The Victorian Players Theatre has been straying from its original path in recent years.
As its name implies, the community theater just a few blocks west of downtown Youngstown was all about drama from the Victorian Era (1837-1901), or works that upheld or disproved Victorian values, when it was conceived.
But the current season has almost nothing to do with the era, with the possible exception of H.G. Well’s “The Sea Lady,” which was mounted in March. This season also includes “Steel Magnolias,” “The Farndale Avenue ... Dramatic Society’s Production of MacBeth,” “Greetings,” Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and – opening next week – “Clue, the Musical.”
That’s mainstream stuff, or at least on a par with any other community theater.
So the Vic, as it’s known, has been Victorian in name only as of late.
By the end of this summer, the theater will completely throw off its Victorian roots.
It will change its name, its mission statement and maybe a few other things.
“The name ‘Victorian’ is going away,” said Marlene Strollo, executive director of the theater. “We need to eliminate that perception among the public.”
The original plan of the Victorian, which was founded by college professors, was to do only plays written by authors, mainly British, who lived during Queen Victoria’s reign.
Why? Because that’s what the founding fathers of the theater liked, and since they funded it out of their own pockets and didn’t mind if only a handful of folks bought tickets, they did it.
It’s quite likely that the founders never thought the theater would last after they were gone.
But it did, and the Vic’s board gradually introduced works by American playwrights, and from other eras, that stayed true to the Victorian spirit.
After this summer, the theater’s link to its Victorian roots will be formally severed. But one thing that won’t change is the insistence that all shows be suitable for families: no obscenities or hard profanities.
Strollo said the phrase “the Vic” — which has become the theater’s nickname — might be incorporated into the new name. That’s a good idea, because theatergoers will probably always call it “the Vic,” regardless of what the new name is.
The new name should be in place by August, said Strollo.
The changes are not just a good idea; it’s an obvious and overdue one. A theater that does only Victorian era plays is a niche so small that it probably wouldn’t survive even in a major city.
Plus, the self-funding days are long gone. The theater needs to sell a lot of tickets to pay its bills, and that means staging some crowd-pleasers. As an example, the Vic will present “Clue, the Musical” next week – just the second time the theater has ever produced a musical.
“The only board member who was part of the original group is Tom Copeland, and he is on board with the changes. He knows we have to move into the 21st century,” said Strollo.
“Or at least the 20th century,” said Nick Mulichak, who is directing “Clue.”
The Vic also will begin to add “director’s specials” next season. These will be edgier shows, including a Halloween production of “Sweet Baby Jane,” and will not be part of the regular-season ticket package.
Folks also will be seeing some physical changes to the theater, which is located in an old former church building at 702 Mahoning Ave.
The Vic’s board is seeking grants to change the entrance and make the building handicapped accessible. Plans call for moving the main entrance to the left side, installing a wheelchair ramp and also making the present lobby area into a bathroom for people with disabilities.
Currently, theatergoers have to climb a long flight of steps to enter, and have to go downstairs to get to the bathrooms.
Plans also call for removing the ancient pews that audience members must sit (or uncomfortably squirm) on, and just putting in chairs. This would give the space more flexibility. “We could do theater in the round,” said Strollo, noting that this is still on the drawing board.
‘COME FROM AWAY’ musical is BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER
Youngstown natives Molly Morris and Terry McNicholas are off to a great start as Broadway producers. Morris, of New York, and her cousin McNicholas, of California, are two of the producers of “Come From Away,” the new musical that has earned seven Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical.
It’s the first time the two Ursuline High graduates have been involved with a Broadway show as producers.
“Come From Away” has already won a handful of awards, including Best Musical, from the Outer Critics Circle.
The musical takes place in Gander, Newfoundland, on Sept. 11, 2001, as dozens of commercial jetliners are forced to make emergency landings amid the terror attacks. It’s a true story about how the tiny town pulled together to feed and house about 7,000 people from across the globe.
“Come From Away” – the phrase is what Newfoundlanders call a person who is not from their island – is a feel-good piece of theater.
It is up against “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Groundhog Day,” “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” for Best Musical. The Tony Awards ceremony will take place June 11.
Morris called “Come From Away” an incredibly powerful story. New York was Ground Zero on 9/11, and it might resonate a little more there.
“I hear people [who have seen the musical] say that it’s what they forgot about 9/11 – the kindness that people showed, and how the city came together,” said Morris, calling from New York. “People went out of their way to be nice to each other. That’s the reminder this story gives, even though it’s set in Newfoundland.”
Morris said she will attend the Tony Awards ceremony.