Theaters raise bar. Audiences benefit.


I moved from New York City to Brevard in 1977. Always drawn to the theater, one of the very first things I did was to research the area’s community theaters. I found their offerings to be merry ones, but nonetheless thin. Lots of early Neil Simon. Lots of Agatha Christie and Ray Cooney. Lots of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Certainly, those commercial appeals helped grow Brevard’s community theater scene. I doubt there would be such wealth of offerings we have now if it weren’t for the old chestnuts. However, the offerings grew, with few exceptions, anemic until…until…a wave of new, fresh blood infused the scene with theatrical vigor. More vision. More theater education. More sophistication.

Through the decades, the pulse has kept rising until now, we have a community theater scene which matches any in the nation. I see professional regional theater all over the country and I tell you, Brevard is inching ever closer to being just as good. It’s bringing us work rarely seen on any stage: Cocoa Village Playhouse’s “Miss Saigon”; Henegar’s recent “Cry-Baby” and its “The Color Purple”; Melbourne Civic Theatre’s “A Delicate Balance” and its upcoming “Picnic”; Titusville Playhouse’s “Red” and “Parade.”

Damon Dennin and Mary Carson Wouters in 'Picnic' at Melbourne Civic Theatre. Photo by Pam Harbaugh.

Damon Dennin and Mary Carson Wouters in ‘Picnic’ at Melbourne Civic Theatre. Photo by Pam Harbaugh.

Sure, there are still the old standards. Theaters still have to pay the bills. But organizations still find a way to bring in fresh air. Surfside Playhouse amps up its game with regular improvisation programs and Cocoa Village Playhouse puts its toe into the more “for adults only” arena with its upcoming production of “Rent.” It will be the first time the F-bomb will be dropped in that theater for at least the past 25 years.

And the works you see aren’t just fresh…they’re good. Really good. Theater artists — from actors and directors, to designers and crew — are more well trained and deliver the professional goods. In fact, I’ve seen some sensational performances, a handful of those rivaling anything you’ll see on Broadway. And you know how loath I have been over the years to make that comparison.

Alvin Jenkins as Jim Conley in TPI's 'Parade'

Alvin Jenkins as Jim Conley in TPI’s ‘Parade’

Theater artists’ missions include not only to entertain, but also to educate the general public about the world of the theater. Yes, that includes works by people such as Edward Albee, Jonathan Larson, John Waters…maybe even some day by people like Suzan-Lori Parks. Well, no, that won’t be anytime soon. But both Surfside and the Henegar present new works programs. And MCT presents regular readings of contemporary plays.

And the public has responded: The Henegar’s recent “Cry-Baby” broke box office records; MCT is doing so well, it had to expand its lobby space to accommodate all the patrons flocking there; audiences gave a record breaking 25th season to Cocoa Village Playhouse, which after its renovation, is a jewel-box of a theater; Titusville Playhouse had a record 50th season with box office sales breaking $400,000.

Regarding TPI: “Mary Poppins” alone brought in $80,000, more than last season’s “Les Mis” which brought in $63,000. While “Parade” was a commercial challenge, the artistry in it was deep and moving. It’s renovated its house and lobby, moved its second stage to a new space across the street, and will have new restrooms later this year. I know I keep going on and on about TPI, but really….all this from a theater that truly was ready to pack up. A theater that for its production of the musical “Sweeney Todd” budgeted a scant $100 for scenery.

In all, the theater scene here has become invigorating and fun for the audience as well as those who trod the boards. I hope you start your engines when the new season begins. I bet it’s gonna be a blast.

Click onto these links for more information: Cocoa Village Playhouse, Henegar Center, Melbourne Civic Theatre, Surfside Playhouse, Titusville Playhouse.