50th season comes to a close at Millbrook

MILL HALL – As the stage lights have gone down at the Millbrook Playhouse, its artistic director recently summed up the highlights of its historic 50th season.

Although the doors of the old barn playhouse have been closed, plans are already underway for next year’s programs, projects and attractions. Theresa K. Pond, winding up her second year as artistic director, crunched some impressive numbers.

“We met our goal of picking plays and musicals from the last five decades and tossing in some new shows, staging what our patrons wanted to see and others that they didn’t know they wanted to see until they saw them,” she said.

Having seen shows at Millbrook for more than 40 years and having missed only a handful in the last 20 years, I can attest to the impressive quality of Millbrook productions in recent years.

The 2013 season was historic in many ways. Millbrook’s successes were triggered by audience-pleasing selections, expert direction, music and choreography, with a nice balance between New York and community actors.

Pond pointed out one unique feature, namely that Millbrook utilizes two stages: the upstairs Main Stage and the informal downstairs Cabaret.

“If we were a one-stage facility, then most likely we would have to stick to almost entirely musicals. But here we have the Cabaret, which allows actors (who don’t sing) to perform in a wide variety of shows, comedies and dramas,” Pond said. “Comedies and the frantic farces always draw people to the theater. But again this year, the Millbrook lineup included a taunt thriller, which points to the diversity of attractions.” This summer, “Grease” and “The Sound of Music” led off the Main Stage, with both racking up big box-office numbers. “Grease” had an exceptional 92-percent capacity and “The Sound of Music” had a solid 80 percent.

Even though “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which Pond directed, had lower numbers, the Shakespeare classic was a both an artistic and box-office success. The Patsy Cline musical “Always, Patsy” drew many first-time patrons, who savor the country-and-western musical.

The Cabaret saw avid crowds attending the recently released farce “Boeing, Boeing,” with the habit-forming musical “Nunsense A-Men!” selling out its scheduled run and five hold-over performances.

Importantly, some shows were seen more than once and many patrons checked out Millbrook for the first time.

Although Clinton County residents make up the bulk of audiences, Centre County, despite its own Penn State Centre Stage summer attractions, supported Millbrook in greater numbers and Lycoming County theatergoers grew substantially as well.

This year saw opening nights move from Thursdays to Fridays, with no negative feedback. Pond was pleased as Friday openings meant more rest for cast and tech crews. Another change this summer had the popular Courtyard Cabaret limited to Saturdays, which compressed attendance and also worked well. Her second year as artistic director was a learning experience for Pond.

She was happiest with the new company of interns who coordinated the popular children’s shows. A second theater camp was added, a non-muiscal for youngsters who didn’t have a yearning to sing and dance.

Pond echoed the note of gratitude from Erla Mae Fredrick, president of the board, who thanked all the volunteers, sponsors and businesses. “The broad segment of our community and supported our 50th season, and this was another reason to celebrate.”

Pond, who will travel out west in coming weeks, but will probably stay stateside till Millbrook presents its holiday show at the Lock Haven Moose in December, will formulate next season’s plans from her home in Alaska.

With the eventual removal of the center stage column and some remaining roof work upstairs, there’s more immediate plans to winterize the downstairs Cabaret, so that life on the wicked stage can extend beyond Labor Day.

2013 was a summer of “classic” theaterfare that Millbrook hopes to build upon to keep the “magic,” which is live professional productions alive, at “the Barn.”

For more info, visit www.millbrookplayhouse.org.