A new group in Phoenixville is taking The Colonial Theatre back to its live performance roots, from start to finish.
Originally a vaudeville theater, now the Colonial mostly features presentations, according to Mary Foote, executive director for The Association for the Colonial Theatre. When a group from Firebird Children’s Theatre approached her about possibly using the theater to not only put on a summer production but also to audition and rehearse, Foote was intrigued—and definitely game.
“It was very exciting that this would give the kids a chance to get on the stage,” Foote said. “It’s fun to see the theater used in the way it was originally built, for live performance.”
Because many shows run at night, the Colonial is typically very quiet during the day, with the staff and volunteers working upstairs. Now, however, there is activity.
“The noise is actually nice,” Foote said.
Firebird Children’s Theatre emerged from a group of locals with a passion for community theater. Many of those behind the group are members of Forge Theatre or other local community theater groups.
“We had the idea that Phoenixville would really benefit from a theater that specialized in children’s programming,” said Janet Hnatin Hoehl, producer and president of Firebird Children’s Theatre.
Finding support for the idea didn’t take long. A core group had the help of George Mansur, a local man with a dream of making a community arts center. Mansur, who now serves as the community liaison for Firebird, and the founders of the theater met with Foote to pitch the idea last autumn.
Once the ball was rolling, it took “no time at all,” according to Hoehl, to assemble two talented casts totaling 60 young people and a wide range of supporters eager help get the theater group off the ground.
“I think that shows us the strong need there is in the community for this kind of show,” said Su Gould, vice president.
Penny Beckers serves as musical director for “America’s Tallest Tales” and has a child in each of the two shows that will be presented through the weekend. For the kids, setting foot in the Colonial and getting to be on stage has been a great experience, Beckers noted.
“My kids had never been to a theater that wasn’t a megaplex,” Beckers said.
Gould noted the awe in the faces of many of the kids who set foot on the stage.
“It was like taking a kid to the beach for the first time,” she said.
While the group also practiced at First Presbyterian Church of Phoenixville and Stepping Stone Education Center, holding practice in the heart of downtown at the Colonial provided parents a chance to re-explore the shops and restaurants. Beckers said she’d drop one child off for rehearsal and then walk down to the bead store on Bridge Street with the other.
“There was plenty to do downtown during rehearsals,” Beckers said.
Now, the group hopes the community will join them downtown for the two performances this weekend. “Bugsy Malone,” directed by Kate Nice, who has directed a number of plays at Phoenixville Area High School, features an older group of kids and is a fun musical that isn’t performed in the area often, if ever.
The younger set will act in “America’s Tallest Tales,” co-directed by Elizabeth Fuscaldo and Tracy Mandlowitz Evans. That play features notable names like Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill.
Though the 60 actors participating in the shows go to many different area schools and colleges, the casts gelled quickly.
“Even my younger son said this is the tightest cast I have ever been in,” Gould said.
Don’t equate a young age with a lack of experience at Firebird Children’s Theatre. For some actors, this is their fifth production. Hoehl explained that often, the veterans would take the younger kids aside to coach them on accents and to give other tips throughout rehearsals.
“The teen show kids look out for the youngsters,” Beckers said.
In addition to tight-knit casts, another big part of “Bugsy Malone” is the costumes, done by Regina DePaolis with help from Lauriel Wisely, Beckers and Hoehl.
“Goodwill has been our friend,” Gould said.
“We went to Goodwill and came back with a trunk full of stuff,” Beckers recalled. “Now, I have trouble recognizing it.”
“Bugsy Malone” will be performed with “America’s Tallest Tales” by Firebird Children’s Theatre in two productions this weekend. Hoehl said the group hopes to put on a summer production annually.
If You Go:
Where: The Colonial Theatre, 227 Bridge St., Phoenixville
When: Fri., July 29 at 7 p.m. and Sat., July 30 at 2 p.m.
Buy Tickets: Go to this website or get tickets at the door.
Price: Adults $10; Members $8; Seniors and Children under 12: $5