Mural and beautification projects improve Playhouse neighborhood

The Youngstown Playhouse, long a diamond in the rough, is finding that its surroundings are slowly getting not-so-rough.

Neighborhood renovation projects in the run-down Glenwood Avenue corridor and the parkside Idora district have resulted in the razing of abandoned buildings, the shuttering of a nuisance convenience store across the street, and the creation of parklets.

The crowning touch will come in the next few weeks. The Playhouse’s front entrance will get a sharp and inviting new look in the form of a mural on an adjacent cement block building.

On Tuesday, Christian Mrosko of Liberty began work on the giant work of art that will take up the entire side of the building that faces the theater parking lot. Mrosko, a Youngstown State University graduate and a graphic artist who has worked as a billboard artist and as an art tech at the Butler museum, was given the $4,500 contract for the mural by the Playhouse. His proposal depicts a curtain being pulled back on characters on a stage.

Mrosko has done more than 40 murals in the two-state region, many inside high school gymnasiums — including the awesome giant painting of a Tiger bursting through the wall at Howland High’s gym.

His Playhouse mural will be the second this month on Glenwood Avenue: Last week, another one was unveiled on the wall of the old Park Inn building a few blocks south.

Earlier this year, the Playhouse got a $5,000 grant from the Wean Foundation for brush clearing and beautification, including the mural. Additional funding came from the Neighborhood Development Corporation.

Vagrants and crack addicts took refuge in the overgrown brush (crack pipes were found when it was cleared) as well as in the abandoned structures. They would sometimes wander on to Playhouse property and approach patrons. Eliminating their hiding places has taken care of that problem.

The Playhouse also has another bit of good news: for the first time in quite a few years, it is in the black. The theater has been bouncing back from crippling deficits that almost forced its closure just a few years ago. It finished up the recently ended fiscal year with $2,500 in the plus column, said executive director Mary Ruth Lynn.

Salem’s ‘Honky Tonk Angels’ dominates Marquee nominees

Nominations for the Marquee Awards — which recognize excellence in the area’s community theaters — were revealed last week (and were followed immediately by the usual round of disgust, elation, teeth gnashing and conspiracy theories).

Not surprisingly, the Youngstown Playhouse led the pack with 66 nominations. The Playhouse has the best facility, the biggest budget and the longest tradition of excellence. It also stages twice as many plays as most other theaters.

But a real surprise was the success of Salem Community Theatre’s “Honky Tonk Angels,” which earned a whopping 15 nods.

“Honky Tonk Angels” is the story of three women who meet on the bus to Nashville where they are each heading to seek fame as singers.

Gary Kekel and his wife, Cheryl, were nominated for Best Director of a Musical. The three leads — Julie Benner, Amanda Frost and Carly Magnuson — were nominated for Best Actress in a Musical.

Other nods were for Best Musical, Best Musical Director (Gary Kekel), Best Choreography (Carrie Mazzuco), Best Costume Design (Brenda Morris), Best Followspot Operators (Christin Price and Christine Lydic), Best Lightboard Operator (Kathy Fawcett), Best Lighting Design (G. Kekel), Best Properties Design (C. Kekel), Best Scenic Design (Craig Snay), Best Sound Design (G. Kekel) and Best Sound Operator (C. Kekel).

Gary Kekel, who is also managing director at SCT, noted the entire cast and creative team will return this fall for the sequel, “A Honky Tonk Angel Christmas Holiday Spectacular.”

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