The Theatre in the Park opens its 2014 season Friday with a new lawn chair rental, its first Gilbert and Sullivan production and new, air-conditioned dressing rooms.
Until this season, anybody who wanted to sit in a lawn chair had to carry it in through the gates. Now, people can rent lawn chairs for $5 at the theater in Shawnee Mission Park, 7710 Renner Road in Shawnee. People also can book a chair in a reserved seating area for $20.
Things are improving behind the scenes, too.
“Frankly, getting the new dressing rooms is huge,” said producing artistic director Tim Bair. “The dressing rooms accommodate twice as many performers as the old ones and the air-conditioning obviously will be welcome this summer.”
Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance,” one of four shows this year never produced before at The Theatre in the Park, is directed by Kevin Bogan, director of traditional/blended worship at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood. Bogan directed “Children of Eden” last year at the theater.
Matt Richardson of Lee’s Summit, in his first appearance at The Theatre in the Park, plays the Pirate King.
“I was in ‘Little Women’ at the Olathe Civic Theatre, actually the first show I’ve been in since 2003, and Kevin heard me sing. He asked me to audition for ‘Pirates of Penzance,’” Richardson said. “I did and here I am the Pirate King, a perfect role for me. I can be a ham, melodramatic, angry and ferocious and have fun.”
Brian King of Stilwell plays Frederic, who’s just turned 21 and wants to leave the pirate crew.
“It’s a good role for me. I’m actually 38 playing a character who is 21 but my voice is well suited for the part,” King said. “This is a high-energy show and I’m almost always on stage, which can be a little tiring.”
Frederic’s love interest is Mabel, one of the Major General’s daughters, played by Tausha Torrez of Overland Park. Torrez, a voice teacher, is making her first appearance on The Theatre in the Park’s stage, but it’s her third time performing in ‘Pirates of Penzance.” She’s been cast in other Gilbert and Sullivan shows, too, so she knew what to expect when she auditioned.
“The music is challenging, every song has so many words and is fast-paced,” Torrez said. “I enjoy playing Mabel although she’s sort of a typical dumb blonde type, a little melodramatic and over the top, which I try not to be on a daily basis.”
The Major General is played by Curt Crespino of Olathe. This is his 16th show at The Theatre in the Park since the early 1990s but his first time in a Gilbert and Sullivan show.
“I like being the Major General,” Crespino said. “I’m more comfortable in a comedic role and the Major General suits me well. It’s a lot of fun.”
Kay Noonan of Kansas City plays Ruth, who was Frederic’s nanny when he was growing up with the pirates. Frederic assumed he would marry Ruth until he fell in love with Mabel.
“I’m a little older and being Ruth is a good fit for me,” Noonan said. “She’s funny and has good songs. I like anything Gilbert and Sullivan.”
Jakob Wozniak, a Shawnee Mission North graduate who lives in Kansas City, is The Sergeant. “He’s kind of a goofy character, which makes it fun to play,” Wozniak said. “The music definitely is challenging, the songs are so wordy.”
Shows at The Theatre in the Park will continue to run Friday through Sunday for their first week. This year, though, shows the second week will have performances Wednesday through Saturday, with no show on Sunday.
“We made the change because we believe Wednesday will draw as well or better than Sunday and by eliminating the second Sunday show we can begin rehearsing the next week’s show a day earlier,” Bair said.
“Movies Under the Stars” returns this year starting June 10 with “Frozen.” Admission is $1.
Thrifty Thursdays, where patrons save 20 percent on tickets purchased that night at the box office, also is back this year, Bair said.
Curtain time for all shows is 8:30 p.m. The box office opens at 6:15 p.m. Ticket are $8 for everyone older than 10, $6 for children from 4 to 10 years old, and free for younger kids. Tickets are available at the box office and www.theatreinthepark.org.
Plays this year are “Pirates of Penzance” June 6, 7, 8 and 11, 12, 13,14; “Guys and Dolls” June 20, 21, 22 and 25, 26, 27, 28; “Honk” July 4, 5, 6 and 9, 10, 11, 12; “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” July 18, 19, 20 and 23, 24, 25, 26; and “Ragtime” Aug. 1, 2, 3, and 6, 7, 8, 9.
Movies are “Frozen” June 10, “Cars” and “The Love Bug” June 24, “Bolt” and “The Shaggy Dog” July 7, the “Iron Man” trilogy July 22, “The Wizard of Oz” Aug. 5, “When Harry Met Sally” Aug. 12, “The Goonies” Aug. 16, “Easter Parade” Aug. 19, “Cinderella” and “Peter Pan” Aug. 23, “Some Like It Hot” Aug. 26 and “The Lego Movie” Aug. 30.