St. Gregory’s likes it hot for summertime shows

By Ronald B. Hellman

Summertime, the living is easy, and most local theater companies are taking a break. Although plans are being made for the new season and some audition dates have been set, almost no shows will reach the stage until the autumnal equinox.

An exception since 1979 is the St. Gregory's Theatre Group, which today opens its latest production, “Seussical the Musical,” with performances through Aug. 10. Located at 242nd Street and 88th Avenue in Bellerose, this group finds the hot weather just perfect for putting on a show. After all, they got started as a way to give young adults in the parish something to do during the summer. They now have staged some 28 musicals; four cabarets; one original piece, “Karaoke Lounge”; and several comedies — most in the summertime, but since 1993 there's been a winter season, too.

“Seussical” is under the guidance of Kathy Rollo Ferrara, who has directed many of the shows and who founded the group 29 years ago. Kathy, the recreational director at the Chapin Home for the Aging in Jamaica, often helps to create an original pre-show to introduce and explain to the audience what they are about to see. And what they'll see this time is a gymnasium with about 250 seats transformed into an elaborately designed theater stage, thanks to Todd Wilkerson and Matt Leabo. With costumes by Marjorie Bellas, SGTG offers a visual experience that is one of the best in town.

If you're familiar with “The Cat in the Hat” and “Horton Hears a Who,” as well as other stories by Dr. Seuss, you should have some idea of what this show is about. Originally produced on Broadway in late 2000 with such celebrities as Rosie O'Donnell and Cathy Rigby in the cast, it was revised for a couple of national tours and has become a popular regional hit. But according to Lydia Pastori, the production/stage manager, who works for a city marshal in her spare time, “Seussical” is “not a show just for kids. The themes will keep any adult challenged and entertained.”

And on stage will be as many as 48 performers, the youngest being just 7 and the oldest being 50-plus, all working to bring to life a magical experience. Auditions were held in May but pre-production meetings took place long before.

SGTG prides itself on building a close-knit community of volunteers on and off stage. “The emphasis,” says Lydia, “is on the creative process and the way we care for each other as we journey through it.”

“Godspell” was their first show many summers ago — they liked it so much that they did it again 10 years later. Another repeat was “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” while most recent musical hits were “Annie” in 2005 and “My Fair Lady” last year. Out of their large casts over the years, SGTG has seen several of its performers become involved in professional theater and the arts.

Tickets for “Seussical” start at $18, with a senior price of $15, and for those 12 or under, a mere $7. You can call (718) 989-2451 or go to their web site at www.sgtg.org.

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

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