All-time local theater production hits and misses

“Four Weddings and an Elvis” was Eastbound Theater’s unexpected hit earlier this year when it had to add additional seats and performances.

Keyvon Behpour / KVON Photography / Contributed photo

Surprising results came about when several area theaters were asked to share their all-time biggest audience draws as well as one show that proved to be less successful than expected. Which ones did you see and which ones did you miss?

Paulette Layton, the vice president at the Ridgefield Theater Barn in Ridgefield said, “Two recent shows that come to mind as surprising successes were ‘Urinetown’ and ‘Rumors.’ ‘Urinetown.’” she said “is a hysterical fantastic musical, but not everyone is familiar with it, and those that don’t know it are often put off by the name. In fact we had board members that were skeptical of the selection. We weren’t sure how it would be received, but it was an instantaneous hit — the incredible quality of the actors, singers, director, band — it all came together and word of mouth spread so rapidly we were sold out for the run very quickly. If we could have extended the run, we would have.”

Another big audience draw was “Rumors” by Neil Simon. “We weren’t sure if audiences would be enthusiastic. Neil Simon is such a community theater favorite, sometimes the market seems saturated. But again our audiences proved that it’s the quality they return for.”

Layton also pointed out that there was only one show in the theater’s history that lost money. It was a 2014 production of “Stop Kiss.” It was a drama and though the theater is proud of the production, it just didn’t draw audiences.

Eastbound Theatre in Milford had plenty of surprises. According to Lorie Lewis, the theater’s marketing director, “Four Weddings and an Elvis” was by far their greatest success in Eastbound’s 26-year history. “We smashed all records and even had to add extra seats to existing shows and add an entire extra show on closing night in order to accommodate the demand,” said Lewis. She went on to point out that the theater sold out nine shows and this production knocked it out of the park.

The second big audience draw was “Our Town,” which was a special production in honor of a 25th anniversary. Expecting 50-100 people, since it moved from one location to various other sites, it ended up drawing more than 250 people including the mayor, state representative, and other dignitaries. The least attended show was “November.”

Artistic director Tom Holehan at Square One Theatre Company in Stratford said that he has always had success with Neil Simon plays including “The Odd Couple” and “Last of the Red Hot Lovers.” The second best shows were those by the late A.R. Gurney including “The Dining Room,” “Sylvia” and others. “One of our biggest disappointments was ‘Two Rooms’ by Lee Blessing. It was a play about a man held hostage in Iran.” Holehan thought back and suggested that perhaps the subject matter was just too bleak. What was so surprising about this is that it starred Alexander Kulcsar, who is such an outstanding actor that he usually draws audiences no matter what he is in.

According to Ed Bassett at Phoenix Stage Company in Oakville, just outside Waterbury, the all-time best hit was “‘Every Christmas Story Ever Told and Then Some.’” If you missed this, then you missed a great show. It’s about three actors who decide to do this hilarious show instead of “A Christmas Carol,” which has been done a gazillion times. They also throw in just about every Christmas carol ever sung.

The second best audience draw was Phoenix Stage’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The big surprise is that the big disappointment was Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” Describing it as an absolutely lovely play, Bassett said the response made him shy away from the classics even though he wanted to do “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Considering that these are two timeless works, it is disappointing indeed.

Jeff Dunn at Landmark Community Theatre at the Thomaston Opera House in Thomaston also had quite a surprise response. The biggest audience draw was “Elf the Musical.” This was truly a shocker. However, it was a holiday show and had family appeal, so maybe that’s not so surprising after all. His second biggest hit was “Mamma Mia!” Jeff said it blew the box office out of the water. However, his disappointing production was truly a surprise. According to Jeff, he loves the show “‘Billy Elliott’ but it didn’t have the appeal he thought it would have. Sometimes what you think in your head is a big winner, doesn’t turn out that way in reality.”

These are just a few of the area theaters that discussed the hits and the misses, but when theater is back in full swing, we will have many more wonderful hits.