Centennial Momentous: Original show will commemorate 100 years of Howmet Playhouse … and beyond

WHITEHALL — That the past foretells the future will come to life Sept. 22-24 on stage at historic Howmet Playhouse, 304 S. Mears.

“Playhouse: A Centennial Celebration Show,” an original, locally written play by West Michigan actors Kimberly Harsch and Bill Iddings, will officially kick off Howmet Playhouse’s 100th anniversary.

It also will be the beginning of the playhouse’s $3.6-million private fundraising campaign by the Friends of the Playhouse foundation, a support organization for the playhouse.

In the planning for almost two years, the campaign was announced to the Whitehall City Council at its regular meeting Aug. 23.

Howmet Playhouse (1916-2016) has been owned by the City of Whitehall since 2006.

Directed by Harsch, “Playhouse: A Centennial Celebration Show,” is a play with music.

In addition to such historical songs as “Over There,” “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” and “Pretty Baby,” it will feature tunes from the popular stage musicals “Annie,” “Gypsy,” “Hair,” “A Chorus Line,” “Rent” and the current smash hit “Hamilton.”

Scheduled to perform are Alison Chen, Shelbie Noel, Chris Beaman, Natalie Carmolli, Mary Kay Specht, Gwen Nelson, Tyler Frank, Jack Zwemer, Jasmine Broton, Jacy Harsch, Aiden Dykman, Lisbeth Franzon, Anneliese Vogler, Ryan Bouman, Mikayla Varso-Suits, Carlee Castle, Lucy Byam, Ashley Erdman, Aurora Franzon, Randi Clark and Elyse Ward.

There will be special appearances by Tommy Foster, Ruth and Max Bloomquist, performers from the Studio France School of Dance, and a choir of local singers.

Harsch is being assisted by assistant director Andrea Holmes and stage manager Lindsey Huizenga. The choreographer is Samantha Farrar. Also working on the show are Cindy Moore, Brianna J. Clark, Alice Gambel, Julie Howell and playhouse Managing Director Beth Beaman.

The production will have three 7:30 p.m. performances at the 385-seat playhouse.

General admission tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. They are available at Whitehall City Hall, 405 E. Colby.

The playhouse opened, as Whitehall Playhouse, on Sept. 26, 1916.

Its first show was “Michigan,” a stage musical written by playhouse cofounder Frank Ramsey Adams.

One of the “Michigan” performers was Maria Staples, a teenager who lived directly across Slocum Street from the playhouse.

Marie Staples is one of the characters in the centennial play, as are Adams and such other locally known names as Mrs. A.B Nevins; Grace Dixon Atkinson; Edna Bloomdahl; Martha Viars; Lorna Cavanaugh; Linda Bullock; Lorrie Griffin; Rondi Schmitt (a Playboy bunny who performed at the playhouse in 1966); former playhouse directors Kevin Wurz, Tom Harryman and Cindy Beth Davis-Dykema; professional actress Miranda McGee, a native Australian who began her career at the playhouse; Natalie Carmolli; and … a ghost who is rumored to haunt the playhouse.

Adams, a former Chicago journalist, lyricist, playwright and director who made the White Lake area his home, was best known as one of the writers of the 1909 pop song standard “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now.”

He and Whitehall businessman James J. Nufer founded the playhouse, which is fashioned after the LaSalle Theatre in Chicago.

The playhouse, which for years was known as the Nufer-Adams Playhouse, endures as a cultural touchstone of the White Lake community.

During its century in existence, the playhouse also has been called Whitehall Playhouse, The Playhouse, White Lake Playhouse and White Lake Music Hall.

It became Howmet Playhouse in 1976.

Over its years, the playhouse has featured such “name” performers as:

  • Brooke Adams, the movie actress (“Days of Heaven,” “The Dead Zone,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” etc.) who, as a teenager with the professional White Lake Players in the mid-1960s, played starstruck Kim McAfee in a summer-stock production of “Bye Bye Birdie”;
  • her older sister Lynne Adams, a star summer-stock ingenue at the playhouse in 1964 and ’65 who later starred to the TV soap opera “The Guiding Light” and then became a film director;
  • Robert K. Adams, the siblings’ father, a former television actor who formed The White Lake Players as the troupe’s producer, and later became a national network TV executive;
  • John Hillerman, who appeared at the playhouse in a 1960s production of “The Student Prince” and is widely known for costarring as Higgins in the TV series “Magnum P.I.”;
  • and Ed Nelson, the “Peyton Place” TV star who in 1976 brought his one-man, national- touring production of the Harry Truman show, “Give ‘em Hell, Harry,” to the playhouse.

Categories: Theatre

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