The Community Theatre League, 100 W. Third St., will kick off its 36th season at 7:30 p.m. Friday with a performance of "Steel Magnolias." The CTL's upcoming season features a range of performances which will cater to every dramatic and musical taste.
"We always look for variety when picking shows," said Jacquie Engel, youth programs coordinator of CTL. "Our play-reading committee has several people on it and we have two subcommittees: a musical committee and a non-musical committee, which means we try to find a balance of shows, and a balance of comedy and drama. We do try to find something for everyone."
CTL executive director Pam Wright said she and her fellow committee members learned the value of taking risks last season when they were deliberating over whether or not to stage "Chicago," a musical which features some scantily-dressed performers.
"That was a difficult decision," Wright said. "Some people were a little bit concerned about doing that show and it went over really, really well. You have to try to get a feel for if your community will accept something that could be a little more risque. Some people thought we were taking a risk. Others of us thought it would go over really well. We weren't sure, but in the end, it was a big success."
The play-reading committee's experience with "Chicago" convinced them to take a few risks when selecting their 2012-13 performance schedule.
"It's the same thing with 'Little Shop of Horrors,' " Engel said. "It's a comedy, but a dark one. I mean, there's a man-eating plant in it."
"We're still taking a little bit of a risk, but overall, we need to look at the bigger picture because we need to have a successful season," Wright added. "We want people to come to the shows and to come back. Whatever we do, even if it may not appeal to everyone, I think the goal is to do a really good job with it, so that those people who are here and enjoy the show are getting the best they're going to get."
"Steel Magnolias," the season opener, will be a change for CTL, which usually opens its seasons with a musical. "I can't remember the last time we started our season with a play," Engel said.
Still, Engel and Wright are confident that "Steel Magnolias" will make for a strong opening to the season. "It's one of those plays that people recognize because they've seen the movie or the play itself," Engel said. "It's hysterically funny and heart-wrenching at the same time. It's about the power of friendship and six women who stick together through some really funny and really horrible situations. It's universal. So we thought it would be a great way to start."
For its first musical of the 2012-13 season, CTL will present "Little Shop of Horrors," which opens Oct. 26, just in time for Halloween. The show stars a floral assistant who discovers an exotic plant with a craving for human blood.
" 'Little Shop' is a dark, completely campy and funny musical," Engel said. "It has a pretty big cult following and the music was written by Alan Menken, who wrote the music for many of the animated Disney movies like 'The Little Mermaid,' 'Beauty and the Beast' and 'Aladdin.' "
"The music is great and we have such strong leads for that show," Wright added. "They're going to really wow the audience."
For their holiday show, CTL will present "Inspecting Carol," a comedy about a theatre group that's staging "A Christmas Carol." The play, which premieres Dec. 7, tells the story of a woman who comes to audition for the play and is mistaken for an inspector from the National Endowment for the Arts.
On Feb. 8, CTL will present "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," which, according to Engel, is "probably the funniest show ever."
"It's the whole gamut of people meeting, falling in love, getting married, having kids and growing old together," she said. "Most of the scenes are just hysterical and it's also really touching and very honest. It's everything you think but don't say."
"Cash on Delivery," which opens April 26, is a British farce about a con artist who has fooled the welfare authorities for years by claiming every type of benefit for the scores of dependents he claims live with him.
"When the government comes to check it out, he has to find all these people to pose as his dependents," Engel said. "It's really funny."
"Annie," which premieres June 14, is a show which needs no introductions. " 'Annie' is 'Annie,' " Engel said. "Everybody knows that show and everybody loves it."
As always, CTL's new season offers programming for audiences of all ages. This season's SPROUTS Theatre for Children program will feature three shows based on fairy tales.
"The Timid Dragon," which opens Oct. 12, is a fairy tale about a dragon who has a reputation for being horrible. "When the queen wants someone to get rid of the dragon, the princess finds out that he's not actually so mean after all," Engel said. "It's a nice little children's story."
"Beauty and the Beast," which is a non-musical play based on the popular fairy tale, will premiere Jan. 25.
"Puss and Boots and Other Cat Tales," which opens March 22, promises to be a visually and soncially interesting show. "It's a show about cat tales from around the world," Engel said. "There is drumming and a lots of interesting sights and sounds. It's going to be something new and different for us."
SPROUTS performances typically cast performers between the ages of 8 and 18, and are aimed for audiences up to fourth or fifth grade.
"We welcome kids of all ages to our SPROUTS shows," Wright said. "Even 2-year-olds. With our setting, it's the perfect way to introduce kids to theatre. Even if they don't really understand, there's a lot to hold their attention: the lights, the sound and the costuming."
The CTL's 36th season boasts a concert schedule as varied as its mainstage performance lineup. "This year is probably our most eclectic," Engel said. "We have a real mix of concerts: barbershop, jazz, country, Celtic and acoustic rock."
This year's concert schedule features "Babershop," a harmony and a capella group; the Williamsport City Jazz Orchestra, which will present a big band concert of holiday favorties; "Uptown Unplugged," an Uptown Music Collective concert that will replicate segments from the iconic MTV Unplugged concerts; "Black Bear Crossing," an evening of toe-tapping Celtic music; and "The Corral," a country-bluegrass band from Jersey Shore.
Wright said these concerts provide a unique experience for both the audience and the performers because of CTL's unique setting. "It's really nice to have a performance space for all of these groups," she said. "They really enjoy the non-bar setting and the non-outdoor festival setting. It's a unique performance experience for many of them and it's fun for the audience to see them so close up."
According to Wright, one goal for the CTL's upcoming season is to attract an audience in their 20s and 30s. "We're hoping some of these shows - especially 'Little Shop of Horrors' and 'I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change' - will appeal to a younger crowd," she said. "We want to draw some people we haven't been able to draw before. Children are a big way to get people to try our shows. We get parents and grandparents. But, I do think the 20 and 30-somethings should take that first step and come to a show this season."
With so much variety, the CTL is sure to have something for everyone. Wright and Engel stressed the theater's diverse offerings, saying they hope people, especially CTL newcomers, will take a chance on these performances.
"Step out of your comfort zone and give it a try," Wright said. "There are new things that we're sure you're going to enjoy. If you've come to our shows in the past, why not come to a concert this year? Or, if you've only gone to concerts, give a play or a musical a try."
"People should check us out by visiting our website at least once a month," Engel added. "We always have something going on that's different and interesting."
For more information, visit www.ctlnet.org.
'Steel Magnolias' opening soon
The Community Theatre League will begin its 36th season with the ever-popular hit, "Steel Magnolias." The show will run at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29, and at 2 p.m. Sept. 30.
CTL is breaking with tradition and opening its new season with a play. This play, however, is unique with a bit of a cult following, due to the popularity of the blockbuster film starring Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts and the rest of the all-star cast.
It is difficult to categorize "Steel Magnolias" as either a comedy or a drama. The story is incredibly funny, to the point that audiences fight back tears of laughter, with heart-wrenching moments that cause tears of sadness, and eventually, renewal. The title alone implies a story with characters who are as strong as steel, yet delicate and beautiful, like a magnolia flower.
Truvy's beauty salon in Chinquapin, La., is the place to be and where all the ladies who are "anybody" come to have their hair done. Filled with hilarious repartee and a few acerbic but humorously revealing verbal collisions, the women discover that real strength lies in true friendship-and love.
Director Kay Hawkes has assembled a group of strong women to play the ensemble cast, including Lorrie Staivisky as Truvy, the owner of the beauty shop; Erica Lomasson as Annelle, her newly hired assistant; Sandie Fairman as M'Lynn, the "grande dame" of Chinquapin society circles; and Trina Stewart as Shelby, M'Lynn's bride-to-be daughter. The cast is completed by two older ladies who add much of the wisdom and comedy to the show. There's the ever-sophisticated Clairee, played by Holly Patton Shull, and the crotchety and irascible Ouiser, played by Cheryl Appleton.
Tickets for the show are $15 for adults and $8 for students and may be bought online at ctlshows.com or by calling the box office at 327-1777, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.