Ridgefield Playhouse prepares for an 'exciting' slate of shows, capital improvements this season

RIDGEFIELD — Although the pandemic put a damper on The Ridgefield Playhouse’s 20th anniversary celebration last year, audiences can expect that energy to imbue the performances included in its 21st season, which kicks off next month.

Executive Director Allison Stockel said some of the best musical acts from the past 20 years will bring their talents to the storied venue this season, including Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, Paul Anka and Chaka Khan.

Jett first performed at the Playhouse in 2004 and will return with The Blackhearts for its fall gala on Nov. 5.

“This season features some of the greatest performers that we’ve had in this venue. That’s what we were looking for when we were doing the booking,” Stockel said. “It’s exciting to be getting them back.”

Additionally, this fall the Playhouse will begin a capital improvement campaign to increase the size of its lobby threefold, adding a permanent bar and a bigger concession area. The plan also includes office space for staff members and additional dressing rooms and rehearsal space for performers backstage.

The enhancements will mark the first capital campaign the Playhouse has done since opening in 2000.

COVID adjustments

Although the venue lost $4 million in ticket sales during the pandemic, it never closed. Stockel and her team pivoted to livestreamed content and erected a tented stage on Governor Street so they could host shows outside.

“It did take a tremendous amount of time and energy,” she recalled.

Because of the pandemic, the Playhouse’s arts and education program reached more than 10,000 students virtually and welcomed performers who would’ve never come to Ridgefield in the first place. Comedians John Mulaney and Pete Davidson, who performed together in a parking lot, is one such example.

“We did whatever we had to do as soon as we were allowed to do it in a very safe way,” she said. “I think of us in many ways a COVID success story.”

Ridgefield ties

Preservation Hall Jazz Band will return on Sept. 3 as part of its 60th anniversary tour. At the show, ticketholders can participate in a silent auction to raise money for the Kitty Rosa Preservation Fund.

Rosa was instrumental in opening the Playhouse and remained dedicated to its preservation until her death in 2014. The fund was founded to support preservation efforts of the more than 100-year-old building.

Since Preservation Hall was Rosa’s favorite band, she requested Stockel book them for the Playhouse. Coincidentally Stockel’s uncle, Alan Jaffee, started the band with the mission of preserving that traditional New Orleans jazz sound.

“It’s kismet,” Stockel said.

Now headed by her cousin, Ben Jaffee, the group has delved into newer waves of jazz while collaborating with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, the Grateful Dead, My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire, the Black Keys and the Foo Fighters.

The show goes on

In line with the town’s recent mandate, audiences attending a show inside the theater will be required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

Stockel said there may be caveats — such as providing proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test — at certain events depending on the featured artist.

For more information about the upcoming season, visit ridgefieldplayhouse.org.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com