AVP History


Annisquam Village Players History and Past Productions


by Terry Sands, Director AVP

Theater has been an integral part of the Annisquam community for almost 100 years, and probably long before. Throughout these years, the various productions have combined elements of the Village Hall, Village Church and Yacht Club. The earliest record we could find of Annisquam dramatic presentations was a 1917 production of John Madison Morton’s classic farce, Box and Cox, starring James H. Cunningham. There were also reports of productions involving locals May Davis Deacon, Almon G. Davis, Arthur F. Bragdon and James Morrow. During the 1920s and 1930s, there was an annual follies presentation at the Yacht Club as part of Labor Day festivities.

In 1933 and 1934, there were presentations of two versions of a Cape Ann Follies performed at the Moorland Casino in Bass Rocks. These two shows, both written and directed by Theodore von Rosenvinge, were presented jointly by the Annisquam Yacht Club and the Bass Rocks Golf Club.

In 1947, a seven-year stint of annual melodrama productions commenced under the artistic direction of Joseph Donald Batcheller, head of the dramatics department at the University of New Hampshire, and musical direction of S. Foster Damon, head of the English department at Brown University. These were all presented at the Annisquam Village Hall under the name of the Annisquam International Company, a corporation which issued stocks to its members. Shows included No Mother to Guide Her (1947), Under the Gaslight (1948), From Rags to Riches (1949), The Ticket-of-Leave Man (1950), May Blossom (1951 and the only non-melodrama of this era), The Poor of New York (1952), Skin Game and Minor Miracle (1953 spring performances),and Billy the Kid (1953) the last of the annual melodramas.

Foster Damon, the musical director of the Annisquam International Company since 1947, wrote a drama entitled The Witch of Dogtown, which received the Russel Crouse Prize for the best play on a Cape Ann theme in 1954. That same year, Joe Batcheller directed the play at Gloucester City Hall in lieu of the annual melodrama. The show was a part of the 1954 Cape Ann Festival of the Arts.

In 1955, the Howard Lindsay-Russel Crouse hit, Life with Father, was presented at Gloucester High School with Larry Brooks in the lead role and his son, Tom, as one of his stage sons. Several other Annisquam regulars appeared in the production. The next year, a new young group of actors began a dramatic tradition in conjunction with the Junior Program at the Yacht Club, producing a Follies of two original works, Rich Gold and Big Surprise.

In 1957, Joe Batcheller produced his swan song in a new dramatic format created “under the tent” with an eight-performance in one day show, Box and Cox, at the Annisquam Sea Fair in July. And that same year Bob Edgerton’s group presented Not Fit for Man or Beast in August at the Village Hall. Edgerton’s last show, Naughty-Naught (1958), was suggested by Russel Crouse and his wife, Anna, who had performed in the original Broadway production.

The 1960s showcased several musicals and Smiley Ruggles, who had played in the orchestra for so many years, assumed the directorship. The 1966 musical The Fireman’s Flame starred Peter Hazzard and Lindsay Crouse — the only performance where Lindsay graced our stage before she took off for Hollywood. In 1969, Ruggles produced Little Mary Sunshine and recreated the successful Naughty-Naught.

The next era of the Village Players was the era of the 1980s, when Lucy Mechem directed the shows. Her first production was An Italian Straw Hat (1980) and was the first production to use the name Annisquam Village Players. All of Lucy’s shows were a collaboration of the Players and the Junior Yacht Club, with the emergence of Larry Cook as the lead and the teen heartthrob of Annisquam. Bye Bye Birdie followed in 1983; then 40 Leonard Street (1988) in which Claire Norton made her debut and then remained a steady on the stage for a number of years. This show was an original musical written by Tom Mechem and based on the Broadway hit 42nd Street.

Lucy Mechem moved to Hawaii and two years later Terry Sands co-directed his first show, Free to be . . .You and Me, with Rosalie Hughes. This was a one-night performance put on by the JP/SP kids of the Annisquam Yacht Club. The next year, the Players under Terry Sands produced two shows: Godspell in July 1991 and Annisquam Follies (written by Terry Sands and Nancy Weir) in August of that summer.

1992 was the year that started a run of annual major Broadway musicals. The first show (a sell-out) was The Sound of Music, written by Howard Lindsay and Annisquam’s own Russel Crouse. Rumour has it that much of the show was written in the Annisquam home later owned by Bob Stewart, the musical director for the show. Anna Crouse Murch gave a personal remembrance of the Broadway opening in a gala prior to opening night. Linette French, as head of ticket sales, instituted a system of reserved seating which, over the last decade, has brought order to increased demand for tickets. John Wilson and Betsy Bornhofft starred as Captain von Trapp; and Maria, while the von Trapp children grew in number from the Broadway seven to eight to accommodate the huge list of children trying out for the show. The cast that year numbered almost 100 and ranged in age from 5 to over 80!

The summer of ‘93, the Players produced South Pacific. Nancy Bornhofft took over musical direction for this play, giving Bob Stewart the first respite from the piano since 1983. Karen Gorton joined the production as choreographer, a role she kept for many years. Wilson and Bornhofft again starred as Emile deBecque and Nellie Forbush, and Job Emerson made his debut with the Players as Luther Billis, complete with undulating ship on his belly.

1994 brought the four-night run of Oliver!, where Peter Hazzard took over the musical direction with Nancy Bornhofft. And this was the year Mary Curtis arrived as assistant director and drama coach, bringing with her many years of directing and acting ability from the Dover stage. The role of young Oliver was double-cast to allow new emerging talent to bud on the stage, with Peter Lordan and Peter Carrier sharing the spotlight. Job Emerson created a memorable Fagan. In 1995, the AVP returned to a Rogers and Hammerstein musical with The King & I, complete with twelve royal children.

1996 marked the 100th anniversary of the Annisquam Yacht Club and Terry Sands wrote an original musical recounting the history of theater 100 years, with Bob Stewart and Tom Mannle writing many original lyrics. Extensive research turned up much of the music of days gone by which was recreated for this performance. It was presented for three August nights at the AYC in dinner theater format.

The Players presented My Fair Lady in 1997, with Job Emerson as the illustrious Henry Higgins; Catherine Gunn and Beth Whitlock shared the role of Eliza Doolittle. Duncan Nelson returned from 50 years’ obscurity as a magnificent Alfred P. Doolittle, obtaining rave reviews for his flea scene. Chris Frontiero introduced Gloucester High School talent to our stage, playing the comic Colonel Pickering.

1998 marked the 375th anniversary of the founding of the city of Gloucester and in the spirit of honoring native Gloucester citizens in the arts, the Players produced Russel Crouse’s fabulous Anything Goes, energized by the wonderful Cole Porter score. Bill Stone starred as business tycoon Eli Whitney and 17-year-old Claude Deering took on his first starring role as Billy Crocker. Ingenue Jenn McKay played the sexy Reno Sweeney. Anna Murch gave a personal remembrance of the show’s Broadway opening, and of its New York revival which her son, Tim Crouse had written.

The summer of 1999 marked the tenth anniversary of the establishment of annual musicals in the Village Hall. Oklahoma! brought one of Broadway’s jewels to Annisquam. That season also marked Terry Sand’s tenth year of direction of the Players, with a goal of combining local talent and the introduction of children to the stage. Peter Nelson starred as Curly, Eric Jacklin as Will, Sara Balzarini as Laurey, Beth Whitlock as Ado Annie and Chris Frontier as Jud; with musical direction by the indomitable Nancy Bornhofft. Oklahoma! reaffirmed that the best of Broadway could also flourish as the best of Annisquam.

The tenth anniversary year was a time for recognizing the heads of the backstage committees which have organised a large segment of the community. Chicki Hollett has led the set committee for the last eight years, producing backgrounds as grand as a Thai palace and as sleek as an ocean liner. Catherine Russ and her predecessor, Jill Lovejoy, produced costumes numbering in the thousands for the various shows. Catherine’s husband, John, kept us out of darkness on our stage. Jane Deering, Stevie Neal, Amy Gault, Diane Jaquith, and Kim Smith have donated their talents and energy, along with their summers as stage managers to make these miracles happen.

2000, the beginning of the 21st century, brought Guys and Dolls to Annisquam. Larry Cook returned to the Annisquam stage as Sky Masterson after a twelve year reprieve, playing opposite Jenn MacKay as Sarah Brown. Gloucester High School produced a number of feisty gamblers, including Chris Frontiero, John Popp and Steve Piscitello (who were to grace our stage for several years to come). Gillian McKay-Smith sang her soul out as Miss Adelaide in Adelaide’s Lament, along with the Hot-Box Girls and Job Emerson wowed as Arvide Abernathy singing More I Cannot Wish You. Due to the expanding popularity of the shows, a fifth night was added to the run.

2001 was a hot summer, and the Players were sweltering in the heat from Damn Yankees, and not just because the star of the show was the Devil, mischievously played by Tom Hauck. The story of the baseball player Joe Hardy, who sold his soul to the Devil to return to his youth for fame and fortune, brought Gillian McKay-Smith to steamy heights as Lola (the Devil’s disciple), as she enticed young Hardy, played by Jon Popp, into her fold. Standouts were old Joe’s wife Catherine Cobb and her comic friends played by Katherine Dekoninck and Mary Pappademas. Job Emerson led the ball players in a stirring rendition of You’ve Gotta Have Heart. Susan Taormina, who had joined Nancy Bornhofft as Assistant Music Director several years before, became the Music Director for this show, a role she held for many years to come. The Players used the heat as the basis for a fundraiser for bringing air-conditioning to the Village Hall, and that fall cool air descended into the Hall for the first time in its 200 year history.

2002 brought the most popular show in the history of the Players, West Side Story. A part of that magic summer was the introduction of ingénue Renee Dupuis to Annisquam as Maria, with Peter Nelson playing her lover Tony. The two stars brought sensuality and passion to the stage and resulted in standing ovations for their rendition of Tonight. Beth Whitlock and Jon Popp also brought rave reviews as Anita and Riff, and the choreography of the Jets by Jessica Linquata in their opening rendition of the Jet Song set the Hall on fire. The perennial favorite Fred Lovejoy scored as Officer Krupke. In tribute to 9/11, you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium for the finale as, with Tony dead on the stage, the cast silently paraded out while the New York skyline, absent the twin towers, was lighted in the background. Because of totally sold-out performances and huge waiting lines, the AVP added an extra night to the run, commencing the future of six night runs.

In 2003 the AVP produced The Music Man, with the largest cast in the history of the Players. Larry Cook took on the role of Harold Hill with Kristina Martin playing Marian Paroo, leading a cast of ninety in belting out Trouble in River City. Standouts were the Pickalittle Ladies led by Tammie Foote and the barbershop quartet comprised of Patrick Dennen, Larry Baxter, Giuseppe Delisi and Alex Caress. The finale brought a huge number of the cast, clothed in marching band uniforms, leading the audience into the streets playing 76 Trombones.

2004 brought Rogers and Hammerstein back to Annisquam with Carousel, starring Eric Jacklin as Billy Bigelow and Renee Dupuis as Julie Jordan. Eric’s fabulous singing of My Boy Bill foreshadowed the birth of his son William the following winter. Standouts in the show were Olivia Hauck and Patrick Dennen as Carrie Pipperidge and Enoch Snow, whose rendition of When the Children are Asleep brought the house down each night, and Pete Kovner, who stole the show as the thief Jigger Craigin (and who to this day is still known in Annisquam as Jigger). Kristina Martin, as Nettie Fowler, brought the audience to tears each night with her version of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Tom Hauck’s backdrop painting of the Annisquam lighthouse as the main set remains as the central painting in the Village Hall today, often requested as the backdrop for many weddings and other events.

We still hear from the cast that the 2005 production of Brigadoon is the favorite show that we have ever done. Larry Cook as Tommy Albright and Leslie Anderson as Fiona enacted the story of the Scottish town that appears once every 100 years. That summer the AVP discovered newcomer Will Rousmaniere as dapper Charlie Dalrymple, who wowed the audience with his singing of I’ll Go Home With Bonnie Jean in tribute to bride Olivia Hauck as Jean MacLaren. Another wonderful addition to the cast was Keith McCarthy as Jeff Douglas, who with Maida Soehl as Meg Brockie, added wonderful comedy to the poignant love story. Pete Kovner was again a standout as Mr. Lundie, a Scottsman who led the kilt-clad cast in bringing Scotland to Annisquam. And the audience was enchanted by the music of bagpiper Kirk Brunson.

2006 took the Players to old Russia and one of the most successful of its shows, Fiddler on the Roof. Violinist Sirkka Natti, opened the show while Job Emerson, as Tevye, mesmerized the audience with his rendition of If I Were A Rich Man. Patti Natti played his wife Golde, and Megan Downey, Bailey Emerson and Jessica Cain rocked as Tevye’s daughters, singing Matchmaker to thunderous applause. Two standout scenes were the Sabbath Prayer sung to candlelight and the Dream Scene with an array of teenagers portraying figures from beyond the grave. Another crowd-pleaser were the bottle dancers Maida Soehl, Katie Connors and Kerri Connors. Mike English and Paul Hurst made their debut to the Annisquam stage as debauched Russians.

The musical version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew came to Annisquam in 2007 with Kiss Me, Kate. Larry Cook and Maida Soehl portrayed the tempestuous lovers Petruchio and Kate, with Will Rousmaniere and Renee Dupuis playing the equally passionate duo Lucentio and Bianca. Of course Pete Kovner and Fred Lovejoy stole the show as the two gangsters singing Brush Up Your Shakespeare. The stage sizzled with the cast performing Too Darn Hot.

In 2008 the AVP brought back The Sound of Music for a second time to the Annisquam stage as a tribute to Anna Murch, whose husband Russel Krouse wrote the show in Annisquam in the 1950s with Howard Lindsay. Larry Cook and Renee Dupuis took over the stage as Captain von Trapp and Maria. Kathy Lordan got standing ovations each night with her portrayal of Mother Superior singing Climb Every Mountain. And of course the von Trapp children Kelsey Pinkard, Samantha Milne, Nelson Pike, Sara Lehman, Quenton Hurst, Julia Silveira and Sadie Cook, stole the show signing Do-Re-Mi. Equally endearing were the chorus of Nuns under the musical direction of Patti Pike. Fred Lovejoy reprised his role of Max Detweiler from sixteen years earlier, playing opposite Catherine Gunn as Elsa Schraeder. A gala was given to honor Anna Murch, at which the cast performed and Anna gave a stirring recollection of her life with Russel Krouse and the opening of the show on Broadway. Anna gave the children in the cast music boxes saved from the opening of the movie in 1956.

2009 brought what may have been the most difficult show the AVP has produced, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The show, one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most famous operettas, required a cast of twelve singing men, which was assembled with gusto (and one woman). Two newcomers with fabulous voices starred on the show, Andrea Liacos as the Narrator and Gabriel Rodriguez, a student from Emerson, as Joseph. Paul Hurst sizzled as the Pharoah, and the AVP collected women’s undergarments after each performance thrown by the frenzied audience. Michael English and Kelsey Pinkard added comic relief as Potiphar and his adulterous wife. Another stalwart of our stage, Victoria Fortune, made her debut as one of the Pharoah’s harem. Keith McCarthy and Nat Gorton led two audience favorites, One More Angel in Heaven and Those Canaan Days. As a fundraiser, Daphne Papp inaugurated the Annisquam Porch Tour that summer, with the cast performing at sunset at the conclusion of the tour.

One of Broadway’s best known musicals came to Annisquam in 2010, with Julia SIlveira and Mike English portraying Little Orphan Annie and Daddy Warbucks in Annie. The trio of Jennifer Lee Levitz, Victoria Fortune and Rick Gadbois wowed the audience as Miss Hannigan, her brother Rooster and his girlfriend Lily St. Regis in Easy Street. And of course the orphans got rave reviews each night for their rendition of Hard Knock Life. Fred Lovejoy returned for his triumphant portrayal of President Roosevelt, and Jud Gale, a longtime resident of Annisquam who was finally persuaded to tred the boards in the Village Hall, joined his cabinet. Another standout was Will Rousmaniere as Bert Healy singing You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile. Ariel Sargent, a young Gloucester ingénue who has performed with the AVP for many years with one of the best voices to hit the Annisquam stage, played Grace Farrell, Warbuck’s secretary. The AVP entered a float in the Gloucester 4th of July Horribles Parade, with the orphans performing Hard Knock Life, and won first prize as a musical float.

As the AVP knows, There’s No Business Like Show Business, and 2011 brought Annie Get Your Gun to Annisquam. Victoria Fortune received rave reviews as Annie Oakley, singing You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun, playing opposite Larry Cook as Frank Butler. Gordon Baird and Deb Michel played Charlie Davenport and Dolly Tate, as hilarious an odd couple as has ever hit the Annisquam stage. Pharrel Wener as Buffalo Bill Cody and Keith McCarthy as Chief Sitting Bull led the cast as the leaders of the cowboy and Indian rivalry, and Annie’s siblings Rachel Denney, Sofia Gadbois, Rhiannon Hurst, Michael Silveira and Andrew Treat, charmed the audience in Doin’ What Comes Naturally, complete with jug band. And one of the highlights of the show was Ariel Sargent as Winnie Tate and the cowboy trio of Aedan McCarthy, Paul Hurst and Andrew Rivenbark, singing Moonshine Lullaby. A second Porch Tour the week before the show was again a sold-out success, and the AVP again won as best musical float in the Horribles Parade.