Peninsula Players Theatre Names Artistic Company for 81st Season

Peninsula Players Theatre, America's Oldest Professional Resident Summer Theatre and Door County's theatrical icon, announces company members for its 81st season, running June 14 through October 16, 2016. The mix of plays include a late-in-life romance, an intriguing whodunit, a raucous pop-rock musical, an engaging Midwest première and a wildly comic thriller.

Peninsula Players is a member of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers and employs professional actors, members of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and United Scenic Artists for all of its productions

Company members work in regional theaters from Los Angeles to New York, internationally as well as in film, television and radio. Many of the directors, designers and actors are recipients of or have been nominated for Chicago's prestigious Joseph Jefferson Award and other regional theater awards.

The season and casts were selected by the Players' Artistic Director Greg Vinkler who returns to Peninsula Players for his 28th season. He has directed many shows including "Outside Mullingar," "The Mystery of Irma Vep," "Sunday in the Park with George," "Chicago" and "Lombardi" and has acted in many others including "A Real Lulu," "Butler," "Opus," "Heroes," "Fools" and "A Man for All Seasons." Vinkler will perform in "Chapatti" and "Alabama Story" as well as direct "The Full Monty."

"The 2016 company is a versatile mix of talent that includes many fresh new faces as well as the return of some familiar and beloved performers," Vinkler said. "'The Hollow' has a cast of 12, nine of which will also perform in 'The Full Monty,' with four members of 'The Full Monty' continuing on to perform in 'Alabama Story.' It is a multi-talented group of actors, singers and dancers - a great combination of talent for our diverse line-up of shows.

"I held auditions over the winter and early spring at the regional Equity office in Chicago, traveled to Florida to audition actors there, reviewed many video audition submissions I received and saw a lot of shows (and talent) in Chicago, Cleveland and Sarasota. It's very gratifying that so many people want to come work at the Peninsula Players. We have 13 returning Peninsula Players in the acting company and 10 performers who will be making their Peninsula Players debut."

The Wisconsin première of "Chapatti" by Christian O'Reilly opens the season June 14. "Chapatti" was immensely popular with audiences of the Peninsula Players winter play reading series. "I fell more in in love with this play during that reading," said Vinkler. "When it was over people rose to their feet and gave it a standing ovation! The audience just loved and embraced it. I am very thrilled Penny Slusher will be making her Players debut as my castmate in 'Chapatti.' Penny originated the role for its world premiere at Norhtlight Theater and its international debut at The Galway International Arts Festival in Ireland."

Unexpected sparks fly when Betty, the caregiver to an older woman and 19 cats, meets Dan and his dog Chapatti in a Dublin vet office. This funny, gentle and poignant story centers around two lonely animal lovers who rediscover, very unexpectedly, the need for caring and companionship.

Tom Mula, who directed the world première of Paul Slade Smith's "A Real Lulu" and Sean Grennan's "The Tin Woman," will direct the Wisconsin première of "Chapatti." The cast features Vinkler as Dan and Slusher as Betty. Slusher's regional credits include Writers Theatre, Asolo Repertory Theatre and St. Louis Repertory Theatre. Mula celebrates his 22nd season with the Players where he has performed in many plays including "And Then There Were None," "Opus" and "Chicago" and has directed "Making God Laugh," "Amadeus," "The Lion in Winter," "Around the World in 80 Days" and "Greetings!"

"Penny is a consummate performer and I am so thrilled that she will be able to join the Players for 'Chapatti' and 'The Hollow,'" Vinkler said. "Tom's gentle and sensitive direction of 'The Tin Woman' and 'A Real Lulu' assures me the tender and funny story of 'Chapatti' is in good hands."

The Players second offering is Agatha Christie's intriguing whodunit, "The Hollow" from July 6 through July 24. This classic English county house mystery features a bustling weekend that goes quickly awry with an explosive murder. Returning Players veterans include Maggie Carney, ("Rumors," "The Lady with All the Answers"); Erica Elam ("The Tin Woman," "Born Yesterday"); Joe Foust ("Around the World in 80 Days," "Lend Me a Tenor"); Matt Holzfeind ("The Tin Woman," "And Then There Were None"); Katherine Keberlein ("A Real Lulu," "Dial M for Murder"); Ashley Lanyon ("Nunsense," "Lend Me a Tenor"); James Leaming ("Sherlock Holmes," "The Foreigner"); Mark Moede ("And Then There Were None"); Mula and Slusher. Making their Players debut are Katherine Duffy and Steve Koehler.

Carney's credits include The Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse, Seattle Rep and Cygnet Theatre. In Chicago during the winter months Holzfeind performed in Paramount Theater's production of "Oklahoma!;" Keberlein is in "American Beauty Shop" at Chicago Dramatists and Lanyon in "Nice Work If You Can Get It" at Theatre at the Center. Recent credits for Duffy include "The Amish Project" and "Sylvia" with Third Avenue Playhouse while Koehler performed in "To Kill a Mockingbird" with Children's Theater of Madison and "Victory Farm" at Northern Sky Theater.

This cast will be directed by Players company member Joe Foust ("Lend Me a Tenor," "Is He Dead?," "Making God Laugh," "The Game's Afoot"). Foust directed the Players' productions of "Dial M for Murder," "Wait Until Dark" and "Deathtrap" and his recent stage credits include portraying Jacob Marley in "A Christmas Carol" at the Goodman Theatre and "The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence" at Theatre Wit.

"The Full Monty," a lively, pop-rock musical that takes it all off, is featured from July 27 through August 14. This robust musical with book by Terrence McNally and music and lyrics by David Yazbek was nominated for 10 Tony Awards. Vinkler will direct a cast of 21 and Valerie Maze ("Nunsense," "Cabaret") returns as music director. Featured performers include Carney, Duffy, Elam, Foust, Holzfeind, Kaberlein, Koehler, Lanyon, Leaming and Moede. Also returning to the Peninsula Players is Harter Clingman ("Saloon") and Peggy Roeder ("Cabaret," "A Little Night Music").

Making their Peninsula Players debut are Adrian Aguilar, Brianna Borger, Matthew Scott Campbell, Jackson Evans, Liam Quealy and Byron Glenn Willis. Roeder returns after a season with Asolo Repertory and Clingman recently performed in Chicago's Mercury Theater's productions of "The Producers" and "The Addams Family." Aguilar made his Broadway debut in "Rocky" while Borger portrayed Anna Leonowens in the Broadway Asia International Tour and Porchlight Music Theatre's production of "The King and I." Campbell performed in the national tour of "Buffalo Soliders," Evans in "Avenue Q" at Mercury Theater, Quealy in "Billy Elliot" at Drury Lane Theatre and Willis in Marriott Theatre's production of "Sister Act."

"Alabama Story" by Kenneth Jones makes its Wisconsin première August 17 to September 4. Named Best Original/New Work by BroadwayWorld.com, "Alabama Story" centers on a fearless no-nonsense librarian who refuses to remove a children's book from the shelves in 1959. Returning to portray the formidable Emily Wheelock Reed is Peninsula Players veteran Carmen Roman ("Master Class," "Doubt" and "A Little Night Music") opposite Vinkler as the vocal Sen. E.W. Higgins. Their sparring is a meeting of incredible opposites and inspired by actual events in 1959 Montgomery when the state librarian stood her ground to keep "A Rabbit's Wedding" on the shelf.

Leaming portrays the narrator and famed "Charlotte's Web" illustrator Garth Williams. The remaining cast included Keberlein and Willis as childhood friends who re-connect in turbulent times and Clingman as Wheelock's assistant. Brendon Fox ("Opus") returns to direct this powerhouse cast. "Alabama Story" was a nominee for the 2016 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award and was a 2014 Finalist in the O'Neill National Playwrights Conference.

Closing the Peninsula Players 81st season is "The 39 Steps," a fast-paced comic spy thriller adapted by Patrick Barlow from Alfred Hitchcock's film. Elam, Foust, Kevin McKillip ("Around the World in 80 Days," "Rumors" and "Is He Dead?") and newcomer Neil Brookshire portray 150 characters. Brookshire stage credits includes Ohio's Great Lakes Theater, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Virginia Repertory Theatre and People's light in Pennsylvania. "The 39 Steps" is an intriguing and boisterous comedy filled with dangerous femme fatales, dastardly villains and deadly assassins all under the direction of Karen Sheridan who directed last fall's musical comedy, "Nunsense."

"The cast will bring an assortment of comic training to this wildly entertaining theatrical event," Vinkler said. "Erica is an improv comedy virtuoso who has worked with Second City and teaches improvisation, while Kevin is a professionally trained clown who has performed with Big Apple Circus and Joe is a fight choreographer. All are talented actors who understand physical comedy and their talents will add spark to this comic thriller. Karen, the director, herself was a Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey clown and taught at Clown College."

Regional and award-winning designers participating in 2016 season include scenic designers J Branson, Jack Magaw and Sarah E. Ross; lighting designers Emil Boulous, Jason Fassl and Stephen R. White; costume designers Rachel Lambert, Kärin Simonson Kopischke and Nan Zabriskie; sound designers Cecil Averett, Megan Henninger, Christopher Kriz and Rick Sims; and properties designers Amanda Hermann, Kristen Nuhn and Sarah E. Ross.

"There is a nice variety of options for audiences to have great time with Peninsula Players' 81st season," Vinkler said. "I love the plays - they're full of idiosyncratic characters, passionate personalities, intriguing puzzles, suspenseful adventures, quirky romances, deadly assassins and lightning-fast costume changes. This season is a lot of fun and as varied as you can get."

The 2016 season is being sponsored in part by The Cordon Family Foundation ("The Full Monty"), Ministry Door County Medical Center ("Chapatti"), Harbor Guest House and Alibi Marina ("The 39 Steps"), Main Street Market ("Alabama Story"), True Essence Healing Arts - Margaret and Dale West ("The Hollow), and Ken Raupach ("The Full Monty, "The 39 Steps").

Peninsula Players has been entertaining and exciting audiences since 1935 when the theater opened behind the Bonnie Brook Motel in Fish Creek on July 25 with Noel Coward's "Hay Fever." The company was founded by a brother and sister team, Caroline and Richard Fisher, who dreamt of an artistic utopia in the north woods where actors, designers and technicians could focus on their craft while being surrounded by nature in a contemplative setting. Peninsula Players moved to the theater's present location along the shores of Green Bay in 1937.

Prior to performances, patrons picnic and relax on the grounds while watching the setting sun over the waters of Green Bay from the cedar-lined shore and enjoy the ambience of the Beer Garden and other gardens.

The Fishers' dream lives on. Professional actors, directors and designers work side-by-side with college interns, live on the Players 16-acre campus and bring audiences a variety of works including dramas, mysteries, comedies and musicals.

The Peninsula Players perform Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. in the summer. The closing performance of the summer shows will have a 4 p.m. matinee, July 3, July 24, August 14 and Sept. 4. With the opening of "The 39 Steps" on Sept. 7, curtain times switch to Tuesday through Sunday at 7 p.m. Except Sundays Sept. 18, Oct. 2, 9 and 16 at 3 p.m.

Season, individual and group tickets are available. Individual ticket prices range from $37 to $46 with discounts for season and groups of 15 or more. There are no performances on Mondays. For more information or to reserve tickets phone the Peninsula Players Box Office at 920-868-3287 or visit the website at www.peninsulaplayers.com.

Pictured: Penny Slusher

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