Monday, 03 July 2017 09:00

Summer on the Stage: Escape to Whitehall for a slower pace and live theater

Written by  Marla R. Miller
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Entertaining tourists and locals for a century, the historic Howmet Playhouse in Whitehall lights up with live theater every Thursday, Friday and Saturday for eight weeks during the summer.

Whether you’re looking for an evening of escape or thought-provoking theater, there’s something for all tastes — drama, comedy, history and a Michigan premiere. The Summer Theatre Festival season runs July 6-Aug. 19 and offers a new production each weekend. Most of the shows are for mature audiences.

The season kicks off with The Seamstress, July 6-8, set in 1916 — the year the playhouse opened — and enters the life of a wealthy couple. The husband has political ambitions and wants the requisite wife, yet she longs to free herself from an abusive and oppressive relationship. When she hires a seamstress to outfit her for the upcoming social season, it triggers a series of events that unravel the secrets of everyone in the McFarland mansion. 

Back by popular demand, Central Michigan University’s Summer Theatre touring company returns to the playhouse July 13-15 for a triple show weekend: For the Love of Juliet, a romantic comedy in which the leading lady chooses an imaginary man over a real one; Twain by the Tale, a two-act revue of Mark Twain stories, sketches and monologues; and Love/Sick, a pragmatic comedy exploring the pain and joy of being in love.

The Birds, July 20-22, also takes a darker tone and explores human relationships in the face of societal collapse. Based on Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film and adapted by Irish playwright Conor McPherson, strangers struggle to survive in an isolated house and escape the onslaught of predatory birds.

“It’s a new play that has never been done in Michigan,” said Beth Beaman, managing director. “It’s pretty cool that we’re doing it right here in the playhouse.”

Appropriate for ages 7 and up, White Lake Youth Theatre’s production of The Rememberer on July 27-29 recounts the true story of Joyce Cheeka, a young Squaxin Indian girl who is forcibly placed in a government-run school in 1911 and stripped of her culture. As the chosen “rememberer” for her tribe, Cheeka honors the stories, traditions and wisdom of her elders.

Ken Ludwig’s Fox on the Fairway, Aug. 3-5, brings some laughter back to the stage and takes audiences on a hilarious adventure filled with mistaken identities, romantic antics and mischief that sends the uptight members of a private country club into an uproar.

The Seafarer on Aug. 10-12 is another play by McPherson, a mysterious tale set in Ireland, mixing family and old friends with poker, a stranger from the past and the power of myth. Closing out the season, Exit Laughing brings three card-playing friends and southern ladies together for one last card game and wild night out on the town with the ashes of their departed friend.

“Obviously, I’m fond of all of these shows,” Beaman said. “A lot of our shows are really for adults or older teenagers.”

All the summer theater staff is paid, and actors come from areas including Ludington, Grand Rapids, Muskegon and throughout southwest Michigan. It’s an ambitious schedule, with actors expected to know their lines by the time they arrive for rehearsals.

This summer marks the 10th anniversary since the City of Whitehall took over the playhouse, producing professional summer theater and hosting concerts, movies and special events during the off-season. Beaman is the only full-time employee and manages the facility.
“We have 5,000 patrons a year,” she said. “We have summer residents, tourists, locals and people coming into the marinas.”

2017 Summer Theatre Festival
Howmet Playhouse
304 S. Mears Ave., Whitehall
July 6-Aug. 19, 7:30 p.m., $21 adults, $17 students, (231) 894-2540, (231) 894-4048

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