Leading into the celebration of Howmet Playhouse turning 100 years old this year, the historic theater owned by the City of Whitehall has set its 2016 Summer Theatre Festival.
From this July 7 through Aug. 20, the playhouse that opened on Sept. 26, 1916 will host seven weekends of live productions, with subjects ranging from baseball to quilting to fine art to master detective Sherlock Holmes to a summer idyll on a small lake.
Beth Beaman, the playhouse’s managing director, said the season will open July 7-9 with “Rounding Third,” playwright Richard Dressler’s story of two Little League baseball coaches, one a veteran head coach, the other his young assistant.
Following that July 14-16, the Central Michigan University Summer Theatre touring company will make its annual sojourn to the White Lake Area. CMU will stage “Dearly Departed” on July 14, “Marriage is Murder” on July 15 and “Shady Business” on July 16. CMU has been staging summer shows at the playhouse for decades.
From July 21-23, “Bakersfield Mist” will introduce West Michigan audiences to playwright Stephen Sachs’ comedy about an unemployed bartender who buys, for a few dollars, a painting that might be a lost masterpiece by artist Jackson Pollock.
This season’s production by the White Lake Youth Theatre will be “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Stupid Fairy Tales.” Running from July 28-30, the play is an adaptation by John Glore of the famous children’s book by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. A compendium of fractured fairy tales, “The Stinky Cheese Man … “ makes over such stories as “Chicken Little” and “The Gingerbread Man.”
The playhouse will go musical Aug. 4-6 with “Quilters.” Written by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek, “Quilters” is about a group of American pioneer women whose lives and stories unfold through the patches of the quilts they are sewing.
The game of mystery will be afoot Aug. 11-13 when the playhouse stages playwright Steven Dietz’s “Sherlock Holmes and the Final Adventure.” The play is adapted from an 1899 play by William Gillette, an actor who specialized in portraying Sherlock Holmes on stage; and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, the world’s greatest fictional consulting detective. The story finds Holmes at the end of his career when he and his partner in crime solving, Dr. Watson, must aid a blackmailed King of Bohemia, and also deal with Holmes’ arch nemesis, the criminal mastermind Prof. Moriarty.
The Summer Theatre Festival’s regular lineup will close Aug. 18-20 will a warm story that resonates in West Michigan in general and the White Lake area in particular, where residents both year ‘round and summer know more than a little about life on a lakeshore: playwright Ernest Thompson’s famous “On Golden Pond.” The story is about an aged couple, retired professor Norman Thayer and his wife Ethel, who have summered on an inland lake for almost half a century.
Because it turns 100 years old this year, Howmet Playhouse also is planning to premiere an original, locally written play with music, its story being about the playhouse and its history. Primary among the characters will be Frank R. Adams (1883-1963), the writer and lyricist who, along with White Lake businessman James J. Nufer, founded the playhouse in 1916. Such storied local names as Pitkin, Seager, Sadony, Bloomdahl and Atkinson are sure to appear.
A renowned writer, Adams lived in the Sylvan Beach resort here. Many people know of him as one of the writers of “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now,” a 1909 song that will have an integral part in the new play.
Modeled after the famous LaSalle Theatre in Chicago, Howmet Playhouse at one time was called Nufer-Adams Playhouse. It has also been known as Whitehall Playhouse, The
Playhouse, White Lake Playhouse and the White Lake Music Hall. When the playhouse was home to the professional White Lake Players in 1964 and 1965, among the performers there was a young Brooke Adams (no relation to Frank Adams) who became a highly successful movie actress (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Cuba,” “The Dead Zone,” “Days of Heaven”).
The theater became Howmet Playhouse in the 1970s when Howmet Corp. spearheaded a
public fund drive to save and renovate the theater. The Summer Theatre Festival will announce production dates for the new play, which is being developed under the working title “The Playhouse: Memory of the Future,” within the next few months.
The playhouse has started selling membership for the new summer season. Memberships
include flex passes that may be redeemed for tickets to Summer Theatre Festival productions and events. The memberships sell for $200 (which includes 12 full-price tickets for the cost of ten) and $100 (six full-price tickets for the cost of five).
Beaman said that, to buy memberships and get further information, people should visit the Howmet Playhouse web site, www.howmetplayhouse.org.