They say the neon lights are bright—in Forestburgh?
Text | Photograph Jonathan Fox
FORESTBURGH, NY — This June, when asked for directions from Monticello to the Forestburgh Playhouse (FBP), I’ll be more specific than usual: “Take Route 42 South to the blinker, make a hard right, then a quick left. Next stop: ‘Idaho!’”
Yes, “Idaho!,” the “homage to the golden age of classic musicals” will make its pre-Broadway debut in Forestburgh to work out some of the inevitable last-minute changes that always take place when mounting a new production heading for the Great White Way.
For 65 years, the Forestburgh Playhouse (FBP) has been delighting audiences with a wide array of shows. Although there have been some straight plays, a few serious pieces, and some world-famous blockbusters, what the playhouse is possibly best known for is it’s presentations of popular musicals. And for the past 20 years, managing director Norman Duttweiler has been bringing Broadway to the Catskills, so it seems fitting that he is now instrumental in bringing the Catskills to Broadway. I sat down with Duttweiler last week to discuss this impending venture and his enthusiasm was infectious. “I’m so excited to see the Forestburgh Theatre Arts Center [FBTAC] taking off in a whole new direction” he told me. “To kick off my 20th year at the FBP with an original musical is thrilling.”
The road trip from “Idaho!” to New York has been a long one. No new musical simply lands in Times Square. Often, there are years of writing, scoring, casting and sometimes, starting all over again. (Can you say “Spiderman?”) I took a peek at the website created just for this show (www.idahomu sical.com) and scanned the authors’ notes. Composer and co-lyricist Buddy Sheffield’s musings on how the show came into being were moving. “I think my love of theatre, especially musicals, is what really shines through in ‘Idaho!’ he writes. “It’s really a love letter to the great classics of the Broadway stage.”
That road began in 2008, when the newly written show got its start with its first full-blown production at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (nymf.org), an organization with a mission: “To provide a launching pad for the next generation of musicals (and their creators) to ensure the continued vitality of America’s greatest art form… we discover, nurture and promote promising musical theatre artists and producers at all stages of development, in order to inspire a diverse audience through vibrant, accessible new work.”
Not too long afterward, “Idaho!’ director Matt Lenz stopped by the Forestburgh Playhouse, having just bought property in Sullivan County, and introduced himself to Duttweiler. With Broadway credits and an extensive resume to match, Lenz called on Duttweiler and the FBP again about 14 months ago and brought up the concept of bringing “Idaho!” to Forestburgh. Having recently formed the new not-for-profit FBPAC, which is committed to “developing new theatre,” Duttweiler realized that the timing was perfect for this venture and set out on the process of determining how, where and when to bring “Idaho!” to life at the FBP.
On my quest to discover all that I could about “Idaho!” I stopped by the theatre to get a peek at the rehearsal process. Scores of actors, technicians, directors (and their assistants), lighting and scenic designers and costumers were hard at work, readying themselves and the theatre itself for this bold new adventure. I chatted briefly with Buddy Sheffield (book, music and lyrics) and greeted composer and co-lyricist Keith Thompson. Director Matt Lenz waved, while in the middle of discussion with the company, all of whom made it clear that the excitement of bringing a brand new show to the FBP is palpable.
“Our audiences are going to love this show,” associate managing director Sarah Norris said, “in part because we all love Rogers & Hammerstein, ‘Oklahoma!’ and the great musicals in general. ‘Idaho!’ is a little bit naughty, a little bit bawdy and loads of fun. The story is hilarious, the score is fantastic, and I guarantee the audience will exit the theatre humming more than one of the many wonderful tunes.”
Duttweiler and Norris had a few parting words about the road to “Idaho!” for me. “Thanks to the great cooperation and encouragement from the folks at Actors Equity, we are finally embarking on this amazing journey,” Duttweiler said. “Although this trip is taking us in a new direction, we know where we are going,” Norris added, “and are thrilled to be taking our loyal audience with us.”
Since this is a new show, it is considered to be “in workshop,” and as changes are made, fine tuning will continue throughout the run of the show. As a result, each audience could see a slightly different version of “Idaho!” and return visits might be fun. Ticket prices are reduced for this particular production, to encourage first-time FBP visitors, along with seasoned regulars, to come along for the ride. Additionally, tickets (and seat selection) can be purchased online at FBplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at 845/794-1194.
I already know how to get to the playhouse, but am looking forward to changing my route by stopping in “Idaho!” on the way this year. “Man of La Mancha,” “Chicago” and “Shirley Valentine” (starring M*A*S*H veteran Loretta Swit) are all on the bill this summer at the theatre, but from June 1 to 12, Catskill audiences will be able to say “I saw it first!” as the curtain rises on a brand spanking new show. Naturally, some of the creme de la creme of NYC society will be making its way to our neck of the woods to be a part of the scenery, but thanks to the Forestburgh Playhouse, Sullivan County is rising, once again, as the “entertainment capital” of New York.