossroads Theater, 7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 973-624-1584, www.africanglobe.com.
Black Nativity. Through June 19. $20 to $25. Friday, June 17, through Sunday, June 19.
Bristol Riverside Theater
120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, 215-785-0100, www.brtstage.org.
Broadway in Stitches. Opening night of musical comedy featuring songs from Porter, Menken, Bock, and Loesser. Through June 26. $25. Thursday, June 16.
That’s Entertainment: The Golden Age of the Hollywood Musical. Opening night of musicale featuring movie musicals past and present. Through July 17. $25. Thursday, July 7.
Showstopper Broadway II. Opening night of musicale featuring songs of Broadway. Original production conceived, written, and directed by Edward Keith Baker. Through August 14. $25. Thursday, August 4.
Doylestown School of Music and the Arts
Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, East Oakland Avenue and Pine Street, Doylestown, PA, 215-340-0644, www.dsma.org.
Oliver!. Star Struck Productions. Free. Saturday, July 23, and Saturday, August 6.
Monroe Township Cultural Arts Commission
Monroe Township High School, 732-521-4400.
Picon Pie. Musical tribute and biography of the legendary Molly Picon features June Gable and Stuart Zagnit. For more than 70 years Picon entertained on stage and screen. Tickets available by phone or at www.piconpie.com/tours. $25. Sunday, July 10.
New Jersey Repertory Company
Lumia Theater, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, 732-229-3166, www.njrep.org.
Ten Percent of Molly Snyder. A comedy by Richard Strand about a victim of red tape at the DMV. $30. Weekends Friday, June 17, through Sunday, June 26.
A Child’s Guide to Innocence. Preview performance of a drama about religion, war, and secrecy. Previews Thursday and Friday, July 7 and 8. Opening night Saturday, July 9. $20. Weekends through Sunday, August 14.
TBA. A new play or musical not yet announced. Opening night Saturday, August 27, 8 p.m. $30. Previews begin Thursday, August 25.
5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766, .
Shady Business. Comedy. $23.75 to $25.25. Weekends Friday, June 17, through Saturday, June 25.
Meshuggah-Nuns. Musical based on a group of nuns performing in a production of "Fiddler on the Roof" on a cruise ship. $23.75 to $25.25. Friday, July 8 through Saturday,August 20.
Visiting Mr. Green. Bittersweet comedy about a friendship between two men. $23.75 to $25.25. Friday, August 26 through Saturday, October 1.
Open Air Theater
Washington Crossing State Park, 609-737-1826.
Much Ado About Nothing. $8 to $10. Thursday, June 16, through Saturday, June 18.
1776. Patriotic musical presented by Actors’ Net. Through July 2. $8 to $10. Thursday, June 23, through Saturday, July 2.
Once Upon a Mattress. Family musical. Through July 16. $8 to $10. Thursday, July 7, through Saturday, July 16.
Annie Get Your Gun. $8 to $10. Thursday, July 21, through Saturday, July 30.
Into the Woods. Steven Sondheim musical. Through August 13. $8 to $10. Thursday, August 4, through Saturday, August 13.
The Wizard of Oz. Through August 27. $8 to $10. Thursday, August 18, through Saturday, August 27.
Paper Mill Playhouse
Brookside Drive, Millburn, 973-376-4343, www.papermill.org.
Ragtime. Tony-Award winning musical about three families during the beginning of the 20th century. $31 to $68. Wednesday, June 15 through Sunday, July 17.
Capestro Theater, Roosevelt Park, Route 1 South, Edison, 732-548-2884, www.playsinthepark.com. Bring a chair. $5 adults; $4 seniors; children free.
Miss Saigon. Musical love story centered around the Vietnam War. Tuesday, June 28, through Saturday, July 9.
Aida. Musical love story about the cultural differences between warring nations. Wednesday, July 20 through Saturday, July 30.
Dreamgirls. Musical history of rhythm and blues blended with the behind-the-scenes reality of the entertainment industry. Wednesday, August 10, through Saturday, August 20.
Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey
F.M. Kirby Theater, Drew University, Madison, 973-408-5600, www.njshakespeare.org.
Merry Wives of Windsor. $35 to $49. Wednesday, June 15 through Sunday, June 26.
Coriolanus. Shakespeare’s last tragedy performed outdoors by the NextState Ensemble, the touring company of young actors-in-training. Bring your own picnic, blanket, and chair. Free. Saturday, June 25.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Drama. Directed by Bonnie J. Monte. $27 to $49. Tuesday, July 5, through Sunday, July 24.
Galileo. Play by Bertolt Brecht, directed by Joe Discher. Tuesday, August 2, through Sunday, August 21.
475 DeMott Lane, Somerset, 732-873-2710, www.villagerstheatre.com.
Oliver!. Musical. $18. Friday, June 17, through Sunday, June 26.
Gemini. Comedy by Albert Innaurato. $14. Friday, July 8, through Saturday, July 23.
Bristol Riverside Theater seeks non-equity singers for summer musicals, "That’s Entertainment: The Golden Age of the Hollywood Musical," "Broadway Showstoppers II," and "I Married Wyatt Earp." Auditions are Friday, June 17, by appointment only. Call Amy Kovitch for an appointment at 215-785-0100.
Call for Entries
U.S.1 Newspaper Summer Fiction Issue. Writers and poets are invited to sumit previously unpublished work in any of these categories: short story, humor, play, or poetry. No more than one entry per category per writer. Submissions should not exceed 2,000 words. All entries must be received no later than Wednesday, June 22, by mail to U.S.1 Newspaper, 12 Roszel Road, Suite C-205, Princeton 08540; by fax to 609-452-0033, or as an E-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org (MS Word OK). Poetry, if E-mailed, should be accompanied by a hard copy. Authors retain all rights.
Preference will be given to central New Jersey writers whose work addresses a theme or place relevant to the greater Princeton business community. Be sure to include a brief biograhical sumary with your submission, along with your name, address, and daytime phone number.
Arts Council of Princeton invites artists of all experiences and all media to submit their work for consideration in the WPA Gallery exhibition year. Send CDs or slides with a resume or bio, sample price list, artist statement, and short proposal to Arts Council of Princeton, Paul Robeson Building, 102 Witherspoon Street, Princeton 08542. Deadline is Friday, July 15.
Princeton Public Library invites original films by young people for the July 28 film and video festival. Student films should be 20 minutes or less, from documentaries to animated shorts. Films should be on VHS or DVD accompanied by entry form. Call 609-924-9529, ext 247 for information.
Somerset County Business Partnership seeks entries for a juried photo contest spotlighting Somerset County. Winning photos will be used in publications focusing on tourism and in relocation packages for new employees. Open to amateur and professional photographers 18 years and older who live, work, or attend school in Somerset. Visit www.scbp.org or call Barbara C. Roos at 908-218-4300. Deadline is Monday, August 1.
Princeton Chinese Language School offers language classes, calligraphy, Chinese knotting, and martial arts designed for both Chinese-speaking and non-Chinese speaking families. Most classes are held on Sundays between 2 and 5 p.m. at Princeton Day School in Princeton. The school is also accepting registration for the coming fall semester. Call Nancy Chung at 609-897-1392 for information.
Red Cross Volunteers
The American Red Cross of Central New Jersey seeks disaster relief volunteers. Visit www.njredcross.org or call Lori Freedman at 609-951-2100.
Middlesex County Public Health Department’s Rape Crisis Intervention Center seeks volunteers to provide support and advocacy to victims of sexual violence. A 50-hour volunteer advocate training program begins Monday, July 11, 9 a.m. Call 732-452-5900 for information.