SOUTH KINGSTOWN, RI – This year’s season has shown that the resilient barn theater – known as Theater By The Sea in Matunuck – can outlast almost anything, owner Bill Hanney proclaimed as the curtain fell on the last act of the reduced production schedule.

“This year we survived it all. We’re still here and it’s got us back next year stronger than ever and with a full schedule of what people expect, ”he told The Independent this week.

The theater season ended on Sunday with a near sold-out theater for the award-winning film “Mamma Mia!” and in overtime through an additional unforeseen performance of the American romantic musical jukebox.

A year of change

This production was a taste of what theater-goers have been missing out on from traditional offerings and what’s in store for next year.

The usual price for plays has not been found this year. Social distancing requirements still in place in January made it difficult to plan performances, so theater staff turned to nightclub-style acts, he explained.

In July, it opened the 2021 season with a strong cabaret-style number from Westerly native Nicolas King.

For King’s performance, around 350 people took to the 88-year-old stage. Hanney looked at the audience and said simply, “Thank you very much for coming back to the barn. She’s stood up to so many amazing things… The theater is back and thanks for being there!

The launch of the remaining summer entertainment season brought various musical acts from Broadway and off Broadway, as well as local comedian and singer Poppy Champlin.

Hanney spoke in the interview about the success of this style of performance outside the wheelhouse of the theater.

“They weren’t so good at filling the house, except for Poppy. People love it and will come out. Otherwise, we are not known for these kinds of acts, ”he said.

“People come to the theater to see Broadway shows, not that kind of music review,” Hanney said.

However, something had to be done to open the doors this year.

Theater staff Tom Senter, Thom Warren and Karen Gail Kessler helped create the “2021 Summer Concert Series” of Broadway comedies, air shows and musicals. The highlight was the ever popular Abba production “Mamma Mia!”

“I have a team of people. They make me look good. There is a whole team that makes this possible, including the interns who come for the summer, ”he said, adding:“ It’s almost like having a teaching theater that puts on really good stuff. .

The staff and Hanney have been focused on keeping the doors open – despite all the pandemic restrictions still present when planning for the season eight months earlier.

In the end, the lights came on this year unlike the 2020 season when the scene went out for the summer.

The experience of everything

Hanney said he would welcome next year with open arms as it promises – so far – to allow for a full operation.

It will include the program of plays as well as the reopening of the closed restaurant, an opening night and cabarets after the weekend show where artists mingle with guests and organize their impromptu private shows, he said. declared.

Its 2022 lineup includes the Tony-Award-nominated musical “Million Dollar Quartet” about 1950s rockers Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley.

On the program, he said, “New Cinderella” by Andrew Lloyd Webber, bringing a new take on the romantic fairy tale to life on stage.

In addition, he plans to stage “Footloose,” a rock musical and “Kinky Boots,” featuring songs by pop icon Cyndi Lauper and a book by Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein.

Hanney said he wanted to revive the full experience of “Theater By The Sea”.

“Coming here is more than a show on stage, it’s your whole experience on which you judge us. It’s parking, seating, food and drink. It’s the atmosphere and the feeling you have about us in this 500-seat barn theater that makes it so special, ”he said.

Hanney said that often the public only sees a schedule, but behind the curtain is a huge amount of work.

She starts a year before shows appear on her stage. The contracts, the casts, the construction of the sets, the organization of shows and the sale of season tickets are carried out in the months preceding the opening in the spring of the 85-year-old barn theater. he declares.

The job isn’t something that can be done in a matter of months, the producer added.

“We put on a show, starting from scratch until opening night, from scratch. When you think about it, it’s only for three to four weeks, then it’s gone and we move on to the next one, ”he said.

Hanney said he takes pride in performances designed for local shows and maintains a benchmark in business.

A pause suspended for a moment from a man who can talk nonstop.

“I sat in the theater myself. I looked up and saw the rafters. I watched the lights shining on the stage. I had this special moment – everything is still there, ”he said.

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