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BWW Interview: Rediscovering Our Joy - MSMT Stars Celebrate in Two Concerts

Rediscovering Our Joy: MSMT Stars Celebrate in Two Concerts

BWW Interview: Rediscovering Our Joy - MSMT Stars Celebrate in Two Concerts
Felicia P. Fields

"This has been a tough year and a half for so many, and the arts can help us rediscover our joy," says actress Charis Leos, speaking enthusiastically about her upcoming appearance in one of Maine State Music Theatre Stars Concerts scheduled to celebrate the theatre's return to live performing this summer. "It is a special gift for me to be able to perform again at a theatre that holds such a special place in my heart. To me it signals a return to the joy of the shared experience of live performance," Leos adds.

Leos is one of eight stars, chosen by Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark, to perform two gala concerts, each with different repertoire and cast at the Pickard Theater in Brunswick in July and August 2021. The first runs from July 28-August 1 and features Charis Leos, Lauren Blackman, Robert Creighton, and Kingsley Leggs. The second runs from August 4-8 with Felicia P. Fields, Heidi Kettenring, David Girolmo, and Gregg Goodbrod. Both programs are directed by Curt Dale Clark, who says the concerts will "offer audiences a chance to revel in the songs and stories that have kept audiences flocking to the Pickard for decades."

BWW Interview: Rediscovering Our Joy - MSMT Stars Celebrate in Two Concerts
Charis Leos

All eight stars return to Brunswick, where they are much beloved favorites, having worked extensively on Broadway, on national tour, and at leading regional theatres across the country. Charis Leos, last seen in Maine in Hello, Dolly, boasts a wide repertoire including Gypsy, The Addams Family, Beauty and the Beast, and Young Frankenstein and was recently seen in the Broadway tryout of Cagney. Lauren Blackman, who created the role of the Empress Alexandra in Anastasia on Broadway and performed on the national tour of Hello, Dolly, was last seen at MSMT as Irene in Hello, Dolly. Her large repertoire includes off-Broadway in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and regional productions of Mary Poppins, The Music Man, and Mamma Mia. Robert Creighton, last at MSMT in Young Frankenstein, played the title role in the musical he co-authored, Cagney, off- Broadway, and on Broadway has appeared in eight shows including Frozen, Anything Goes, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, as well as in leading roles across the country in Chicago, Damn Yankees, Paint Your Wagon, and The Mikado. Kingsley Leggs, last seen at MSMT in Sister Act, has appeared on Broadway in The Color Purple, Sister Act, and Pretty Woman, and on national and international tours of Porgy and Bess, Ragtime, and Miss Saigon, as well as a wide range of regional appearances.

BWW Interview: Rediscovering Our Joy - MSMT Stars Celebrate in Two Concerts
Gregg Goodbrod

Felicia P. Fields won a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Sophia in The Color Purple, which she performed on Broadway and on national tour and boasts a long list regional performances including South Pacific, Hot Mikado,, Dreamgirls, Ain't Misbehavin', and Carousel. Heidi Kettenring, who last starred at MSMT as Millie in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, has a long list of credits including the original Chicago production of Wicked, and regional productions of Annie Get Your Gun, Les Misérables, The King and I, and My Fair Lady. David Girolmo, last seen at MSMT in Hello Dolly and The Wizard of Oz, performed on Broadway in War Paint and Candide, and regionally in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Kiss Me Kate, Phantom, and Annie, among others. Gregg Goodbrod created the role of Sam in MSMT's East Coast premiere of Ghost, performed off-Broadway in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and South Pacific, among others while his regional resume boasts numerous leading roles in shows like Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Aida, Mamma Mia, and Camelot.

BWW Interview: Rediscovering Our Joy - MSMT Stars Celebrate in Two Concerts
Kingsley Leggs

And though each of these stars' careers has taken them far and wide, each one holds a special place in his/her heart for Maine and Maine State Music Theatre. Felicia Fields says, "What I am looking forward to most of all in returning to Maine are the connections, the communications, and the presence of others that I greatly missed during these separating times."

Kingsley Leggs concurs that he looks forward to "the MSMT audiences."

Gregg Goodbrod says "The energy of a live, in-person performance can't be imitated. There is a relationship between the stage and the audience that hasn't been there in over a year!"

It will always be the people," Lauren Blackman asserts. "Whether it's the patrons, my friends or the staff at my local favorite places, it's the first smiles of recognition..and hopefully a few hugs along the way."

Heidi Kettenring longs for the "people of Brunswick" and "the hum around the Pickard when it is almost showtime."

David Girolmo says "MSMT is Maine to me. It is my artistic home, my workplace and a chosen family that I cherish."

Charis Leos concurs, "I love Maine and the incredibly supportive Brunswick community. There is such a love for MSMT which has brought such joy to generations of Mainers."

And Robert Creighton succinctly sums up: "It truly feels like coming home."

BWW Interview: Rediscovering Our Joy - MSMT Stars Celebrate in Two Concerts
Lauren Blackman

And that homecoming has a special meaning for all these stars, and, they believe, will for the audience as well. Kettenring says "to perform live in front of people again after such a long dormancy is obviously thrilling, but to do so in Brunswick before people who have become like family is a privilege that is hard to convey."

Greg Goodbrod says he craves feeling "that family connection and being near these wonderful people again. I think Maine is the most beautiful state in the country, and part of my heart always lives there."

Creighton confesses the experiences is bound to be emotional for him: " As I daydream about performing in front of a real live audience, it chokes me up."

Blackman says she, too, will probably cry, because "it all feels almost like a dream," and Fields adds that "getting back on stage to be able to do what I love warms my heart in unimaginable ways."

BWW Interview: Rediscovering Our Joy - MSMT Stars Celebrate in Two Concerts
David Girolmo

Girolmo waxes philosophic as he conjures up the moment: "Live performance is a signal that our balance and sense of normalcy has returned...we step back into a world of performer and audience creating together."

All the performers speak about how special the experience will be for them personally and for the audience in that moment, but all of them also meditate on what returning to the stage and to live theatre before a live audience signifies in the larger scope of theatre's role as we emerge from this pandemic as a society.

"There is no substitute for the immediacy of the theatrical experience together.," David Girolmo posits. "[Unlike watching Netflix] you cannot pause to get a snack; you can't rewind to see what you've missed. Live theatre requires you to pay attention to the experience. Live theatre teaches us to interact, to invest, to create the experience together."

Gregg Goodbrod also references the symbiotic feeling: "After being cooped up for a year and watching everything through television and streaming services, people will feel the excitement of there being the energy of give-and-take....they will be watching creation in the process and that comes with another level of appreciation and excitement."

Robert Creighton similarly describes the experience: "Sitting in a theatre and sharing that experience with a group of mostly strangers, you automatically become a community in that way. A group being swept away together in an evening in the theatre - there is an extra unseen layer there that will certainly bring much needed soothing to the soul."

BWW Interview: Rediscovering Our Joy - MSMT Stars Celebrate in Two Concerts
Robert Creighton

Felicia Fields echoes thoughts about how essential it is to share the experience of live theatre."The arts and live theatre are communal activities. If we cannot [once again] feel comfortable being together in a theatre, then how can we truly begin to heal?"

Lauren Blackman seconds that idea: "After such a time of isolation, to collectively feel ANYTHING will help remind us that we are all in this together and we will heal."

Heidi Kettenring voices her belief:. She describes the experience in the theatre as she envisions it: "In the theatre surrounded by artists and art lovers, any anxiety melts away because I know we are all there once again to feel that communion, that joy, that art. The arts have never been so important as now."

BWW Interview: Rediscovering Our Joy - MSMT Stars Celebrate in Two Concerts
Heidi Kettenring

"The arts teach us empathy and open minds," Charis Leos declares. "They help us move forward with a better understanding of our neighbors and hopefully a renewed respect for each other."

Kingsley Leggs sums up the challenge: "Art has always mirrored society and showed us who we are. In our current social and political climate the arts comm unity has an extraordinary opportunity to show us who we can be."

Photos courtesy of MSMT

MSMT Stars Gala # 1 runs July 29-August 1, 2021, at the Pickard Theater Brunswick; MSMT Stars Gala # 2 runs August 4-8, 2021, at the Pickard Theater, Brunswick www.msmt.org 207-725-8769



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