Everything was looking good for Martin City Melodrama & Vaudeville Company.
After 14 years based in a problematic performing space at a dying mall — Metcalf South Shopping Center in Overland Park — Martin City was forced to find a new home after the mall owners shut the doors for good.
But Martin City founder Jeanne Beechwood thought she had found the answer to her prayers (and solutions to a range of problems) when she agreed to lease a new home in the Great Mall of the Great Plains in Olathe. She and her crew were able to customize the available space into something that actually met their needs for live theater.
Then came the news last week that their worst nightmare was coming true — again. The owners of the Great Mall announced that the vast shopping complex would close in the fall. Beechwood said she’ll have to be out by June, although she hopes to negotiate an extension.
The theater company began life in an old church in Martin City, just off 135th Street and Holmes Road. She’d like to find a way to get back to Martin City, but at this point she has no idea what the future holds.
“I can always rent a theater,” she said. “I can rehearse anywhere. … I’ve figured it out before, and I guess I can figure it out again.”
The news came just as the company was preparing to open two new productions: “Carmen, or Don’t Cry for Me, Martin City,” a musical parody that opens Saturday, and “Practically Perfect Peter,’ a children’s show under the Martin City Jr. banner scheduled to begin performances March 4.
The company has staged “Carmen” before, but this time Beechwood hit on the idea of performing it as a gender-reversed production: Men play women, and women play men — a tradition explored with memorable results by actor/playwrights Charles Ludlam and Charles Busch, who specialized in drag roles.
“This is my ode to Charles Ludlam, Charles Busch and Charlie Chaplin, because they all did things with gender-switching,” Beechwood said. “I thought maybe I’m just a little too old to play Carmen, so we decided to switch it around, and it gave us all these other creative things to play with.”
The title role, she said, would be played by Cody Goeppner, who she said tops out at 6 feet 3 inches.
Accompanying the show will be a musical vaudeville, “Topsy Turvy Toons,” which will feature all six of Beechwood’s rescue dogs.
The production runs through May 3 — which gives Beechwood a couple of months to figure out the company’s future.
“We’ll find a place, but it’s just a big sucker of creative energy,” she said. “This is my M.O. now — to move into dying malls and stay as long as I can. It’s just a big pain in the butt.”