Piedmont Players gears up for new season
The first show on tap for Piedmont Players Theatre’s Meroney Theater this season is gaining national attention.
• Check TimeOut next week for a story about Piedmont Players Theatre’s upcoming season at the Norvell Theatre, home of the group’s youth programs.
• View a video of Piedmont Players’ Resident Director Reid Leonard talking about shows featured at both theaters at salisburypost.com
The theater group will be the first to perform the Tony Award-nominated musical “Leap of Faith” since its brief run on Broadway last year.
“We’re the first theater in the country to perform it,” said Reid Leonard, Piedmont Players’ resident director. “Not the first community theater, not the first amateur theater, the first. There was the Broadway production, then there’s us.”
Playbill.com recently wrote a story about the show’s return to the stage, pointing out it is “perfectly suited to community organizations across the country, which may rely on recognizable titles that appeal to local audiences, as well as shows that can accommodate large casts.”
The show was written by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater.
Menken, who wrote the score, is known for his work on “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” Slater has written lyrics for “Sister Act” and “The Little Mermaid.”
Leonard said it’s the music that drew him to “Leap of Faith.”
“Besides the fact that it’s an interesting story, the music is really, really good,” he said.
Josh Wainwright, Piedmont Players’ marketing director, agrees the music is outstanding.
“The music is what most people expected from ‘The Color Purple,’” he said. “The gospel is deep, it’s literally like a tent revival.
“People who came to ‘The Color Purple’ and ‘Dreamgirls’ are going to absolutely love this.”
Wainwright said people who listen to the sound track will wonder “how did this thing not go further than it went.”
“Leap of Faith” is based on the 1992 film about a con-man preacher who has his spirit tested when he attempts to pull one over on a depressed Kansas town.
“The cool thing is that everybody but the preacher seems to have this deep-seeded faith,” Wainwright said. “And a little boy who has ultimate faith eventually wins him over to some degree.”
Piedmont Players will shift gears with the second show of the season with “The 39 Steps,” which features a much smaller cast.
“There’s an Alfred Hitchcock movie called ‘The 39 Steps,’” Leonard said, ‘This is the same story, except everything is performed by four actors.”
Leonard said that means three men and one women play more than 140 different characters.
“Sometimes there are 20 people on the stage at the same time, but only these four actors,” he said. “‘Leap of Faith’ has a huge, huge cast and coming up after that is ‘The Count of Monte Cristo,’ which is a big cast with lots of costumes and set, so this was sort of a good middle between the two.”
Leonard said the comedy, which won two Tony Awards and the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, is “hysterically funny.”
“What’s unique about it is the style and the way the story is told,” he said.
Wainwright said the show will “test the cast.”
“It’s really fast, sometimes they are playing multiple characters in the same scene,” he said. “They’ll have a top hat in one hand and a baseball hat in the other and be switching back and forth.”
The theater group’s third show of the season is “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
“There are all these guys in the area who participate in Renaissance festivals and have acted for us in shows like ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘Cyrano,’ Leonard said. “They love swashbuckling, the swordplay, the period, everything.”
Leonard said the production, which was originally done at the Alabama Shakespeare festival, is “pretty elaborate.”
“It’s a really fun lavish period, so it should be fun to do,” he said.
Piedmont Players will get its first chance to do “Chicago” in April.
Leonard said the Broadway production has been touring in Charlotte for years, so rights for it haven’t been available until now.
But it worked out because Leonard said the community’s “collection of dancers” has finally grown enough to support the show.
“You have to have a whole cast of dancers,” he said. “We worked with choreographer Tod Kubo on ‘Dreamgirls,’ ‘The Color Purple’ and ‘Spamalot,’ so we finally feel ready for ‘Chicago.’”
Leonard said the show has been in high demand.
“Everyone wants to see Chicago,” he said.
Wainwright expects the show to attract those who aren’t traditionally theater performers.
“There are a lot of people who are going to audition for ‘Chicago’ who have never auditioned for anything before,” he said. “That’s always fun.”
Piedmont Players will wrap up the season with “Look Homeward Angel,” which is based on North Carolina writer Thomas Wolfe’s largely autobiographical novel of the same title.
Playwright Ketti Frings won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the stage production.
“I mentioned it to a couple of people and they weren’t familiar with it so I thought ‘OK, we have to do this one,’” Leonard said. “One of the things that we’re supposed to be doing is introducing all types of theater.”
The play, which is set in an Asheville boarding house, is the coming of age story.
“There is a whole series of great American plays where all different kinds of people come into a situation,” Leonard said. “In a boarding house you have this unique mixture of people.”
Leonard said the final play isn’t silly fun like this year’s “The Nerd,” but people will laugh.
“It’s still a comedy, but it’s much more human,” he said. “It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s just a great, great story.
Leonard said he’s excited about the new season.
“We’ve got five completely different types of shows,” he said. “They all start from scratch, we build the sets and design the costumes, so I can’t tell how they will turn out.”