Cue the lights

Stage reunion to recall Portsmouth’s theater renaissance in ‘70s and ‘80s

Special to the Union Leader
August 08. 2018 1:40PM
Cast members of "Carousel" gather at the edge of the Piscataqua River in Prescott Park in Portsmouth in 1975. 
If you go...
WHAT: A Musical Reunion: A celebration of the theatre renaissance in Portsmouth in story and song”

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Plains School, 1 Plains Ave., Portsmouth

COST: $25


Scott Weintraub still remembers it as an inspiring time — a burgeoning period for Portsmouth’s performing arts scene.

It’s an inspiration that Weintraub and others will revive and draw upon for “A Musical Reunion: A celebration of the theatre renaissance of Portsmouth in story and song” this weekend. Pontine Theatre will present four reunion shows at the Plains School that will feature performers and creators who were staples of the scene during the 1970s and 1980s.

“There’s nowhere like it,” Weintraub said of Portsmouth. “The town was just starting to transition, dance companies were popping up and the arts scene was booming. We were there at this time in our lives and the town was just extraordinary.”

A young actor based out of New York City in the mid-1970s, Weintraub had just finished a national tour with “Hair” when he was persuaded by director Russell Treyz to audition for a show in Portsmouth.

Weintraub nabbed a part in “Carousel,” the first musical performed as part of the Prescott Park Arts Festival in 1975.

Artistic director Jon Kimble pitched Weintraub on sticking around for a few more shows. It was an easy sell.

“I stayed for 10 years,” Weintraub said. “It was the best training ground (as) an actor going from show to show to show. I met this woman and fell in love. We’re together 43 years now. We got married in Prescott Park.”

In addition to Prescott Park, the little 100-seat Theatre by the Sea, wedged between two restaurants on Ceres Street, was drawing performers to Portsmouth. The influx of stage talent gave the productions a quality that most audiences would have to travel to New York or Boston to experience.

Randa McNamara, Jay Spears, Annie Roonie Brooks and Marlena Schroeder all will be featured in the reunion shows.

While the reunion should provide a spark between old acting and singing partners, rehearsal has been a little tricky.

Weintraub is now an actor and acting teacher based out of California, and the other performers are far-flung as well, making for a short window when they’ll all be together in Portsmouth before the show goes live.

“Just being all in the same room together will help,” he said. “We tried to Facetime and Skype. We’re doing a couple songs that have four, five-part harmony. The plan is, in theory, everyone figures out what they’re doing. We’re not going to know (until we get together). It’s all happening spontaneously and organically.”

The performances will also serve as a showcase for the recently renovated Plains School, which is operated as a collaboration between Pontine Theatre and the city of Portsmouth.

“They’re trying to educate people (about the) performance space, and (that) there’s great stuff going on all the time,” Weintraub said.

An extra matinee show was added after the evening performances quickly sold out. Weintraub joked that “everyone who was at Theatre by the Sea in the ‘70s and ‘80s are now in their 70s and 80s, so maybe we should add a matinee.”

As much as anything the reunion will be a chance for performers and residents, past and present, to reacquaint and reminisce.

“As excited as everyone there seems to be about this reunion, those of us who are coming are so thrilled to return to this magical place that was a training ground,” Weintraub said. “To have the opportunity to put together a show ... There is going to be a lot of strong heartfelt love and joy in the room.”

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