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Posted January 22, 2009 | Leave a comment
Art imitates life: Wayside production set in Great Depression
By J.R. Williams -- Daily Staff Writer
MIDDLETOWN -- In times of economic hardship, Americans always have fought the current of recession by relying on what can't be taken away: Talent, determination and ingenuity.
Wayside Theatre's next performance, "Southern Cross Roads," is set in the Great Depression South and illustrates the country has made it through tough times before.
"Cross Roads" gathers favorite Wayside talent to play a group of musicians on the road. When they arrive at a gig at a theater in a small, Southern town, the doors are padlocked and the piano is for sale outside. For train fare to the next paycheck, they open their instrument cases and begin to play.
Robbie Limon, music director Steve Przybylski, Larry Dahlke, Vaughn Irving and Thomasin Savaiano take center stage with others to play period country, gospel and bluegrass tunes around the story of the musicians' plight.
Setting the show in 1932 was no accident, Przybylski said.
"We went back to a lot of these songs to speak strongly to what's going on right now," he said. "It's about music being vital no matter what's going on in the world."
"Cross Roads" will showcase the musicians' versatility, with many of them switching from guitar to slide guitar to banjo to bass and back again, said Przybylski, who has served Wayside in several capacities since 2001.
The show will be performed in the recently expanded theater, which reopened in July. A week before the show, the set list is still evolving, Przybylski said.
He said one of his favorite songs considered for the show, "Hard Times Come Again No More," by Stephen Collins Foster, might sum up the mood of the show:
"While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay," the lyrics read, "There are frail forms fainting at the door.
"Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say Oh! Hard times, come again no more."
"I think we've got a great group of songs," Przybylski said. "I'm very excited about what's going on in [rehearsals]."
It's hard to ignore the allegory among the wayward musician characters, those who portray them, and the theater house that lets them play.
In many ways, Wayside is playing its way through its own hardship. Actors and musicians familiar with its stage will sing gospel, croon country and pluck energetic bluegrass in the face of declining ticket sales and an uncertain future.
While the show "sounds like it's mired in these woes, it's about hope," said Warner Crocker, Wayside's artistic director.
The theater is in its 47th season, and has "survived through the generous good graces of those that have supported us," he said. But the arts often are the first to fall in tough economic circumstances, and Wayside is not exempt.
In November, discussion began on the best way to cut costs with personnel already down to a minimum. By December, the decision was made to scrap the scheduled production of "Lies and Legends: The Songs and Stories of Harry Chapin" to save thousands in royalty fees.
"Southern Cross Roads" was born.
In addition, some discounted "pay-what-you-can" tickets will be issued for Thursday and Friday night performances.
"We started to make some decisions to keep ourselves alive," said Crocker, who is in his 10th season as artistic director. "As a businessman who is also an artist, it's my job to make sure there's a place for this in our community."
Crocker didn't hide the fact that closing the theater has been discussed, but said that represents a worse-case scenario.
To weather the immediate storm, he said, Wayside has gathered its talent and will carry on in an upgraded theater with a show about hope that "will leave a song in your heart."
The audience "is going to have a great time," Crocker said. "We've found these performers that can play anything you put in their hand.
"These folks are family. They've all been on our stage."
"Southern Cross Roads" will open Jan. 31 at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $23 to $28 with discounts for full-time students, seniors and groups of 20 or more. "Pay-what-you-can" tickets can be reserved up to 48 hours before a show. Single tickets and group packages can be obtained by calling the box office at 869-1776. Additional information can be found on the theater's Web site at www.waysidetheatre.org.
* Contact J.R. Williams at email@example.com
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