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Hot News

ROCAMORA'S REVIEW - July 2018: Summer Offerings

What happened to the “summer lull”? New York theatres keep generating exciting, edgy, and entertaining work.

Carmen Jones at the Classic Stage Company

If only Oscar Hammerstein were alive today to see the Classic Stage Company’s thrilling revival of his Carmen Jones! Like the rest of us, he’d marvel at the red-hot passion packed into that tiny theatre.

Hammerstein’s compact English-language adaptation of Bizet’s opera preserves the highlights of the gorgeous score and adheres to the skeletal plot, while offering new lyrics. He transplants the setting from 19th century Seville to a town in the American south during World War II, site of a parachute plant (cigarette factory, in the original) and a base for soldiers about to be shipped off to war.

Doyle’s choice to remount Carmen Jones as the culmination of CSC’s 50th anniversary season is inspired. First, Carmen Jones hasn’t been seen on a New York stage in 75 years. Second, it’s a perfect match for John Doyle’s prodigious talent as a visionary director of musicals (witness his groundbreaking work on Sondheim). Third, it allows Doyle’s skill as a director of ensembles to shine – this time, with a superb troupe of ten African-American actors.

Designer Scott Pask has made marvelous use of the small CSC space, serving Doyle’s signature minimalist style. He’s reconfigured the seating into a rectangle, with audience on all four sides of a bare stage floor. A balcony hangs over one block of seats, housing an orchestra of seven.

The ensemble is marvelous. Anika Noni Rose is a charismatic Carmen. Although of small stature, she commands the stage, unleashing her seductive powers. Her voice is rich and honey-smooth, and she delivers the famous arias with skill and confidence. Clifton Duncan cuts a deeply moving figure as Joe (Don Jose in the original), whom he endows with aching vulnerability and well as decency. As Cindy Lou (Micaela in the original), Lindsay Roberts is radiant, and her voice is angelic. As the boxer (Escamillo in the original), David Aron Damane delivers the famous toreador song with authority and panache. The rest of the acting/singing ensemble shines, costumed in brilliant color by Anne Hould-Ward. (The dynamic choreography is by Bill T. Jones).

This is one of those productions where all the artistic planets are aligned, and the results are glorious. In such an intimate space, with the performers only a few feet from you, the results are electrifying.

Everyone’s Fine With Virginia Woolf at Abrons Art Center

Elevator Repair Service, that devilish New-York-based company, is up to its tricks again – namely, hijacking existing written works and turning them into theatrical gold.

This time, ERS’s literary heist is Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee’s 1962 masterpiece on the tragedy of marriage and sterility. Albee’s play has unleashed the unbridled imagination of actress/playwright Kate Scelsa, one of ERS’s members, who has turned it into a hilarious parody called Everyone’s Fine With Virginia Woolf, standing the play on its head and lampooning its male and female stereotypes.

Scelsa loosely follows Albee’s plot in Act I, featuring the two childless academic couples (George & Martha, Nick & Honey) while substituting Albee’s dialogue with her own. In this absurdist version, George and Martha are gay. George (who teaches Tennessee Williams’s plays) assumes the roles of Blanche (A Streetcar Named Desire) and Maggie (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) alternately, while Nick fantasizes about carrying a baby in utero (in Albee’s original, Honey was the one with the hysterical pregnancy). There’s story-telling, role-playing, role-switching, couple-swapping, till you don’t know which end is up (nor should you).

And that’s only Act One. Act Two spins wildly out of control. (If I described it, you wouldn’t believe me. For starters, there’s a vampire…)
In sum, Scelsa’s wild and wonderful romp is a self-parody on the current obsession with genre – including trends like “fan fiction” and “flash fiction.” There are numerous random references to authors (Woody Allen), plays (Miller’s All My Sons) characters (Ibsen’s Hedda and Nora), and my favorite - Harry Connick Jr. (what’s he doing in this play?!)

Scelsa wrote the play expressly for ERS ensemble members, whose roles fit like kid gloves. As Martha, Annie McNamara is hilarious with her “big hair” and foul mouth. As George, Vin Knight wears a perpetual expression of surprise (do you blame him?!) and performs Williams’s female roles with relish. Mike Iveson is deliciously nerdy as Nick, and Honey (April Matthis) is the one voice of reason (she’s smart to leave at the end of Act One before the trouble really starts). All this mayhem is directed with panache by the adventuresome John Collin, ERS’s Artistic Director, who fuels the production’s boundless energy and unpredictability.

Cyprus Avenue at the Public Theatre

Brace yourself for a traumatic ride. Cyprus Avenue is one of those deceptive dramas that begins with a stock situation – a man in a psychiatrist’s office – but soon goes off the rails and crashes like a horrific train wreck.

David Ireland’s explosive new play concerns Eric Miller (the amazing Stephen Rea), a seemingly mild-mannered middle-aged man who has lived his whole life in East Belfast. A staunch Ulster Protestant and British loyalist who hates the Irish Catholics, he’s internalized his country’s identity crisis, and can’t seem to shake off the historical/political conflict that has rocked Northern Ireland for 400 years.

So Eric’s obsession has turned into a full-blown psychosis. He’s convinced that his baby granddaughter looks like Gerry Adams, the leader of IRA’s Sinn Féin. That absurd conviction has driven Eric to do something about it –– and that terrible “something” is what his psychiatrist (Ronke Adékoluejo) is trying to get him to discuss, in this play’s taut 100 minutes.

This is a play that keeps pulling the rug out from under your feet. The series of flashbacks, in which we see him holding his baby granddaughter in his arms, are both harrowing and at the same time hilarious. To the shock and disbelief of his daughter Julie and wife Bernie, Eric has taken a black magic marker and drawn a beard on the baby’s face (it’s a doll, by the way), to determine whether the likeness to Gerry Adams is accurate and his suspicion is justified. The absurdity intensifies when Eric and his new associate, a terrorist named Slim, plot an unspeakable act of violence. This can’t be happening - can it? - we think, laughing at the outrageousness of it all, just as we did in Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore, wherein an IRA terrorist goes on a killing spree to avenge the murder of his cat.

But this playwright’s intentions are dead earnest. He’s writing about prejudice, bigotry and racism – irrational mindsets that drive people over the cliff and into the chasm of psychosis. Like McDonagh who explores the absurdity of terrorism, like Sarah Kane (Blasted) and Edward Bond (Saved) who write about senselessness of violence, Ireland is a dramatist who commands our attention, despite the price we pay.

Director Vicky Featherstone choreographs the mounting tension with skill and precision on Lizzie Clachan’s exposed, corridor-style set. Stephen Rea is riveting in the role of Eric – alternatingly paranoid, witty, cunning, tortured, and tragically irredeemable. The rest of the company is excellent – including Ronke Adékoluejo as the clear-headed psychiatrist, Andrea Irvinea as Eric’s wife, and Amy Molloy as his daughter. Chris Corrigan is priceless as Slim, the Plato-quoting terrorist.

It’s a dangerous play and a hard one to watch, but it will stay with you long after its shocking ending. The plaintive Irish song that daughter Julie sings will still be ringing in your ears.

Love and Intrigue at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

Every generation brings a new director to the world stage who changes the way we view the classics, whether it be Euripides, Shakespeare, or Moliere.

Such praise belongs to the world-renowned Lev Dodin, artistic director of the Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, Russia since 1975. We’ve been fortunate to experience his groundbreaking interpretations of Chekhov here at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with his recent productions of Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard.

This spring, Dodin sheds new light on the work of another great playwright. He brings his stellar company to BAM in his arresting version of Friedrich Schiller’s Love and Intrigue, an 18th century German masterpiece that couldn’t be more timely to revive.

Watching Dodin’s masterful interpretation of this dark tale of love and power, you’ll be reminded of Romeo & Juliet and Les Liaisons Dangereuses, with the political machinations of Richard III thrown in. The plot concerns Ferdinand (Danila Kozlovsky), whose father (Igor Ivanov), a powerful President, wants his son to marry the Duke’s mistress (Ksenya Rappaport), for political reasons that will benefit both his boss and himself. But Ferdinand has fallen in love with a music teacher’s daughter, the lovely Luise Miller (Elizaveta Boyarskaya)
– someone far below his “station”, according to his father. The tragedy is two-fold – two lovers torn apart, and a father-son relationship fractured.

The twisted plot advances through the Machievellian maneuvering of Wurm (Igor Chernevich), the President’s appropriately named secretary, who ensnares the tragic lovers in a political net too intricate to untangle here. Suffice it to say, it all ends badly (no spoiler, since you know it’s a tragedy already). But it’s spectacular to watch, thanks to Dodin’s distinctive directorial hand.

Dodin, a director in the Peter Brook minimalist tradition, offers a
spare, bronze-lit stage (designed by Alexander Borovsky) with a majestic back wall slashed by vertical beams of gold (designed by Damir Ismagilov, mirroring the slashing of familial and romantic ties). The company is costumed severely in black and white. A corps of political aides (who also double as servants) bring in long wooden tables that serve as platforms for love-making, dancing, drinking, and, ultimately, acts of violence.

As the conflicted Ferdinand, Koslovsky cuts a dashing romantic figure, and Boyarskaya’s beautiful Luise radiates a courage and nobility that matches Shakespeare’s doomed heroines (Juliet and Desdemona).

A master interpreter of Chekhov, Dodin understands the farcical elements embedded in tragedy. By infusing Schiller’s tragic tale with moments of ironic humor and stylized movement, Dodin underscores the dark theme of the abuse of power and how it reduces people to puppets and pawns.
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from PLAYABILL.COM - June 7, 2018 - by Andrew Gans

Smith and Kraus author and award-winning playwright Glenn Alterman featured in new film.

This film is part of a film series, LADIES IN ACTION. All of the films are written by--- directed by--- and star women.

Tony Winner Victoria Clark Directs New Film For "Me & My Gal."

The short film is the first of five in the filmmaking initiative Ladies in Action.

Victoria Clark, a Tony winner for her performance in The Light in the Piazza, will direct the short film For Me & My Gal.

The film, starring Brittany Jeffery, is the first of five in the film-making initiative from Maggie Politi and Spiro Marcos, Ladies in Action, which features short films all written and directed by women, and starring a woman in the lead role.

Jamie Buxton penned the screenplay for For Me & My Gal, which reflects on music and the unique ways it can stimulate mem

Clark was also Tony-nominated for her work in Gigi, Cinderella, and Sister Act. She has directed for the New York Musical Theater Festival (Newton’s Cradle, 2016 Best Musical, Best Director), Fredericia Theater in Denmark (2017, The Trouble With Doug), The Philadelphia Opera Theater, Texas Opera Theater, Chautauqua Opera, and the 92nd Street Y in New York

For Me & My Gal is produced by Maggie Politi, Spiro Marcos, Amy Schwegel, and the team of Mighty Lucky Studio, including Beau Allulli, David Levine, Yasemin Tulca, and Rachel Allulli.
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From Connecticut Magazine - July 2018
Written by Michael Catarevas: Photos by Michael Cummo

Two Leading Ladies Have Left Broadway Behind, But Not Their Love of the Theater

Carole Schweid and Melody Libonati never knew each other, but have lived parallel lives. Both grew up determined to become stage actresses and did, starring in legendary Broadway shows in the 1970s. Both married and moved to Connecticut to raise their families, then each founded and nurtured what are now thriving theater companies in Westport and New Canaan. And now they’ve finally met.

Some 40 years ago, at the Shubert Theatre on Manhattan’s W. 44th Street, Carole Schweid was a featured actress playing the spunky Diana Morales in the smash Broadway hit A Chorus Line.

At the same time, one block over at the Royale Theatre, Melody Meitrott (Libonati) was charming audiences as the fresh-faced Sandy Dumbrowski in the long-running musical Grease.

The two 20-somethings, from New Jersey and upstate New York, respectively, sang key songs solo, the pinnacle of show-biz success, living the big-stage dreams they’d always imagined.

Grease was closing in on a record 3,388 performances, making it Broadway’s longest-running show ever. A Chorus Line was still in its infancy, but would overtake Grease, eventually totaling 6,137 performances.

The two women couldn’t know it back then, as they sang and danced eight shows a week, but they would spend the majority of their lives achieving even more significant personal and professional success, all in the Nutmeg State.

Fast-forwarding from those Great White Way glories to 2018 finds Schweid leading Play With Your Food, a Westport-based theatrical company she co-founded 14 years ago, while Libonati does likewise with Summer Theatre of New Canaan, which she started just about the same time.

Both raised families in Connecticut, where they’ve lived for 30-plus years, with each of their two adult children immersed full time in the arts [see “Following Mom” sidebar]. Schweid recently had a book published on creating staged readings, with Libonati founding and continuing to run her Performing Arts Conservatory of New Canaan, teaching young people how to sing, dance, act and believe in themselves.

Growing up in Maplewood, New Jersey (Schweid), and Corning, New York (Libonati), singing and dancing were regular aspects of family life.

“My mother was a singer who performed at hotels and special events, and sang a lot at home,” says Libonati, 65. “She loved musical theater, so all the records in the house were of those. I started singing when I was 4, and sang Sunday school songs on the radio by myself at that age. In fourth grade I was in a play, had the lead and decided that’s what I wanted to do forever.”

When your mother is a well-known singer, dancer and actress, as well as writer, director and…

She would follow her brother Gary to nearby Ithaca College and its acting program. She met Ed Libonati there; they would eventually marry. Gary and Melody went to New York to act around 1976, and would play Jack and Jill on Broadway in Babes in Toyland. Not long after, Libonati landed Grease.

Schweid, 71, had a more meandering journey. Her life from early on was always about dance.

“I can’t remember ever not dancing,” she says. “I was born to it. I have a theory that if you’re in the arts you get one thing that’s a gift, and dancing was mine. My mom liked to dance, and we would dance in the kitchen.”

Schweid attended Boston University for two years, then transferred to the Juilliard School’s dance department.

“I studied modern dance and ballet there,” she recalls. “You learn technique or you die; how to get out of your feet, how to lift.”

“I was doing off-Broadway shows, one after another. I was a gypsy,” she says. “I went to an audition for Minnie’s Boys, a 1970 Broadway musical about the Marx brothers, at the Imperial Theatre, and won a job in the chorus. At the end of the show we would all walk toward the audience. The Imperial was where I had seen my first Broadway show, and was on its stage the first time I auditioned for a summer stock play. On opening night all of a sudden it hit me that I’m on that same stage, for real. I started to cry, and cried through the finale, the curtain call and the next 20 minutes in the dressing room. That was my first professional Broadway experience.”

Minnie’s Boys was not a hit, and Schweid spent the next few years perfecting her craft, performing in shows all over before her big break would come. She was doing Fiddler on the Roof at a dinner theater in New Jersey. In the chorus was a friend, Nick Dante, who was working after-hours with Michael Bennett on a musical idea about dancers.
Right place, right time

Schweid treasures her past and accepts her present good naturedly, meaning she has ceased protesting consistently being introduced thusly: “This is Carole Schweid. She was in the original A Chorus Line.”

“It’s history, it’s theater lore, and I was there,” she says. “I was in the room where it happened, to quote Hamilton. Sometimes strangers hug me when they find out. I’m not kidding. Because it affected a lot of people’s lives.”

It affected Schweid’s life too, in every way. Before ascending to the plum role of Morales, who sings What I Did for Love, the play’s emotional climax, Schweid personified what the story was about — dancers scrambling to land jobs in a play’s chorus.

She’d been recommended by Dante to Bennett, A Chorus Line’s director and co-choreographer, who in 1974 was workshopping the production.

“Two performers had left, and I’d auditioned for Michael for another show about a year before,” she says. “I went in and danced for him for like 40 seconds and got the job.”

The job was being in the chorus of A Chorus Line, and understudying several roles.

“There were nine of us who covered all the parts, who got cut [in the opening number],” she says. “We had a little booth and would sing in the wings. They always need more voices [for group songs]. And I went on for people sometimes.”

There was no question A Chorus Line would be a hit, because its pre-Broadway run downtown sold out and word spread. Opening night at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre, July 25, 1975, was a frenzy of excitement for Schweid and her friend, Marvin Hamlisch, who composed the music and would become a giant in the industry.

“He had been the rehearsal pianist for Minnie’s Boys,” she says. “He was so great. Opening night he calmed us all down before the show by playing the Chorus Line songs as if they were written by different composers. Years later at his funeral in New York, Bill Clinton was the first speaker, and he said that Marvin used to do that for visiting dignitaries at the White House. He was such an ambassador for bringing people together. Brilliant, and funny.”

After a solid but unspectacular start to her career, Schweid suddenly was an original cast member of one of the biggest hits in Broadway history. It was both exhilarating and pressurized. After a year or so there would be a second production in Los Angeles. Many of the Broadway cast originals, including Priscilla Lopez, who played Morales, left for the West Coast. Replacements were needed.

“I didn’t want to go to L.A. and sit in the booth there because I was already sitting in the booth in New York,” Schweid says. “Michael had hired someone else to replace Lopez. I was in his office and he said, ‘I’m not letting you play Morales because you’re not Puerto Rican, yada yada.’ ”

Another actress took over the part, but started missing shows and was fired. Schweid was tapped, suddenly front and center for every performance.

“Looking back, it was wonderful and it was horrible, but I wouldn’t have missed it, of course,” she says. “When you take over a part, you have to do it like the person you replaced. They want you to be that person. So I became the Jewish Puerto Rican.

“I was under a lot of stress. I didn’t talk on the phone because I was afraid of losing my voice. The songs I sang were out of my range and I was shouting. I needed them lowered half a tone, but didn’t have the confidence to ask.

“It was great to sing What I Did for Love, but four hours later I would wake up in the middle of the night going ‘ahh-AHH’ to see if I could hit the note. Then not talking all day because I was afraid of not hitting the note.”

Schweid performed Morales for close to a year, validating the toughness and resolve she’d developed early on. Ironically, her steely determination to make every curtain cost her a role in the film Annie Hall, which would win the Oscar for best picture in 1978.

“I was cast for a scene that was going to shoot in Brighton Beach, but they could not guarantee I’d get to the Shubert by 7:30, so I passed,” she says. “I didn’t realize that a movie was forever. It was a real missed opportunity.”

Bennett eventually decided to return the role of Morales to a Hispanic actress. “They said I could go back and cover all the parts, but I declined,” Schweid says.

She did manage one everlasting achievement — singing on the original A Chorus Line cast recording. “On some songs everybody is singing, and I’m one of the everybodies,” she says. “The royalties are not nearly enough, but I’m in one of the pictures in the CD, so that’s pretty nice.”

Grease was the word

Libonati’s memories of being a “Greaser,” as cast members called themselves, are purely joyful. There was no make-or-break pressure because the show had been running for several years before she joined the cast. Like Schweid, she would start as an extra and earn her way to front and center stage.

“I went to an open [casting] call with hundreds of people,” she remembers, as new performers were needed to replace ones who left. “I was hired and went on the road first, on the national tour, understudying for everybody.”

Having to learn all the songs, dance moves and dialogue for multiple roles proved pivotal decades later when Libonati founded Summer Theatre of New Canaan.

“It started me on a more long-term, overall understanding of how things worked,” she says. “For directing, when you have to know everything; it got me interested in not just myself and what I’m doing on stage but what others are doing.”

Upon entering the Performing Arts Conservatory in New Canaan, there mounted on the wall, fad…

Libonati’s Broadway Grease run almost ended before it began.

“We did the whole East Coast on the national tour, and then it was going out west,” she says. “I didn’t want to go, so I told them I was leaving. They said if I quit I’d never work the show again. But instead they brought me back to New York to the Broadway show, where I filled in again for a while, and then played [the lead role of] Sandy.

“It was so fun, so fun. We were all kids the same age, everybody having the times of their lives. I played opposite Patrick Swayze, then Adrian Zmed and then [Rowayton native] Treat Williams. We’d all go out to Studio 54 after the shows. It was the start of the whole club thing.”

Libonati would play Sandy for more than two years, nailing it show after show.

“One of the best compliments I ever got from a director was that I was consistent,” she says. “They want things to be the same, which is hard in an acting situation because you have to be in the moment, where it’s really happening for the first time.

“There’s magic in a live performance. That’s why people do it. It’s a sense of something happening right now, that you’re involving the audience, and there’s this great communication working.”

During her Sandy years, Melody and Ed married. One night she arrived at the theater feeling ill.

“The stage manager had had a baby not long before,” she says. “I went up to her and said I felt really bad. She asked me if it made me nauseous to brush my teeth. I said, ‘Don’t even talk about that.’ She said, ‘You’re pregnant.’ And I was. That’s how I found out. I still went on that night.”
Connecticut beckons

With Schweid and Libonati having experienced the bright lights, it was nearing time for something new in their lives, but each would land one more big role first.

For Libonati, it was a recurring part playing a teenager on the soap opera One Life to Live in 1978. Soaps ruled daytime television in those days. For most of the year she doubled up.

“I would go to the studio in the morning, the taping was over by late afternoon and I’d do Grease at night,” she says. “I always had a lot of energy. I was a runner back then. I used to take the script with me and learn my lines while jogging around Central Park.”

Schweid stayed on stage for her final triumph.

“The year after A Chorus Line I did four off-Broadway shows for ego-mending,” she says. “Then I auditioned for the national tour of Pippin, which had just ended on Broadway after a five-year run.”

Schweid went from working with one legendary director/choreographer, Bennett, to another, Bob Fosse, who would direct the musical Chicago, as well as the films Cabaret and All That Jazz, among others. Fosse was casting the Pippin tour.

“He didn’t know me; I walked in and auditioned for the part of Fastrada, a leading role, and got it,” she says. “I remember him asking me about my family background. They want to get to know you because they’re going to spend a lot of time with you and want to make sure you’re not crazy. I was a real dancer and very confident. So it was thrilling to get feedback from him. He went back to the original choreography for me because I could do it.”

Once the tour ended Schweid returned to New York, renewed a romantic relationship she’d begun before she left and married six months later. Sons Max and Dan arrived in 1984 and 1986. When they were still young the family moved to Westport.

“I liked that the town had a history of supporting theater and writers,” she says. “I also liked that Paul Newman lived there! I had no idea how gorgeous Connecticut was. Such open spaces. I love to go to the small art museums all over the state. Plus the food is good, and that always counts.”

The Libonatis had a daughter, Allegra, and a son, Christian, in Manhattan, also in the 1980s, and likewise decided Connecticut was the right place to raise them.

“We researched a 50-mile radius around New York City because Ed still worked there,” Libonati says. “Neither of us had ever been to Connecticut. We didn’t even know where it was. We wanted a sense of community, a place we could be a part of. I wanted my children to be my primary goal and focus. When we found New Canaan the search was over. We wanted a healthy, natural lifestyle, with clean air, trees, grass and a backyard. We’ve been here 33 years so I guess we love it.”

As their children grew, Schweid and Libonati yearned to perform again, but not full time. So both wrote one-woman shows.

“I had my own nightclub act, Unchained Melody, with a nine-piece band and two back-up singers, that I performed at clubs in New York,” Libonati says. “But I also did it for the New Canaan Nature Center, our church and at local schools for their benefits. It was all about my life.”

Schweid’s show took a different approach, focusing on renowned choreographer and author Agnes de Mille.

“She’d choreographed Oklahoma! and wrote these great books,” Schweid says. “I adapted stories from them and got her son’s permission to perform them on stage. I created this piece, Agnes, and did it for six years, at every women’s club, every library. I did it at the Smithsonian, and on the Quick Center stage at Fairfield University. It was one of the ways I kept myself sane, by writing and creating something.”

Once Schweid and Libonati’s children left for college in 2003-04, both were ready for something new. Their histories proved they did not think small, and what followed backed it up.

Libonati started the Performing Arts Conservatory of New Canaan.

“I’d earned a teaching degree in college, strictly as a back-up plan,” she says. When the Libonatis first moved to New Canaan she developed the performing arts program at a private high school in nearby Stamford, where from 1991-2004 she directed plays and musicals, and taught musical theater, acting, dance, speech, and singing to hundreds of high school and middle school students.

The Conservatory was immediately successful from its 2004 beginning. Libonati says its goal is to awaken, nurture and grow each student’s creative abilities in the performing arts by offering professional training, workshops and performance opportunities.

“Our slogan is ‘Performance skills for life,’ ” she says.

The same year she started the Conservatory she also founded Summer Theatre of New Canaan.

“There had been a summer theater in town but it was gone,” she recalls. “I brought together community leaders and asked if the town needed a new one. They said yes. It’s a nonprofit so I had to familiarize myself with fundraising, and establish a board of directors.”

Each season it presents one Broadway-caliber musical, with professional performers, along with other plays, mostly for children. The shows, actors and creative teams have continually been nominated for and won Connecticut Critics Circle honors.

“We also have an educational program with Summer Theatre,” Libonati says, “a junior company, high school training and intern program, and our special needs DramaRamas. That’s what I’m really proud of, not just that we’ve won awards.”

Schweid’s 2003 launching of Play With Your Food, with co-founder Nancy Diamond, was a bit more happenstance. The clever title refers to watching staged one-act readings with professional actors following an upscale, restaurant-sourced buffet lunch. It’s the mid-day version of dinner theater.

“I was in a Westport arts committee meeting with Nancy and we started talking,” Schweid says. “We said let’s try something with one-act plays, staged readings [holding scripts], and food, put them together and see what happens.”

Schweid had always enjoyed reading short plays, so she chose the ones to produce as artistic director. Three one-acts of 10 to 20 minutes each comprise a show. Diamond handled working with eateries, the public relations and ticket sales.

What started as a few dates in Westport has grown to include Fairfield, Greenwich and other towns, from January through April.

“We keep it short, from noon to 1:30,” Schweid says. “Then people go back to their day, having had a fulfilling experience.”

As an expert in producing one-acts, Schweid wrote a book about it, and last year Staged Reading Magic was published. It draws upon her experience and expertise to provide an instructional guide. It explains how to transform simple script readings into theatrical showcases, for little cost.

“Staged readings are like opening nights with a script in your hand,” she says. “They should have all the excitement and vitality of a full performance, but with the spontaneity of a good rehearsal. There is a sense of uncertainty in the air because no one knows what’s going to happen.”

Together … finally

The first meeting of Schweid and Libonati, two people expert at figuring things out quickly in auditions, couldn’t have been scripted better. The ladies were aware they would co-star in this story, but the photo shoot one Sunday morning at the Performing Arts Conservatory in New Canaan was their first face-to-face meeting.

Even with people listening in and their being photographed, the women clicked from hello, totally at ease while trading career stories and sharing details of their lives with each other.

Schweid: “Did you ever work with [choreographer] Pat Birch?”

Libonati: “Of course! She was amazing. She did Grease, and is still around.”

Schweid: “She played Anybodys in West Side Story. Not the original role. That was whatsername … Lee Theodore! She used to come to ballet class, put a cup of coffee next to the bar, a cigarette in the ashtray and plié.”

Libonati: “And all the piano players had their ashtrays next to the pianos. They would play hanging over toward them.”

Schweid: “I can’t believe I never met and talked to you.”

Libonati: “I know! I heard about your theater group but have never been. I will come now.”

On it went. Libonati then summed up their lives.

“Carole and I never thought we would be running theater companies,” she says. “And the fact that we are female never hindered or stopped our thoughts and plans. It is wonderful to see that we have become leaders in the arts. And I find it very special that we are able to lead communities in a cultural experience.”

Life really does sometimes imitate art. For these two women, reflecting on all their singing and dancing, the kids raised, the teaching, the plays directed, the businesses run, the book written, the auditioning highs and lows and so much more … to slightly tweak A Chorus Line’s most compelling song lyric, they won’t forget, can’t regret what they did for love.
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