The New Millennium
With the beginning of 2000, MLT was facing new dynamics and responsibilities with the acquisition of the old brick fire house on School Street as our new home. An architect was hired and work began on weatherizing the building with the installation of a new roof, new windows and the pointing of the bricks.
On the performance front, “Love Letters” was staged at the Marblehead Art’s Association’s historic Hooper Mansion in celebration of Valentine’s Day. In conjunction with the Marblehead’s 350th Anniversary, a play writing contest with a historic theme was held and the winner was “Agnes’ Bargain” by Raymond Smith which was performed as a stage reading at the Festival of Arts. The big musical for 2000 was Meredith Willson’s splendid “The Music Man” with a cast of 76 marching through River City, Iowa performing the rousing “76 Trombones Led the Big Parade”.
The next year saw us once again at the Hooper Mansion with a performance of “The Love Course” which was later taken to competition at Brandeis University where it received nominations for Best Actor, Best Actress, Supporting Actor and lighting. The annual play competition winner”A Mother in My Head” by Chris King was performed during the Festival of Arts. The fall musical, “The Sound of Music” was a first for MLT and was Henry Dembowski’s first directorial effort with our group as well. The von Trapp children were double cast and the production proved to be a delight for our audiences.
In the succeeding years, MLT has continued to thrive. Henry Dembowski led the group as President as well as directed such wonderful productions of “Oliver, the Musical”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, “Peter Pan” (the biggest money maker in MLT’s history), and “Beauty and the Beast” (the biggest budget in MLT’s history). In addition, a Board of Trustees was established under the leadership of Charles Gessner to oversee the renovations of the fire house as well as undertake the important role of fundraising. The results were that the fire house received an occupancy permit for the first floor.
In 2006, a major milestone for MLT was achieved with the gala opening of “Our Town” directed by John Fogle at the brick firehouse on School Street. With Dixie Land music playing and spotlights in the sky, the sold out house was testimony to all the dedicated efforts of so many in making this dream come true. In 2007, New England was again the setting with our spring production of “On Golden Pond” directed by John Fogle once again. With the new terrace with the inscribed bricks in place, our audiences could readily see the progress that we ongoing at the fire house.
Other new programs were just as exciting. Under the skilled leadership of Ginny Morton, Children’s Classes in Theater began and proved to be a rousing success with very professional presentations by the students at the completion of each session. In addition, the Friday Films at the Firehouse became a weekly tradition with each month’s theme of classic films delighting our loyal audiences who marveled at the 10’ x 12’ screen, nine speakers and the joy of sharing a movie experience.
With a new Board of Directors in place, work has begun in earnest on the fall production of “The Wizard of Oz” which should prove to have mass audience appeal.
One success in 1955 by members of the drama committee of the Marblehead Woman’s Club, ignited the desire to tackle bigger and better things. Encouraged by the response to a one act play, “The Charm Racquet”, the women decided to next produce a three-act play and then went one step bolder by deciding to form a community theatre group.
Marblehead Little Theatre’s first full scale production was Moss Hart’s “Light up the Sky”. While casting the show, it became evident that a much larger group was needed and so, husbands, sons, daughters, and friends were enlisted. The show opened on January 18, 1956, at the Marblehead Junior High School Auditorium.
And so Marblehead Little Theatre (MLT) was born and now over five decades later has proven to be one of the oldest community theatre groups in New England as well as one of the few to have continually produced shows each year.
Throughout the fifties, MLT held its main productions at the High School using the proscenium stage. As the group gained recognition, they were asked to perform at churches, charity functions, and veteran’s hospitals and began including a number of one act plays suitable for these occasions. MLT has also performed “Leonardo da Vinci” as a children’s presentation at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
By the sixties, MLT was not only doing workshops such as “J.B.” and “The Lady’s Not For Burning”, but they also ventured into the new theatre of the absurd with. “Zoo Story” and “The Bald Soprano”. In 1963, MLT was invited to participate in the Marblehead Arts Festival, performing two one act plays on an outdoor stage.
A big leap was made in the mid sixties by the decision to take the plunge and do a musical. They got their feet wet by presenting “The Fantasticks” with a cast of seven, minimal scenery and an orchestra consisting of a pianist, a harpist, and a percussionist. The show received such an enthusiastic reception that they were inspired to stage a full scale musical “Pajama Game” in November of 1965. The cast of forty came from all over the North Shore with membership drawn from Salem, Swampscott, Peabody, Danvers, Beverly and Hamilton. This was a big production with 18 musical numbers, singing and dancing, many set changes and most of all, a full orchestra which was presented at Salem State College’s large auditorium and was a sell-out.
Since then, MLT has presented at least one musical production each year which has become the hallmark of the group. The sixties also saw MLT’s entrance into the New England Theatre Conference Annual Community Theatre Drama Festival competition. During the sixties MLT began awarding an annual scholarship to a member of the
Marblehead High School graduating class who has participated in theatrical productions during high school as well as contributed in some way to Marblehead Little Theatre.
In 1970, MLT revived “The Fantasticks” and became a traveling group taking the show to Beverly for a benefit performance for the North Shore Community College. They also toured Endicott College, Arlington, Concord, and the Essex Agricultural and Technical Institute in Danvers.
Historic Abbot Hall became the setting for many musicals produced in the seventies with the initial staging of “Kiss Me Kate” followed with superb performances of “Man of La Mancha”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, “Brigadoon”, “Camelot”, as well as productions for children of “The Red Shoes” and “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp”.
Perhaps the most memorable performance of the seventies at Abbot Hall was opening night of the Bicentennial show of “1776”. There were parties before and after the performance hosted by the Marblehead Bicentennial Commission in the Selectman’s Meeting Room with the original Willard painting of the “Spirit of ’76” as a most appropriate and inspiring backdrop. In the final moments of the play, the bells of Abbot Hall pealed and the
lights dimmed leaving hardly a dry eye in the house. As one local reviewer wrote, “this is community theater at its best”.
In 1977, MLT took top honors at the New England Theatre Conference Drama Festival with its acclaimed production of “The Love Course”.
In the eighties, MLT began staging their productions at the new Nelson Aldrich Performing Arts Center at the Marblehead High School with a seating capacity of 766 and a stage to rival the best of Boston’s professional theater. The professionalism and quality of the two major musicals staged yearly greatly enhanced the growing reputation of MLT as a high caliber community theatre. Audiences flocked to see such productions as “The Music Man”, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, and “Company”.
During the nineties, MLT’s major project has been obtaining a home of their own to stage small productions, conduct workshops, and provide space to store and build sets, to rehearse, as well as store props and costumes. The old brick Firehouse on School Street vacant since 1997 has been the object of our dream to have at long last after 44 years, a home of our own.
The desire to do smaller plays in addition to our yearly big musicals resulted in the production of an original play “One Civilized Person” in 1995 as a part of the Marblehead Festival of Arts and later, productions of “Exit the Body”, “The Cemetery Club” and “Bullshot Crummond” all staged at the Tower School in Marblehead.
1998’s major production of “The Wizard of Oz” staged at the Aldrich Center played to sold out audiences and reaffirmed that MLT has provided a unique outlet for creative expression for people in all walks of life as well as top notch entertainment while contributing to the economic development, quality of life and community pride. In April 1999, a proclamation attesting to the contributions of Marblehead Little Theatre was signed by the Board of
Selectmen in recognition of MLT’s four decades of bringing quality theater to the residents of the North Shore.
During the triumphant production of “The King and I” in the Fall of 1999, the Marblehead Board of Selectmen awarded the School Street Firehouse to Marblehead Little Theatre.