Western Kentucky Theatre Celebrates 60th Season With Revival of Their First Show Produced in 1955
In 1955, Lawrence Hager, owner of the Messenger-Inquirer, Walter Lazenby, an instructor at Kentucky Wesleyan College, and Mrs. R. Hal Compton of the Owensboro Wagon Company founded the "Little Theatre of Owensboro."
It was decided that Mr. Lazenby would direct their very first production of The Man Who Came To Dinner. Presented on December 1st of that year at Eastern Junior High School which we now know as Estes Elementary, it ran for three performances that weekend.
According to the Theatre Workshop of Owensboro's website, "One year later the company announced plans for its first season of plays. The 1956-57 season included Sabrina Fair, The Little Foxes, The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker, and even the Menotti opera The Old Maid and the Thief. With limited income and no permanent home, the company disbanded in 1959."
As they say though, "The show must go on!" and in 1967 the troupe was reunited for the Owensboro Festival of the Arts for a performance of the classic play Antigone. They were so well received that they reorganized as Act TWO (Theatre Workshop of Owensboro.)
Before finding their permanent home at the Trinity Centre in 1973, they bounced around from the Armory, local high schools, and most memorably the basement of the Rudd Hotel in downtown Owensboro. Acquiring The Empress Theatre as a second venue several years ago was a great addition and keeps shows in production all year long.
Volunteers, actors, and educators have been bringing shows to life for all ages, collaborating with community businesses, and spreading the joy of live theatre in Owensboro for decades now. I have seen firsthand how this group has transformed lives because it did mine. I have been a volunteer there since 1998 as a little 5th grader, and have participated in just about every aspect of what it takes to produce a show.
That's why I am so excited that T.W.O. is celebrating its 60th season. Bringing back the very first play ever produced as an organization, The Man Who Came to Dinner.
Executive Director, Todd Reynolds is honored to lead the cast and crew as director, "Well, I am pretty darn excited. Some folks ask me if I can name my favorite show I've ever worked on and the answer is whatever I am working on right now. It makes me feel good to be directing a revival of the very first show we ever did. I love this place. It's been my life for almost 50 years now. Doing something so special warms the cockles of my heart."
Rehearsals have been going well as the cast learn their lines and get familiar with who they are portraying on stage, "The Man Who Came to Dinner is just a really fun show. It's so funny and the characters are wonderful. The energy of the actors has been terrific as they work on developing their characters."
One main character, Sheridan Whiteside, is a world-renowned radio personality played by veteran actor, John Campbell. He has injured himself and is a guest in the home of a prominent family while he recuperates. The story is set at Christmas time, so he receives presents and phone calls from his famous friends like H.G. Wells and Walt Disney. He is insufferable in a funny way. Whiteside's assistant starts to fall in love and out of fear of losing her help, he tries to interfere with a mess of "skullduggery" as Todd put it.
One of the things that is truly special about Theatre Workshop of Owensboro is that in most shows, you will see actors who have been in shows their entire lives on stage with new faces who have never performed at all. There are a few folks in The Man Who Came to Dinner making their stage debuts. Todd told me, "One of our actors saw the last show, Blythe Spirit, and got the bug. He said he didn't want to say anything just wanted to be involved. So I told him I had the perfect thing."
With 38-plus cast and crew members from all walks of life, it is exciting to see T.W.O. continuing to fulfill its mission of "serving the community with gratitude for the visionaries and volunteers who have sustained the organization through the years, and with an optimistic eye toward the future." Thanks to sponsors, volunteers, and audience members, the show will go on for many years to come.
The Man Who Came to Dinner runs December 8, 9, 10 and 15, 16, 17. Fridays and Saturdays are at 7:30, with two Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm. The show will be at The Empress Theatre on Frederica St. You can pick out your seats on their website, or call the box office at 270-683-5333 for tickets.
Come see this wonderful show and if you have ever wanted to be involved but don't know where to start, just ask! All of us who have called Theatre Workshop a "home away from home" love to introduce the magic of theatre to new friends.
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Gallery Credit: Andrew Lisa