AUBURN – It begins in Spain, returns to Tennessee, and then, by way of a curiously ecumenical cruise, sails up to New York before landing on a rooftop in Russia.

That’s the Community Little Theatre itinerary for its 65th season. It opened Friday with “Man of La Mancha,” followed by “Inherit the Wind,” “Meshuggah-Nuns!,” “I Hate Hamlet” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”

John Blanchette, the executive director, called it “a little bit of everything” – a couple of major musicals, a large-scale straight drama production and the familiar Little Sisters of Hoboken in the fourth and latest installment of the “Nunsense” franchise.

Celeste Philippon makes her solo directorial debut with “Man of La Mancha,” which runs through Oct. 30. Mitchell Clyde Thomas has the lead role in this Tony award-winning musical by Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion. It’s based on the classic Spanish novel “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes and is set in 16th century Spain during the Inquisition.

The score is a musical delight. It contains one of the most moving moments in musical theatre when Don Quixote relates his personal credo in “The Impossible Dream.” Other best-loved songs include “Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)” and “Dulcinea.”

“Imagination is what ‘Man of La Mancha’ is all about,” Blanchette said, “and that’s right in line with community theater – making the most of limited resources,”

Arguing about evolution

“Inherit the Wind” by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee is slated for Jan. 14-29. The 1955 play is based on the actual 1925 Scopes “monkey trial” about the teaching of evolution in Dayton, Tenn.

“Inherit the Wind” has a lot of powerful things to say,” Blanchette noted. He said it’s a debate that continues to this day and hits a nerve across social, regional and religious sensitivities.

A couple of changes have taken place since the theater group printed its 65th season flyer a few weeks ago. Dick Martin will direct “Inherit the Wind” instead of Vincent Knue, and Paul G. Caron will direct the August production of “Fiddler on the Roof” instead of Martin.

Martin said he’s happy directing either drama or musicals. It’s been roughly a 50-50 split over the years, he said.

“Meshuggah-Nuns,” a takeoff on “Nunsense” by the same playwright, Dan Goggin, finds the merry band of sisters who run Mount St. Helen School in Hoboken once again in the theatrical spotlight. This time it’s aboard a cruise ship. The play is a delightful blend of Catholic and Jewish humor when the sisters interact with cruise cast members of “Fiddler on the Roof” who’ve become ill. The sisters and Tevye prove the old adage, “The show must go on.”

This marks the first production with this group directed by Tim Pinkham. The show opens March 11 and runs through March 26.

A great Dane?

“I Hate Hamlet,” which runs June 2-18, is a warmly written comedy by Paul Rudnick. It will be directed by Linda Britt. This is the story of a young, successful television actor who relocates to New York when his series is canceled. He rents a marvelous gothic apartment and is offered the opportunity to play Hamlet onstage in Central Park. But, alas, he hates Hamlet.

His dilemma deepens when he encounters the ghost of John Barrymore, who arrives intoxicated and in full Shakespearean regalia. Barrymore, whose Hamlet was the greatest of his time, engages the young actor in a wildly funny duel over women, art, success, duty, television and even the apartment.

In August, “Fiddler on the Roof” is back – but in the original version, not with the nuns. The show’s Aug. 19-28 run will close the season with one of Broadway’s best-loved musicals. This will be the third time around at this theater group for this perennial favorite, and Paul Caron, who directed it for this group 14 years ago, takes on those duties again. Colin Britt will be musical director.

Blanchette said the board of directors is talking about an additional production – not a season-ticket show – that would be a tribute to Dorothy Eichorn, one of the group’s founding members. It would most likely draw heavily on classic numbers from the many shows she was involved in. These “second season” productions have usually been in late spring.

Cool and comfortable

Blanchette also said it hasn’t been decided whether next summer’s shows will use Lewiston Middle School instead of the older Great Falls Performing Arts Center in Auburn.

“Our being there this past summer was part of an experiment – especially for the air conditioning,” Blanchette said. There are some trade-offs that have to be considered, he said. Lewiston Middle School offered patrons the comfort of air conditioning for the August production of “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” but the theater group had to deal with making sure season-ticket holders got comparable seating at the alternate venue.

Also, there are additional expenses in going off-site, Blanchette said.

Martin, who directed “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” said he liked the more spacious stage and production options at the Lewiston site, but acknowledged that a lot of factors have to be balanced to decide whether alternating venues make sense.

“Our patrons are going to come first,” Blanchette said. “Quality performance space, lighting, comfort and safety are what we need, and that’s true for all the groups that use the Auburn space,” he said.

Because the city of Auburn owns the Great Falls Performing Arts Center (the original Edward Little High School, which has been used for other grades and other community groups since the 1960s), it’s not known if, how or when the extensive renovations needed there might be accomplished.

Season tickets for these shows may be reserved by calling the box office at 783-0958 or accessing the theater’s Web site at www.laclt.com.


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