By Herb Sparrow
After visiting Canada’s Shaw Festival, Michael Chamberlain, managing director of the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse in Auburn, N.Y., thought that Auburn, in the heart of New York’s Finger Lakes region, was the perfect spot for a theater festival.
“You can come and see theater, see beautiful lakes, visit wineries and other cute towns,” he said. “It’s a place where there is more than one theater, where you can come and visit, and spend two or three days, and see up to four different shows.
“We are trying to complement everything else that is happening in the region and the musical theater industry. The festival could be a gateway to this whole microregion.”
Thus was born the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival, which made its debut May 30 and runs through Oct. 20.
The festival’s first season features three venues, with a fourth scheduled to open next year. Producing director Ed Sayles said he wanted the theaters to have different feels: one for larger Broadway-style shows, another for smaller off-Broadway-style shows and an intimate space for experimental productions.
The 501-seat Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, located in a renovated building that formerly housed a carousel, will have six productions for the festival: “Kiss Me Kate,” “9 to 5: The Musical,” “My Fair Lady,” “Cabaret,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and the original “Nunsense.”
There will be three productions, all regional premieres, at the Auburn Public Theatre: “Altar Boyz,” “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding” and “Fingers and Toes.”
An innovative concept called the Pitch will take play in Theater Mack in the renovated Carriage House on the grounds of the Cayuga Museum.
Sayles said two groups per week will pitch their ideas for a new musical. “They will summarize their stories and do songs in a 45-minute period, then get feedback from the audience,” he said. “It will just be three people and a piano.”