By Billy Liggett
Some of Broadway’s greatest hits have found their way to Temple Theatre’s stage over the years. It’s the theatre’s hope that this time around, the road to Broadway begins in Sanford.
The Temple’s second show of its fall season will be a world premiere pre-Broadway production of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust Road. The original production will be co-produced by Temple Theatre, alongside Hoagy Carmichael’s son, Hoagy Bix Carmichael. Director Susan H. Schulman and choreographer Michael Lichtefeld will lead the production, having collaborated previously on Broadway productions of Little Women, The Sound of Music, The Secret Garden and Sweeney Todd.
Schulman earned a Tony award nomination in 1989 for Sweeney Todd, and the cast of Jordan Barrow, Marckus Blair, Rachel Fairbanks, Jenny Mollett, Brianna Mooney, Jake Wood and Richard Riaz Yoder have performed all over the country, including Broadway (Mollett in The Color Purple and Yoder in five productions, including White Christmas, Hello Dolly and My Fair Lady).
In other words, the talent coming to Sanford this month is big. And the show — which opens Oct. 17 and runs through Nov. 3 — is a big, big deal to Temple Theatre and producing artistic director Peggy Taphorn.
Stardust Road runs Oct. 17-Nov. 3 | Buy tickets online at templeshows.com
“This is a big deal for us,” said Taphorn, who wrapped up Temple’s season-opening production of Oliver! on Sept. 29. “This is a huge honor and step in our development as a leading regional theatre.”
It’s not the theatre’s first go at launching a national show, according to Taphorn. In 2014, Temple had a development deal with a company in New York City and did the world premiere of Country Gravy and Other Obsessions, which went on to a national tour after its run in Sanford. The lead producer of that show unexpectedly passed away, and the relationship between the company and Temple ended. Taphorn said Stardust Road gives the theatre another chance at being on the ground floor of developing a show that will ultimately be produced at other theaters — and, her fingers crossed — eventually Broadway.
“The Temple will always be listed as the premiere theatre at which it was produced, so all subsequent productions will know that it started here in Sanford,” Taphorn said. “That’s really cool. And having a co-producer of Hoagy’s caliber also ups the production values we can afford, as well as the creative team and cast. All of that is reflected in this amazing production.”
“In the theatrical world, this can merit national press,” added Gavan Pamer, Temple’s marketing and development director and regular performer. Having the opportunity to be the first theatre to produce this show is a very exciting time. This process is how some Broadway shows have found their legs to move on to a life in New York.”
Using the iconic music of Hoagy Carmichael — best known for composing the music for Stardust, Georgia on My Mind, The Nearness of You and Heart and Soul, four of the most-recorded songs of all time — Stardust Road uses seven actors and numerous dance numbers to tell the story of four decades in America: The early years of ragtime, jazz and blues; the romance of New York in the 1930s; the tumultuous and uncertain years of the World War II era; and the post-war Golden Age of Hollywood.
According to Taphorn, Stardust Road uses the sophisticated melodies and lyrics that are Hoagy Carmichael’s legacy to weave the story through the four decades and the evolving relationships of the actors on stage. According to the press release, “This is the story of friendship through four decades and of how we all grow up to find our own Stardust Road.”
“The show is a lot of fun,” Taphorn said, “but there’s also a lot of emotional impact. You will hear 90 minutes of beautiful Hoagy Carmichael tunes, some very familiar and some new to most of us. There’s a lot of dancing — featuring some amazing tap dancing — in addition to the beautiful arrangements by Larry Yurman. Lots of the songs have at least a five-part harmony, and there will be a live six-piece band on the stage. So, definitely, this is not one to miss.”
Taphorn’s relationship with Schulman goes way back. The two worked together for several seasons when Taphorn worked at The Starlight Theatre in Kansas City while in college. Schulman hired Taphorn for her stage management team while directing Little Women on Broadway, a show Lichtefeld choreographed. Taphorn also worked on Broadway in Urinetown with Lichtefeld’s partner — all of those connections helped Temple land this show.
“Part of it, too, is that Temple is located conveniently from New York City, but far enough off the radar that we can mount the show without too much scrutiny before it opens,” Taphorn said. “Loads of shows have been torpedoed out of town before they even make it to New York City, because of bad press too early in the development process. So, location helped.”
Taphorn said the best feature of the Temple is that it’s a “beautiful historic theatre reminiscent of the smaller Broadway houses, with a great look and feel to mount a show that features music from the 1920s through the 50s.”
“When Hoagy Bicks Carmichael — the co-producer and Hoagy’s son — came to check out the theatre last year, he loved the physical space,” she said. “And he and I ‘clicked,’ which is very important as producing partners.”