By GUY D’ASTOLFO
After more than a decade of staging dinner-theater at Dutch Village Inn, 34west Productions is moving on.
The theater company, known for original works and a fun and wholesome style, is moving to Charleston, S.C., where it will occupy a cabaret-style venue.
Its production of “Jimmy D’s Holly Jolly Christmas,” which opens Friday, will be its last at Dutch Village.
Stephen Wayne and Jeff Querin founded 34west 13 years ago and serve as company directors and also actors. Wayne writes most of their shows.
The move to Charleston has long been a goal, said Wayne, and the time to do it is now.
“Jeff and I aren’t getting any younger, and we’ve been looking at the next 10 years and the long-term goals for 34west,” said Wayne. “Opening our own facility has always been the dream. The timing’s right. It was tough though, because the shows at the inn have been popular for several years now, so the decision did not come easy.”
At its Charleston venue, the audience will sit at small cafe tables in an intimate room with a capacity of between 50 and 75. Cocktails and light food offerings will be available.
Wayne and Baldwin got the idea after playing at similar settings while on tour. It seemed like the right situation.
“If we can pull this off with our style of ‘feel-good’ theater, then we might be on to something,” said Wayne.
34west has an extensive repertoire of shows that it has created, and it will continue to produce them in the new location. But it will also add some classic works that fit well in an intimate space, said Wayne.
“Over the years, we’ve always tried to explore interests of ours,” said Wayne. “When we started out, we created quirky adaptations of Biblical stories. Then we started creating more comedies, and now this past year, we’ve focused more on musicals like our 1920s show, ‘Speakin’ Easy,’ which we took Off-Broadway this past fall.
“So now we’re interested in what it would be like to have a permanent space where we can workshop new productions and see where it takes us.”
Why did they pick Charleston, a stately and beautiful oceanfront city that oozes history and Southern charm?
Wayne cited its vibrant cultural scene, sense of the past and appreciation for the classics.
“There’s also a laid-back side that enjoys light-hearted fare,” he said. “We’ve produced in Charleston a couple of times and the shows got a great response.”
Another factor, he said, is the year-round warm climate. Winter in Northeast Ohio can put a damper on ticket sales.
The final show at Columbiana will fit in with the season.
“Jimmy D’s Holly Jolly Christmas” centers on an offbeat family at a holiday barn party. The high-energy comedy features quick changes, slapstick comedy and down-home music.
Wayne stars as Uncle Dwight, with Querin, Magdalyn Donnelly and Nathan Gurr rounding out the cast. Each actor plays multiple roles and contributes musically.
But “Jimmy D’s” won’t be the final event. As a one-night-only last hurrah, 34west will present its popular comedy “We Go Everywhere Together,” in which the two principals play aging men — one can’t see and the other can’t hear.
“It’s ironic, because in real life we are the two old guys,” said Wayne. “It’s kind of a fun way to say goodbye and have a party at the same time.”
Wayne and Querin started 34west in 2000 but considered pulling the plug after two seasons. Then Dutch Village Inn offered the stage partnership, which gave the young company an opportunity to grow and build a following.
In 2006, 34west added shows at The Amish Door Village in Wilmot, Ohio.
Shortly thereafter, it opened an office and living space in New York in order to produce shows there.
Since its inception, the company has written and produced more than 40 plays, musicals and interactive mysteries.
Wayne said that even after it moves, 34west will occasionally return to the Youngstown area for performances.