Queens community theaters can take a lesson from Brooklyn company

By Ron Hellman

Fifty is a nice round number, and any theater company that’s been around for that long must be doing something right.

The Gallery Players in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is one shy of that half-century mark, but it has long earned a reputation as a role model for what a local theater can and should be.

Here in Queens, theater groups come and go. The Douglaston Community Theatre and The Parkside Players lead the pack in longevity, the Astoria Performing Arts Center sets the pace for overall quality, while some newer groups, especially in Long Island City, strive for originality and modernity.

Yet they all have a way to go to equal Gallery.

If you hurry, you can still catch the final performances this weekend of the first show of their new season, “Godspell,” the much-revived musical by Stephen Schwartz, book by John-Michael Tebelak, based mainly on the Gospel of Matthew. A diverse, energetic and talented cast – all of whom were having a good time on the day that I saw them — does more than justice to the material.

With “Day by Day,” Schwartz had a major hit song, and has followed “Godspell” with “Pippin” and the long-running “Wicked.”

Gallery came to Brooklyn by way of New Orleans when its founder Bruce Wyatt decided to relocate up north. Other than its first season, Park Slope has always been its locale, a neighborhood that once was down-and-out but is now considered one of the most desirable in New York City.

In 1989 Gallery moved to its present home at 199 14th St. in a community center building. Over the years its 99-seat venue has been graced by such celebrities as actor-playwright Harvey Firestein, director John Rando and theater personality and Sirius XM radio host Seth Rudetsky, leading to the saying that “Good things happen to people who work at The Gallery Players.”

Gallery mounts six major productions a season, three plays and three musicals — up next is August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson” — and in the spring, for those who can’t get, or afford, tickets to “Hamilton,” you can see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Broadway hit, “In The Heights.”

The season ends with its 19th annual Black Box New Play Festival, where over 140 plays have been given their World Premiere productions, and all told, more than 156 plays and musicals have made their debut on the Gallery stage.

Community service and spreading the love of theater are part of Gallery’s mission, from the young to the old to the homeless, and it has provided financial and production assistance to playwrights and other theater artists.

In 2005 it began The Peanut Gallery, a musical theater workshop for kids and teens. It has received many awards, including Off-Off-Broadway Review’s Lifetime Achievement, and Best of Season for “The Pirates of Penzance,” “Noises Off” and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”

Run by a volunteer board of directors, Gallery sets the standard for local theater.

In Queens a brand new company, Royal Star Theatre, formed from the remnants of the FSF Community Theatre while switching houses of worship, presents a musical revue Oct. 23, 24 and 25 at the Immaculate Conception school auditorium in Jamaica Estates. It sounds promising. And The Killing Company, the comedy murder-mystery dinner show outfit, makes another appearance at Riccardo’s in Astoria Oct. 30 with “Murder at the Halloween Ball.”

No actors get harmed and the audience gets to participate.

Contact Ron Hellman at RBHOF[email protected]il.com.

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