Located on the York and Ogunquit, Maine town line is a landmark known as the Ogunquit Playhouse. The history of the playhouse began in a small garage in the center of Ogunquit’s town square when Walter Hartwig decided to bring his “Little Theatre Movement” to the small but well known resort.
Hartwig’s reputation and the success of the theatre led to the construction of the present day Ogunquit Playhouse, opening on July 17, 1937. The playhouse distinguishes itself from others in that it is the only summer theatre from that era built exclusively as seasonal.
In 1950, John Lane was hired as general manager, and acquired the playhouse from Walter’s widow Maud in 1951. Under his management, the Ogunquit Playhouse has entertained generations as a community-based arts and entertainment center. Lane retired in 1994, but his legacy and that of the playhouse was secured by the formation of the Ogunquit Playhouse Foundation, a non-profit organization to “preserve and maintain the Ogunquit Playhouse as a community-based performing-arts center.”
Throughout its history, the Ogunquit Playhouse has remained dedicated to providing first class star-studded shows. The 75th Diamond Jubilee in 2007 celebrated with such all time favorites as “Crazy for You” with Rue McClanahan, “The King and I” with Lorenzo Lamas, Ogunquit’s favorite good time girl Sally Struthers in “The Full Monty”, Maxwell Caulfield in “La Cage aux Folles”, and “Hairspray” with Eddie Mekka and Ryan Landry.
The Ogunquit Playhouse is indeed a community spirited organization. In 2008, special performances were offered to school aged children in “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Les Miserables”. The program grew and the playhouse is now able to partner with social services allowing less fortunate children to enjoy live theatre.
Also offered by the Ogunquit Playhouse is their summer Children’s Theatre Program. “Rising Stars” is an introduction to theatre for children aged 5-8. Kids experience basic staging, music, and choreography for a week that culminates in a live performance for parents and friends.
The “Junior Players” program concentrates on developing the theatrical experience for kids aged 9-15. Training continues in enhancing students’ skills, strengthening self- esteem and expression. These players stage a full production on the main stage of the Ogunquit Playhouse before a live audience.
For ages 13-18, the “Teen Showcase” offers advanced improv, dance, vocals, and specialty classes with visiting professional actors. The teens engage in four evenings of perfecting chosen stage selections, and perform on the fifth evening.
This year the Ogunquit Playhouse ended a spectacular musical season. “The Drowsy Chaperone” with Carson Kressley opened in June and had the audience rolling in the aisles. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Sound of Music” never falls short of expectations because of the music alone, but Meg Bussert stole the show as the Mother Abbess singing “Climb Every Mountain”.
Andrew Lloyd Webber took us by surprise with his adaptation of “Sunset Boulevard”, with Stefanie Powers as a dazzling (and surprisingly believable) Norma Desmond. Charles Shaughnessy and Rachel York in Monty Python’s “Spamalot” had us attending for a second night just to be sure we didn’t miss anything.
And the grand finale? “Chicago” with Sally Struthers as Mama Morton. It was hard not to take to heart her rendition of “When You’re Good to Mama”, as Ogunquit certainly has been good to Sally. She has returned in kind with her impromptu socializing and friendly visits to many of the local establishments.
The Ogunquit Playhouse is a treasure. Its success is due in part to its willingness to please local audiences as demonstrated by the audience survey enclosed in the booklets handed out at the end of each season. Audience input is valued, as is evident when the new season announcements are publicized. The 2011 possibilities include five categories, recent Broadway Titles, Musical Review and Off Broadway, Classic Broadway, Family Shows, and Broadway Blockbusters, with several choices listed under each.
My choices in order of category? “9-5 The Musical”, “The Rat Pack”, “West Side Story”, “Lord of the Dance”, and “Miss Saigon”.
Personal knowledge and experiences