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YEAR IN REVIEW

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The Heights Players’ 49th season will include old favorites, new material and, a special treat for subscribers, a two-for-the-price-of-one double-bill with Tony Kushner’s "Angel’s in America."

"’Guys and Dolls,’ ’Anything Goes’ and ’South Pacific’ are very popular," member-at-large John Bourne told GO Brooklyn. "We’re also doing the new plays this year hoping to get more people interested."

The season kicks off on Sept. 10 with one of Neil Simon’s later plays, "45 Seconds from Broadway," directed by Susan Montez. The comedy consists of four slice-of-life pieces, all set in a restaurant located in the theater district. The establishment is frequented by a comic, a Broadway star, a producer and an aspiring actress, or as Bourne says, "a typical Neil Simon group of people discussing theater." The play runs through Sept. 26.

The Heights Players’ second production is the old war-horse - but forever young - "Guys and Dolls." Based on Damon Runyan’s colorful short stories of Broadway gamblers and their women, and blessed with a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and a score by Frank Loesser, this play has proved to be a perennial favorite on stage, on film and, most originally, on Broadway in 1976 with an all-black cast. Ellen Pittari directs. "Guys and Dolls" will run Oct. 8 through Oct. 24.

With "Look Homeward Angel," the Heights Players takes a turn toward more serious drama. Ketti Frings’ drama, based on Thomas Wolfe’s novel, is a powerful coming-of-age story about a teenage boy whose thirst for knowledge takes him beyond the borders of his mother’s boardinghouse. It won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics Circle Award.

"The play has been on our list for a long time, but we’ve never done it before," says Bourne. "It’s a strong play, and we’ve got a new director, Fabio Taliercio, who made his debut here with Agatha Christie’s ’Toward Zero.’ He also played the lead [Tommy Albright] in ’Brigadoon’ and he’s stage managed a few shows."

Bourne told GO Brooklyn that when Wolfe wrote the book he was living on Verandah Place in Cobble Hill. Years later, says Bourne, Barbara Elliot, a former Heights Players president, lived in that very same apartment. "Look Homeward Angel" runs Nov. 5 through Nov. 21.

With all the buzz over "De-Lovely," Irwin Winkler’s new movie about the life of Cole Porter, "Anything Goes," a popular 1930s musical that introduced many Porter standards - "I Get a Kick Out of You," "All Through the Night" and "You’re the Top" - certainly makes a timely arrival on the Heights Players’ stage.

Although the musical, about society folk and con men aboard a transatlantic ocean liner, was originally conceived as a vehicle for stars Ethel Merman, William Gaxton and Victor Moore, its continued popularity goes well beyond star value. Steve Velardi directs. "Anything Goes" runs Dec. 3 through Dec. 19.

The Heights Players will present "Angels in America," Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about AIDS, politics, sex and religion, in its entirety with both "Millennium Approaches" and "Perestroika."

"[Director] Robby [Weinstein] liked the play. He asked if he could do both parts," Bourne explains. "When subscribers hand over their vouchers for the first show, the vouchers will be punched and given back for the second show." Part One runs Jan. 7-9, Jan. 13 and Jan. 14; Part Two runs Jan. 15, Jan. 16 and Jan. 21-23.

"The Hobbit," Patricia Gray’s adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s novel, is a fantastical adventure that appeals to theatergoers of all ages.

"We’re doing this play for the first time," says Bourne. "It’s something for the entire family." Bill Wood directs. "The Hobbit" runs Feb. 4 through Feb. 20.

"Stalag 17" is best known as Billy Wilder’s classic 1953 film. But it was originally a stage play that went to Broadway by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski.

Bevan and Trzcinski had both been prisoners of war in Germany, and their story of a group of American POWs trying to discover the traitor among them has the ring of authenticity. Ed Healy directs. "Stalag 17" runs March 4 through March 20.

"When Ed [Healy] came up with a play for 17 men [’Stalag 17’] and no women, people asked me to do ’The Women,’" says Bourne, who is scheduled to direct Claire Boothe Luce’s classic 1930s comedy about feminine folly.

"It’s about a woman whose husband has been cheating on her. Her friends get her to go for a divorce in Reno where interesting things happen," Bourne says.

There are 32 female speaking roles in this play, but Bourne, who did the play for the Heights Players years ago, claims he can make due with 25, because "there are roles that can be doubled up." Viewers can judge for themselves when they attend a performance of "The Women," which runs from April 1 through April 17.

The Heights Players wrap up the season with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s "South Pacific" directed by Thomas Tyler. The tale of two sets of lovers on an island in the Pacific during World War I is the vehicle for some of the duo’s best-loved songs - "There’s Nothing Like a Dame" and "Some Enchanted Evening."

When the Heights Players produced the show back in 1972, Broadway star Mitch Gregg ("No Strings," "The Unsinkable Mollie Brown," "Music in the Air") took the role of Emile de Becque.

"He was 65, but so good-looking you wouldn’t know it," recalled Bourne.

The Heights Players is Brooklyn’s oldest, self-sustaining, not-for-profit community theater. This year, the seasoned company may offer the most value of the season.

The Heights Players season runs Sept. 10 through May 22. Performances take place at 26 Willow Place at State Street in Brooklyn Heights. Subscriptions are $80 for 9 tickets and $150 for 18 tickets. For more information, call (718) 237-2752.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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