Life-long Summer Stager Jackie Serratore took up the task of writing a guest article for the Summer Stage Blog; reviewing Mainstage shows from the past 20 years! Take a look at what the Summer Stage Community had to say when asked a very difficult question…
“State your name, how many years you’ve been a part of Summer Stage, and a tradition that you have with your family?” These were the questions presented to the Mainstage cast of Fiddler on the Roof by directors Marcus Stevens and Rachel Stevens. After hearing proud statements from the cast, I began to reflect on my 18 year “career” as a performer at Upper Darby Summer Stage and the performances that I’ve been a part of throughout the years.
Rob Henry’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a standout moment for me as a seventh grade audience member. This made me wonder which Mainstage productions are unforgettable for others. Polling 100 performers, staff members, audience members and alumni, I asked them to reflect on the past two decades of Mainstage performances and rank the Top 10. Asking the simple question “What was the best Mainstage show?” opened a Pandora’s box of emotions, tears, laughter, memories and stories that I can now share in this article. So let’s begin a stroll down memory lane!
Number 10: Showstoppers 2000 (2000)
Showstoppers 2000 was a musical review of popular music numbers that featured memorable performances songs like “Circle of Life,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Rhythm of Life” and “Cross the Line.” Angela Pomo, staff member and alumni, said that musical reviews could be “hammy or fillers, but our production was none of those things. There were tons of unique songs, incredible dance numbers, and vibrant performances!” Amanda Snarski, alumni, echoed similar memories as an audience member at that time, “I remember watching it over and over. I loved the song choices, staging ideas, and the fact that we were finally able to see some characters and pieces that might not be featured at Summer Stage otherwise.”
Number 9: Seussical (2004)
After all the years of Dr. Seuss being on a page, Mainstage finally brought the show to the stage! From Green Eggs and Ham to the touching story of Horton Hears A Who, Mainstagers brought Seuss to life for audiences just like you! Audience members loved the memorable characters like the Nools, Whos, the funky and fierce Wickershams and Sour Kangaroo to the loveable story of Horton and JoJo. Jeff Boudwin, alumni, said that Seussical was “so much fun to watch and the energy was everywhere. It is the only Mainstage show that I can remember where the cast went up into the aisles and sang and danced at you. I felt as if I was in the show instead of watching it!” John Tarves, audience member, agreed, “The music, the performances, the principals, and choreography were so strong. You left the theatre feeling great!”
Number 8: 42nd Street (2005)
“Allentown? Did you say, Allentown?” This show brought out the tapping skills of many Mainstagers in addition to many new faces to our stage! Set as a musical within a musical, the cast performed classic numbers like “We’re in the Money,” “Forty-Second Street,” and “Lullaby of Broadway.” This high energy musical was a challenge for our cast members. Bridget Enright, alumni and former box office staff member remembered “coming in on Saturdays and practicing in the box office. Everyone in the cast was constantly practicing and dancing all summer to just get the opening number right! Never before had I had 11 costume changes! The cast’s hard work truly did pay off!”
Number 7: West Side Story (2010)
A classic American Musical of rival gangs and a tragic love story. Mainstagers took this challenging script and Jerome Robbins’ choreography and connected with it each performance. Staff Member, alumni, and audience member at the time, Kelly Anne Pipe said that West Side Story had “Amazing costumes and breathtaking vocals. I saw it in previews and proceeded to tell all my friends that they had to buy tickets!” Performer Rachael Ann Lipson (Maria) said, “I’ve never been so grateful to have been apart of such a wonderful production, and I can honestly say I look back on this show as the time I truly grew as a performer and learned the importance of ‘telling the story’!”
Number 6: Beauty and the Beast (2006)
From the beautifully innovative costumes, inventive turntable set design, and magical theatrics, Mainstage’s Beauty and the Beast made the Disney story come to life! Summer Stage’s costume department created beautiful and memorable costumes for Belle, Beast, Gaston, and the entire enchanted castle of characters. In addition, Summer Stage’s Mainstage was one of the first performance venues to perform Beauty and the Beast in this area! Audience member, Drew Martin, said that Beauty and the Beast had an “outstanding cast, set, and costumes. The show was executed wonderfully!” “Be Our Guest” had the theatrics and technicality of a spectacular Broadway show- from choreography to live fire candelabras bringing the cartoon to life!
Number 5: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1997)
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, based on the book of Genesis story, is traditionally set in the location and period of the time. However, Mainstage took a much different spin on the story. Anne Marie Scalies, alumni and former staff member, explained, “Rob Henry (director) totally transformed the show bringing Joseph (Marcus Stevens) in Philadelphia! To this day, I can’t imagine doing the show any other way without Club Egypt, Phillies, Flyers, and Billy Penn!” Kate Humble, alumni, and Joseph audience member recalls that “the whole cast was amazingly talented with both boys and girls playing Joseph’s brothers set in modern day Philadelphia. Even all these years later, I remember that show distinctly above all the others!”
Number 4: Hairspray (2012)
You Can’t Stop the Beat! Mainstage entertained last year with a modern pop musical that took the stage by storm! Hairspray followed Tracy Turnblad’s dream for stardom, equality, and integration during 1960’s segregation. This musical had rhythm and blues in addition to over-the-top characters like Motormouth Maybelle and Edna Turnblad. Staff member and alumni, Abby Shunskis (Tracy Turnblad), reflected that there was “something really special about Hairspray. We looked past the flashy music, dance numbers, and big wigs and got to really tell the story. A story and subject matter that audiences and casts sometimes miss when you go to see Hairspray.” Mary Leigh Filippone, alumni and staff member, said “Of all the Mainstage shows that I experienced as an audience member, Hairspray wow-ed me with its unique combination of spectacle and authenticity. The story’s message rises above the Vegas-like flash and preaches acceptance of self and others.”
Number 3: My Favorite Year (2008)
My Favorite Year is the story of Benjy Stone working as a sketch writer for a live television variety show. Staff member and alumni Dan Luner said, “I loved the whole idea of the story within the TV show! The ending song ‘My Favorite Year’ is so beautiful. I think I can sing that song every year at the end of each summer!” Staff Member and alumni, Allie Steele explained that the cast “explored the comedic and the dramatic moments of the show and supported one another as we brought the story to life. I feel like we introduced the audience to a totally new story full of laughs and a whole lot of heart. It was truly an experience I will never forget.”
Number 2: Titanic (2011)
Without sinking an actual ship on stage, Mainstagers gave audiences powerful imagery necessary for a monumental show like Titanic. Dan Matarazzo, staff member and performer in the production (Mr. Strauss), said that he felt the power of Titanic because the show “helped everyone realize the enormity of the tragedy that happened.” This production also aligned with Titanic’s 100-year anniversary, making the performances especially unique. Olivia Cicalese, current Children’s Theater performer, said that “everything from music to the Moirai were so incredibly powerful and overwhelming. It seemed like the entire cast was truly able to grasp the story and emotion behind it, making it all the more enjoyable to watch.”
Number 1: Ragtime (2007)
Ragtime was one of the first of the modern dramatic musicals that graced UDPAC’s stage. Ragtime tells the story of African Americans, Upper Class White Anglo-Saxon Protestants and Eastern European Immigrants in the early 20th century. Brian Dietzler, staff member and alumni, stated that Ragtime “had so much heart…it ‘upped’ the game for Summer Stage.” A resounding number of people voted for Ragtime as the #1 Mainstage production. Many commented that, musically, the cast sounded professional and outstanding. Kahlin McKeown, alumni and former staff, said that Ragtime was “a moving production with lessons that are so applicable to current times of fear, race relations, and love, even though it is set in the 1900’s.”
Now, as a soon-to-be audience member and alumnist, I’m looking forward to the next 20 years of amazing performances, starting with this year’s Fiddler on the Roof, which opens August 2nd . Every year Mainstage improves and reaches new heights and I am excited to see what audiences think of our amazing production. Even though the curtain closed on these Top 10 performances years ago, their powerful impact is still alive for the performers, staff and audience members that I spoke with- as though the production were only yesterday. THAT is the power of theater!