The cast and crew for the opening show of Bradford Little Theatre's 20th anniversary season this year includes three people who were involved in the original March 2002 production of Joe DiPietro's comedy "Over the River and Through the Woods."
Co-directing and co-producing the revival that will take place on October 14, 15, and 16 at Togi's Playhouse are two former BLT presidents, Nanci K. Garris and Diane Kerner Arnett.
"It's fun to revisit the very first BLT show that Nanci Garris, Nancy Coder, and I were ever involved in, particularly to help celebrate BLT's 20 years in the community," said Arnett. In the 2002 production, which took place at the former O'Kain Auditorium on the UPB campus, Arnett performed as Italian grandma Emma, while Garris and Coder worked props and costumes; Coder is returning to the production as propmistress.
"First of all, it is a joy and a pleasure to work with Diane again. Over the years our partnership has brought some very successful productions to the BLT stage. What a more fitting way to mark our return than with the show that brought us together and to BLT," co-director Garris said.
As a producing/directing team, Arnett and Garris brought to the stage "The Mousetrap," "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," "Charlotte's Web," "A Christmas Story," "Nunsense," and more. Individually, both have acted and tackled a wide variety of backstage roles with Garris bringing a flair to set designs. Most recently, Arnett directed Garris and Rick Frederick in the two-person show "Love Letters," performed at Kabob's at the Option House in February 2015.
"As for the cast of this show- we couldn't be more pleased," Garris continued. "They are extremely talented, all veterans of BLT, and are great to work with. They already have amazing chemistry and rehearsals have been so much fun. I can't wait to see how fantastic they will be by showtime!"
Set in a New Jersey summer during the mid-1980s. the comedy follows the effort by four Italian immigrant grandparents to keep their grandson Nick from accepting a promotion which would force him to move to the West Coast.
Cast as Nick is Patrick Collins, who performed in last season's "Death and Taxes" as well as various improv shows. "I'm very excited to be once again given the opportunity to work with BLT and to meet and work with more wonderful, talented people," Collins said.
Playing his paternal grandparents, Nunzio and Emma Cristano, are BLT veterans and former board members Charles E. Church and Marcia McAndrew. Fans may remember Church as the creature in "Frankenstein" or the lead in "God's Favorite" among his many roles. McAndrew's BLT credits include "I'm Getting Murdered in the Morning" and "Christmas Belles."
"It's so good to be back with BLT," said Church, who has not performed in several years. "I can't wait to get to know everyone in this cast. I've worked with some of them before, and I know it'll be fun getting to work with them, along with everyone else, this time around. And I'm really glad I don't have to kill Katie this production."
He is referring to Katie Zapel, who plays Caitlin O'Hare, the woman the grandparents spring on Nick, hoping to lure him to turn down the promotion. Zapel had portrayed Dr. Frankenstein's ill-fated wife; she had also appeared in "Disney's High School Musical."
"I'm very excited to be in another BLT production," Zapel said. "This family in this show is just so real. Their love of family and food, the way they describe things as a group effort, their desire for their children and grandchildren to have a better life- even if they don't recognize it- that's a real family. And the way that plays our throughout the show is hilarious."
"Pretend we're not here," maternal grandfather Frank Gianelli says to Nick when they surprise Nick with Caitlin being at Sunday dinner.
"Like that's possible," Nick replies.
Frank is played by Ron Buchheit, who said, "I'm so happy to reunite with Diane and Nanci. I had a great time working with them on Mousetrap and I'm sure this show will be just as fun." Buchheit had also acted in BLT's "Twelve Angry Men" as well as other local shows.
Rounding out the cast is Aida, Frank's wife and Nick's maternal grandmother, portrayed by board member Rawny Reed. The cook of the family, she practically forces food on everyone around her any chance she gets. ("That's their secret, they suck you in with the food," Nick tells Caitlin.)
Reed has appeared in several BLT shows, first working with Arnett and Garris during "East of the Sun." Since then she has been seen on stage during "Shrek the Musical," "Aesop's Fable-ous Christmas Tree," and "The Awesome 80s Prom."
"I love Aida, she's such a wonderful, positive person," Reed commented on her character. "She actually reminds me a lot of my mother, always cooking for everyone and making sure nobody goes home hungry."
The experienced tech crew includes BLT board member Jessica Ann Coder, stage manager; former board member Cindy Graham, costumes; Amy Thomas, make-up; and BLT secretary Chelsea Place, marketing.
Don't miss "Over the River and Through the Woods" at Togi's Playhouse October 14th and 15th at 7:30pm and October 16th at 2:00pm. Tickets will be on sale soon, keep an eye on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/BradfordLittleTheatre) or website (www.BradfordLittleTheatre.org) for more details as they become available.
Take a piece of advice from McAndrew and, "Don't come hungry to this one!"