THE PATRIOT LEDGER – After being closed for over a year, while the COVID-19 pandemic put the centuries-old adage “The show must go on” to the test, South Shore theaters and concert venues are now beginning to welcome back audiences eager for live entertainment.
One of the first venues to reopen is Spire Center for the Performing Arts in Plymouth, where the Americana Theatre Company is launching its 10th-anniversary season with “Clue,” the comedy based on the Hasbro board game of the same name.
“We’re feeling incredibly grateful to be back,” said Americana associate artistic director Jennifer Martin. “We weren’t even sure we were going to survive. When we realized we could reopen, we were tearful.”
Americana had been planning to present a drama last summer in connection with the Plymouth 400 commemoration, but is now taking a different approach with its return.
“We were going to do Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible,’ but after COVID-19, we thought our audiences needed levity and not a three-and-a-half-hour courtroom drama,” said Martin of “Clue,” the 90-minute mirth-filled murder mystery that runs through July 25 at the Spire.
As of March, the company was expecting its summer reopening to be at just 30 percent capacity, but welcomed the June greenlighting to reopen at 100 percent.
“This is the fastest-selling show in our history,” Martin said.
When it comes to history, few local performing arts venues can claim one as storied as the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset.
After initially presenting on Cohasset Town Common, the Music Circus moved to its current location on the horse grounds of the Bancroft Estate in 1951, then one of only four summer tent theaters in the country.
Another of those, the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis, is now a sister venue to the Music Circus, both being operated by the non-profit South Shore Playhouse Associates.
The Music Circus will open its summer season on July 24 with the reggae bill of Skatalites & Third World, followed by the legendary soft-rock duo Air Supply, July 25, and country singer Brett Eldredge, July 31.
The season will also include Blues Traveler, & JJ Grey & Mofro, August 13, Motown legends The Temptations & The Four Tops, rock groups Foreigner, August 27, and Grand Funk Railroad, September 9, plus American Idol winner Scotty McCreery, September 10, and singer/songwriter Amos Lee, September 17, among others.
“We’re all very excited to put on our first show and get the new season underway,” said Vincent Longo, chief executive officer and executive producer of both the Music Circus and Melody Tent, by telephone from his Cohasset office. “It’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun.”
Fun, of course, is a word few, including Longo, would use to describe the pandemic.
“When everything first shut down in March 2020, we had no idea that 15 months would go by without any income whatsoever,” he said. “Some people had to get other jobs. Bringing a team together has been the toughest part of reopening. Hiring has been an enormous challenge.”
So was advance booking during what were uncertain times.
“Some shows were able to be rescheduled, however, so we dealt pretty well with all that. All venues had to start moving shows to new dates several months ago, before we knew what would finally happen.
“I started with an educated guess and set August 1 as a likely reopening date. On May 17, we were told that we could begin reopening on May 29. A couple of weeks later, on June 15, we learned that the state of emergency would be lifted altogether,” Longo said.
The Music Circus – with support from the federal government’s Service Venues Operations Grant – plans a full-capacity reopening, in keeping with guidelines issued by both the Town of Cohasset and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
“We act on the side of safety always,” Longo said. “If you’re fully vaccinated, then you will not need to wear a mask. If you are not vaccinated, then you must be masked.”
Music Circus regulars may notice that the venue’s signature tent looks a little different this year.
“We took delivery of a new Ferrari tent from France some time ago. It was supposed to be up in 2020, but that didn’t happen. It is up now, though, and it looks great. The interior is all white, which works beautifully for projections,” Longo said.
With new, more comfortable benches and other aesthetic improvements, the Music Circus is ready to host this season’s slate of acts, even if getting some of them there may pose an unforeseen challenge.
“There’s a shortage of bus drivers out of Nashville right now. When there were no tour buses on the road, many of the drivers moved to hauling freight, which apparently pays better,” Longo said.
Now in its 42nd year, the Company Theatre in Norwell will present “Rock of Ages” – a jukebox musical featuring songs by Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Poison and Twisted Sister – August 7-21, its first indoor production in 17 months.
“We feel totally safe moving back inside so that’s what we’re going to do,” said Zoe Bradford, Company’s co-founder, artistic director and president. “All of our performers are fully vaccinated. And they’re ecstatic to be back, pumped to remind audiences what they’ve missed.”
Bradford said audiences have a lot to look forward to – including new bathrooms, a new air circulation system, and, thanks to a grant from the state, a freshly resurfaced parking lot.
Some theatergoers will also find a new, important safety precaution in place. Audience members who are not fully vaccinated will be required to wear masks.
“We want people to walk back into the Company Theatre and have a blast, but we want them to be safe, too” Bradford said.
Company Theatre will also continue its outdoor Backlot Concert Series, with a slate of evening concerts, July 10-Aug. 10, and two Sunday morning brunches – “Broadway Drag Brunch!” July 11, and “Diva Brunch!” featuring Hingham native Christine Pecce, August 8.
This summer at the South Shore Conservatory will mark the first under the leadership of new president Robert Cinnante, who assumed the position on February 1.
“In terms of the pandemic, SSC reopened its doors virtually to students in September 2020. We were ahead of our time in that way, and it allowed us to keep the link to our families and let them know that SSC was there for them,” Cinnante said.
Cinnante, a tenor who earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in classical voice performance from the New England Conservatory of Music, most recently served as executive director of the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra in Connecticut.
“I’m craving live music and I know others are as well,” said Cinnante, a Long Island native.
A non-profit school for the arts with campuses in Hingham and Duxbury, the conservatory, which opened in 1970, will present “Evening Under the Stars,” at 7 p.m. Saturdays from July 10 to Aug. 7 at the Jane Carr Amphitheater in Hingham, and the Duxbury Music Festival, July 16, 18, 19, 21, and 22 at the Ellison Center for the Arts and Miramar Retreat Center, both in Duxbury.
“We’re really excited to be once again presenting these outdoor concert series. There is real energy and momentum around them, magnified by the time that we’ve been away,” Cinnante said. “And Miramar Retreat Center is a brand new venue for us, so that’s also exciting.”
IF YOU GO
What: Americana Theatre Company
Info: 508-591-0282, americanatheatre.org
What: Spire Center for the Performing Arts, 25 ½ Court St., Plymouth
Info: 508-746-4488, spirecenter.org
What: South Shore Music Circus, 130 Sohier St., Cohasset
Info: 781-383-9850, themusiccircus.org
What: Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive, Norwell
Info: 781-871-2787, companytheatre.com
What: South Shore Conservatory, 64 St. George St., Duxbury, and One Conservatory Drive, Hingham
Info: 781-934-2731, Duxbury, 781-749-7565, Hingham, ssmusic.org
By R. Scott Reedy for The Patriot Ledger
Preview marquis photo by Denise Maccaferri