Art Notes: We the People opens big musical Friday night

Actors Alex Rushton and Jamie Ellis run through a rehearsal of We the People Theater's production of

Actors Alex Rushton and Jamie Ellis run through a rehearsal of We the People Theater's production of " Something Rotten" on Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in White River Junction, Vt., at the Briggs Opera House. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Director Richard Waterhouse works with actors Stephen Dunn and Miranda Scott before the start of their dress rehearsal for We the People Theater's production of

Director Richard Waterhouse works with actors Stephen Dunn and Miranda Scott before the start of their dress rehearsal for We the People Theater's production of "Something Rotten" on Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in White River Junction, Vt., at the Briggs Opera House. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

Arlynn Polletta prepares for a dress rehearsal at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, Vt., on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. We the People Theater's production of

Arlynn Polletta prepares for a dress rehearsal at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, Vt., on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. We the People Theater's production of " Something Rotten" opens on Friday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-03-2024 5:31 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — In its relatively short history, We the People Theatre has specialized in sweeping musical theater projects, starting with productions of “1776” and “Working.”

The coronavirus pandemic put an end to the company’s momentum, halting a production of “Man of La Mancha” just as it was going to open in March 2020.

While the company produced “All Together Now,” part of a global effort to restart theater in the fall of 2021, it hasn’t returned to its previous form until now. We the People opens a big musical Friday night in the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction.

There is a slight difference in approach , though. Where previous shows took on history and social issues, this one, “Something Rotten,” is an uproarious comedy that’s about theater itself.

“I picked it because I feel like we’ve gone through such a challenging time,” Perry Allison, a founder of the company and co-producer of “Something Rotten,” said in an interview. “We wanted to do something lighter.”

The show satirizes theater in two directions. It’s set in Shakespeare’s era, but focuses on a pair of fictional brothers who are also in the theater business and struggle to outdo their illustrious competitor. “Something Rotten,” first produced on Broadway in April 2015, also functions as what Allison called “an homage to the musical theater tradition.”

The opening of “Something Rotten” means both of White River Junction’s theaters will be offering deconstructions of their medium. Northern Stage’s production of “The Play That Goes Wrong” runs through April 14.

We the People is a kind of hybrid theater company — part-professional, part-amateur — for which the Upper Valley is becoming well known. Parish Players is another example.

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Allison said she’s been pleasantly surprised by the new crop of young actors who turned out for the show. With a cast of 24, she needed a big response. The show also has a larger pit band, of nine musicians, than any previous We the People production.

“It’s a big show in terms of what everyone has to do in it,” Allison said, noting that the ensemble is onstage and acting for pretty much the whole show, including six big production numbers full of singing and dancing.

Allison also singled out costume designer Beth McGee for designing and making both the heavy, ornate costumes that evoke the show’s late-16th-century era and whimsical costumes for actors playing dancing eggs and an omelet.

The overall idea, Allison said, is to entertain.

“I hope that they will come away feeling like, ‘How much wonderful local talent there is,’ ” Allison said.

We the People Theatre’s production of “Something Rotten” runs through April 21. For tickets ($15-$30) and more information, go to wethepeopletheatre.org.

Theater on the horizon

This space has been pretty heavy on theater in recent weeks, but with good reason. There’s an awful lot of it, and it tends to be pretty great.

Two other theater companies have shows in the works in the next few weeks that will merit wider attention.

First up, April 18 to 20, is a production by the Thetford-based Parish Players of “Proxy,” a new play by Kenneth Burchard, a retired doctor who lives in Hanover, and directed by the redoubtable Hetty Thomae, of Norwich. The play is a drama about people afflicted with Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental illness in which a person creates the appearance of poor health in someone in their care, often a child. This will be the first full production of the play, which Parish Players is calling a “world premiere.”

Then, on April 20 and 21, JAG Productions will bring Tyrone Davis Jr.’s one-person show “The Lesson” to AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon. This show is the first in JAG Underground, a series of three shows in different Upper Valley venues. All are consistent with JAG’s reputation for daring theater on challenging subjects. “The Lesson” dramatizes how a teacher’s honest response to an elementary school student’s question leads to the kind of controversy that’s become all too predictable in the current era.

Subsequent JAG Underground shows include a cabaret-style evening at Sawtooth Kitchen in Hanover, on May 18 and 19, and a Sondheim tribute at Briggs Opera House on June 14 and 15. Tickets are available now through jagproductionsvt.com.

In residency

A pair of local venues is holding residencies with musicians this week and next.

This week, Lebanon Opera House welcomes The String Queens, a trio of women who teach school by day and play everything from classical music to jazz, soul and pop in the evenings. They played Wednesday morning for a school audience, joined by Upper Valley Music Center students. A free concert Thursday night is pretty much booked up, but with the lousy weather, there’s likely to be some cancelations. Call 603-448-0400 or go to lebanonoperahouse.org to get on the waitlist.

And next week, Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph hosts the Zimbabwean band Mokoomba. The six-person ensemble will play at elementary schools in Windsor and Orange counties ending in a concert at the Chandler next Friday, April 12.

First Friday

JAM (Junction Arts & Media) hosts In Security // In Community, a multi-media exploration of our relationship to housing, from 5:30 to 7 on Friday evening at JAM HQ in the Gates-Briggs building on South Main Street in White River Junction. The installation features work by multimedia artist Corrine Yonce and video artists Jordyn Fitch and Maeve Littau, and local housing advocates also will be on hand.

And other art venues in WRJ will have events and receptions open to people eager to get out after the snowstorm.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.