Youngstown Playhouse unveils centennial season

Wayne Bonner III, left, and Heather Powell perform a scene from “Oklahoma,” which the Playhouse first staged in 1969. It will be part of the community theater’s 100th season. Staff photo / Andy Gray

YOUNGSTOWN — The Youngstown Playhouse will celebrate its 100th anniversary with an abundance of local talent along with some Broadway veterans.

The 2024-25 season will open in August with the regional premiere of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” and singer-songwriter Carole King will be played by one of the actors who did the role on Broadway during its nearly six-year run.

The centennial celebration will conclude with a gala on June 21, 2025, that will feature Broadway stars and perhaps some Hollywood stars as well, Playhouse board President John Cox teased during a 100th Season Reveal event on Saturday.

Youngstown native Michael J. Moritz Jr. will produce, music direct and conduct “Beautiful,” which will be staged at Powers Auditorium for three performances Aug. 23 to 25. Moritz, who grew up doing Playhouse Youth Theatre and was resident music director at the Playhouse in the early 2000s, was one of the show’s producers on Broadway.

“The Playhouse was like a second home to me,” Moritz said in a video played during the event. “I learned so much there, not just about music and theater but about community and collaboration and the magic that happens when we come together to create something beautiful. Those early experiences at the Playhouse have been a guiding light throughout my career. Having the chance to come back and contribute to the Playhouse’s centennial season really feels like a full-circle moment to me.”

Saturday’s event, hosted by Cox and Brandy Johanntges, might have been a bigger production than any of the shows it announced. More than 70 people were involved on stage and behind the scenes.

It included snippets from the two shows remaining this season – the comedy “Here on the Flight Path,” opening May 10, and the musical “9 to 5,” debuting June 7 – as well as songs and / or scenes from the eight selections planned for the 2024-25 season.

It will include three Main Stage productions (the musicals “Something Rotten” and “Oklahoma” and August Wilson’s drama ‘The Gem of the Ocean”) and two plays in the Moyer Room as part of the Griffith-Adler Series (“The Thanksgiving Play” and “Almost Maine”).

All are being done for the first time at the Playhouse except for “Oklahoma,” which was first staged there in 1969.

Tyler Stouffer, who will direct it, called “Oklahoma,” “Among the most groundbreaking pieces of musical theater in history. I can even say with certainty that the art form as it exists today would not be the same without this show.”

More than once, Cox and Johanntges stressed that the actors on stage Saturday haven’t been cast for the upcoming productions and encouraged community members to audition for the shows when the opportunity is available. Auditions for “Beautiful” will be announced in May.

The Youngstown Playhouse started in 1924 in a converted barn on Lincoln Avenue and moved to Market Street in the 1940s before building its current home off Glenwood Avenue in 1959. To commemorate the centennial, archivist J.E. Ballantyne Jr. is releasing two books chronicling the theater’s history as well as a 10-part documentary and a series of 39 video interviews.

As part of the festivities, the Playhouse unveiled a new stage curtain that replaces the one affectionately known as “Big Red” (a new sign with video display will be installed before “Flight Path” opens).

The money for the curtain was raised at a memorial the Playhouse hosted for Nick Cordova, a former youth theater and adult performer who was killed in a hit-and-run accident in Denver last November.

Cox said that curtain will be known as the “Cordova Curtain.” On the side the performers see before the show starts is this patch – “In loving memory of Nick Cordova 1977-2023. On this stage he shared his talents, entertained his community and made lifelong friends. Honor him and do the same. Break a leg!”

Many of those donations came from the childhood friends Cordova made at Playhouse Youth Theatre.

“So many got their start there,” Johanntges said. “If you don’t fit in, sometimes this is where you fit in.”

Two Playhouse Youth Theatre shows were announced Saturday — the “Harry Potter” spoof “Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic” and the musical “The Lightning Thief” — and the theater also announced it is bringing back its Youth Theatre Youth Board.

Cox, who is a pediatrician, said doing theater improves children’s listening and communication skills that will benefit even those who don’t continue in the arts as adults.

“It is something that will translate into real life,” he said. “Here at the Playhouse, for the next several years we’re going to work very hard at starting a youth arts academy and make sure we train the youth and the talent for tomorrow … Youth theater is going to be a big presence for the future of the Youngstown Playhouse.”

Collaborating with other arts organizations also will be part of the Playhouse’s future. Saturday’s event included songs from Rust Belt Theater Company’s “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas,” which returns to the Playhouse in December; the musical “Spamalot,” which Millennial Theatre Company will perform on the Main Stage in July; and a song from “Sunday in the Park with George” sung by Matt White’s Voices of Joy Choir, which will do a concert on April 26, 2025.

“The greatest art of all is collaboration,” Cox said. “If (a) theater does well in Youngstown, all theater does well in Youngstown. I’m proud to bring different artists and different groups and different theater companies to our stage.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Andy Gray at agray@tribtoday.com.


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