White Plains Performing Arts Center sets season: ‘Cats,’ ‘Secret Garden ‘Tenor’

by Peter Kramer

WHITE PLAINS — Three words are guiding Jeremy Quinn as he plans the 2011-12 season in the latest makeover of the White Plains Performing Arts Center, http://www.wppac.com/directions_parking.html/

“Family, family, family,” he says, adding: “We want to do well-known, family friendly, recognizable award-winning titles.”

In other words, not what was done last season.

WPPAC endured a rocky spring, canceling the final production of its 2010-11 season and losing the team that had reimagined the City Center venue as a home for new works. Gone are executive director Laurence Holzman, literary manager Felicia Needleman and artistic director Annette Jolles.

Gone, too, are brand-new works.

Still here is Quinn, the man behind the theater’s successful Conservatory youth theater, who is now producing artistic director at the theater next to the multiplex on the top floor of the City Center mall in downtown White Plains.

Quinn is sticking to the tried and true in a three-show season.

First up is the 1983 Tony-winning best musical, “Cats,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ode to T.S. Eliot, Dec. 9-18 and Dec. 28- 30. Quinn will direct, with the choreography by Greg Baccarini, who choreographed the show at Nyack High School years ago. Musical director will be Kurt Kelley, who served the same role at Nyack.

Ken Ludwig‘s opera-based straight comedy “Lend Me a Tenor,” which was nominated for the best-revival Tony in 2010, will play WPPAC March 9-18.

In the spring, the 1991 Tony-winner for best book of a musical, “The Secret Garden” (based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett) takes to the mainstage, running May 11-20.

Another big shift will be Quinn’s efforts to renegotiate the venue’s contract with Actors’ Equity, the union for professional actors, that sets pay scales and work rules. Last season’s contract was for all-Equity casts.

“We want our shows to be a mix of Equity and non-Equity,” Quinn says. “We don’t want to close the door to Equity, but we want the best person for the job to get the job and for it to be accessible to as many actors as possible, especially local talent.”

This is the latest chapter in the history of the venue, which opened in November 2003 and has gone through several makeovers.

First, the 400-seat theater was a city-subsidized community-minded center that presented its own works, brought in shows from other companies and made itself available for public use. The first act presented was the Flying Karamazov Brothers.

The theater has been defying death ever since, with a rotating chorus of directors, artistic directors and visionaries: from Tony Stimac, who also led Nyack’s Helen Hayes Theater Company until its demise in 2005 to Jack W. Batman, who, in 2007, reimagined the theater as a home for quarter-million-dollar musicals.

Corporate donations kept the theater going for nearly two seasons, bringing Tony nominee Robert Cuccioli here in “Camelot” and “Man of La Mancha” and Broadway veteran Nick Wyman in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

But try as Batman might, he couldn’t succeed in the business of presenting productions in White Plains when the economy soured.

Pair that with a city in a financial crisis — and the loss of the city’s annual $100,000 subsidy to the theater — and you have what board President John Ioris called a “perfect storm of events” that put the venue in peril.

For 18 months Ioris and an executive committee held down the fort, overseeing the establishment of a youth theater (under Quinn) and presented concerts by Broadway stars. The concerts, Ioris said, fed a subscriber base hungry for Broadway-caliber music and kept the venue on people’s radar.

Then last summer Holzman, Needleman and Jolles entered the picture, vowing to present new works only. The first two were musicals by Holzman and Needleman directed by Jolles: a serious “Wallenberg,” about the WWII Swedish diplomat, and “That Time of the Year,” a revue of Christmas and Hanukkah songs.

Then came two plays, “Passion of the Hausfrau” and “Renovations” and the cancellation of a musical adaptation of “Enchanted April,” which was replaced by a weekend of tap dancing.

What you can do

• Details and subscription information are available atwww.wppac.com.
 The White Plains Performing Arts Center is at 11 City Place. 914-328-1600.

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