Piedmont Players planning a great season for kids and adults

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 29, 2019

By Deirdre Parker Smith


Piedmont Players opens its new season next week, with the popular play, “Shakespeare in Love.” It opens Oct. 3 and runs Oct. 4-6 and 9-12 at the Meroney Theatre, 213 S. Main St. in downtown Salisbury.

This season has some familiar favorites and a new play by Salisbury’s own Jenny Hubbard, “Room with a View,” debuting in June 2020.

Piedmont has done both the comedy “Rumors” and the musical comedy, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” before.

Both were hits for Piedmont in the past. Director Reid Leonard said people keep asking him to do “Funny Thing” again, and they finally agreed it was time. The previous production was a big hit and starred some famous Salisburians.

The season for the Norvell Theatre, on East Fisher Street, includes more children’s favorites, starting with “Stinky Cheese Man” in November and the annual Shakespeare production, which will be “Romeo and Juliet.”

Two animated movies are the basis for stage productions, as well. “Madagascar” will be in April 2020, and “Frozen Jr.” in July.

Leonard says Piedmont wanted to do “Shakespeare in Love” last year, but they had a hard time getting rights.

This production features fabulous costumes by Ashley Ward of Piedmont’s Eastern Costume Company.

The amazing thing about the costumes, Leonard says, is at the same time Ward was building and altering costumes for the Land of Oz, in Banner Elk. “It was quite an undertaking.”

He says the message he wants to emphasize is “don’t be afraid of Shakespeare. This is a great story and a good stage production with a great cast.”

“Shakespeare in Love” is written by Tom Stoppard, Lee Hall and Marc Norman. Here’s what it’s all about: Young Will Shakespeare has writer’s block. The deadline for his new play is fast approaching but he’s in desperate need of inspiration. That is, until he finds his muse – Viola. This beautiful young woman is Will’s greatest admirer and will stop at nothing (including breaking the law) to appear in his next play. Against a bustling background of mistaken identity, ruthless scheming and backstage theatrics, Will’s love for Viola quickly blossoms and inspires him to write his greatest masterpiece.

Coming Dec. 12-15 and 18-21 at the Meroney is the musical, “Cinderella,” with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, giants in the theatre. It’s loosely based on the 1965 television production that starred Stuart Damon and Lesley Ann Warren. It played on Broadway just three years ago. Leonard says it will be a familiar and sweet show.

With a wicked stepmother and two jealous stepsisters who keep her enslaved and in rags, Cinderella stands no chance of attending the royal ball.

When her fairy godmother appears and magically transforms her reality into a dream come true, Cinderella enchants the handsome Prince Charming at the ball, but must face the wrath of her enraged stepmother and sisters when the spell wears off at midnight. This adaptions brings new life into the classic tale.

“Rumors” returns to the Meroney stage March 5-8 and 11-14, 2020. Neil Simon’s comedy has plenty of farce, and makes for a night of confusion and pratfalls. Leonard calls it character-driven, and a little different from some of Simon’s other plays. It was first performed here 25 or 30 years ago, he remembers.

At a large, tastefully-appointed Sneden’s Landing townhouse, the Deputy Mayor of New York has just shot himself. Though only a flesh wound, four couples are about to experience a severe attack of Farce. Gathering for their 10th wedding anniversary, the host lies bleeding in the other room, and his wife is nowhere in sight. His lawyer, Ken, and wife, Chris, must get “the story” straight before the other guests arrive. As the confusions and mis-communications mount, the evening spins off into classic farcical hilarity.

Following that laugh-fest in another evening of farce and silliness in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” with performances April 2-5 and 8-11, 2020. Salisbury loved the show decades ago and wants it back.

Taking straight from the roots of comedy, “Forum” combines the ancient comedies of Plautus with a vaudevillian delivery. Pseudolus schemes to win the heart of the beautiful virgin, Phelia, for his young master, Hero. In exchange, Hero will grant Pseudolus his freedom once and for all. However, things are never as easy as they seem. Chaos ensues with hair-brained schemes, cases of mistaken identity, slamming doors and convoluted plot twists.

In June, Jenny Hubbard’s play, “Room with a View” premieres, with performances June 11-14 and 17-20. Hubbard is the author of two young adult novels and “Pride & Prejudice,” a stage adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, which was performed at Lee St. theatre.

Leonard is excited about the chance to debut a new work with an original script. He says as soon as “Shakespeare in Love” opens, they will start working on “Room,” doing script readings, deciding on what works and what doesn’t.

Lucy has her rigid, middle-class life mapped out for her, until she visits Florence with her uptight cousin Charlotte, and finds her neatly ordered existence thrown off balance. Her eyes are opened by the unconventional characters she meets at the Pension Bertolini: flamboyant romantic novelist Eleanor Lavish, the Cockney Signora, curious Mr. Emerson and, most of all, his passionate son George.

Lucy finds herself torn between the intensity of life in Italy and the repressed morals of Edwardian England, personified in her terminally dull fiancé, Cecil Vyse. Will she ever learn to follow her own heart?”

Now, what’s coming up for the kids?

First off is “Stinky Cheese Man,” based on the children’s book, which was actually written to poke fun at children’s books. Leonard says nothing is quite right in this play. The actors don’t like the narrator, so they change the story, and then other things start to happen. Performers pick someone from the audience to bring on stage, so it has a strong actor-audience connection.

“Stinky” will also be presented at Patterson Farms for the Arts and Ag Festival, and all the second- and third-graders in Rowan County will see it, as well.

“Stinky Cheese Man,” written by John Glore, is based on the book by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.

If geese had graves, Mother Goose would be rolling in hers.

“The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales” retells — and wreaks havoc on — the allegories we all thought we knew by heart. Though the characters may be familiar, each of your favorite storybook fables is uproariously derailed in this adaptation of the quintessential children’s book of fractured fairy tales.

Next up is the classic, “Stuart Little,” based on the book by E.B. White and adapted by Joseph Robinette. This is not the movie version, but based on the less frantic book. It’s a classic children’s story kids will love.

This is about a mouse named Stuart Little who is born into an ordinary New York family. The many adventures — both big and small — of Stuart Little are brought vividly to life in this story theater presentation. The acting ensemble plays many human and animal roles in a series of delightful scenes that make up the marvelous maneuverings of a mild-mannered mouse trying to survive in a “real people’s world.”

“Romeo and Juliet” by none other than the bard himself, William Shakespeare, will be presented Feb. 21-22 and Feb. 28-29, 2020. Last year’s “Hamlet” was an outstanding production, so this familiar classic should also be exceptional.

An age-old vendetta between two powerful families erupts into bloodshed.

A group of masked Montagues risk further conflict by gatecrashing a Capulet party. A young lovesick Romeo Montague falls instantly in love with Juliet Capulet, who is due to marry her father’s choice, Paris. With the help of Juliet’s nurse, the women arrange for the couple to marry the next day. The subsequent events lead the two families down a road of bloodshed and heartache.

And then for something completely different, “Madagascar” is next. April 23-26, April 30-May 2, 2020. Leonard says this will be fun, based on the animated movie. One of the questions he’s pondering now is “how do you put a giraffe and an elephant on a ship and take them to an island on a stage?” Leonard has some ideas, and so will the kids, who already know all the songs.

Join Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe, Gloria the hip hip Hippo and, of course, those hilarious, plotting penguins as they bound onto stage in the musical adventure of a lifetime. Based on the smash DreamWorks animated motion picture, “Madagascar – A Musical Adventure” follows all of your favorite crack-a-lackin’ friends as they escape from their home in New York’s Central Park Zoo and find themselves on an unexpected journey to the madcap world of King Julien’s Madagascar.

Leonard calls the final show in the Norvell season “the big one.” It’s “Frozen Jr.,” running July 16-19, 22-25, 2020. “Everyone knows it and has seen it.” The challenge this time is figuring out how Elsa can ice the kingdom, on stage. Leonard has seen a clip of the Broadway version and thinks Piedmont can manage that.

Music and lyrics are by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and the book is by Jennifer Lee.

A story of true love and acceptance between sisters, Frozen Jr. expands upon the emotional relationship and journey between Princesses Anna and Elsa. When faced with danger, the two discover their hidden potential and the powerful bond of sisterhood. With a cast of beloved characters and loaded with magic, adventure, and plenty of humor, “Frozen Jr.” is sure to thaw even the coldest heart.

Leonard says planning the Meroney season begins with the basics, five good shows — two musicals — one large and one small, two comedies and one drama.

He says last year was one of Piedmont’s best ever, at both the Meroney and the Norvell. “I’m looking forward to this season. Last year was a fun year and we had lots of people coming.”