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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dickens, and Christmas, come to New England

English novelist Charles Dickens came on a book tour to the U.S. in 1842, the first of his trips to America. He was already famous, but it was still some five years before A Christmas Carol was written.  While New York and other parts of the young United States were celebrating Christmas, New England at that time still did not observe the holiday; here Thanksgiving was the big day. In some small measure, the popularity of his yuletide ghost story would help bring Christmas to New England, one of several factors that turned the Puritan tide.

When he was in the Boston area, they took this former workhouse victim to Lowell to show him the factories.  We mentioned his excursion there in this previous post on mill girls.

When Dickens left Lowell, his next stop was Springfield, on February 7, 1842, when accompanied by his wife, he toured the Springfield Armory.   This was before the impressive iron fence was constructed around the Armory.  That was made at the Ames Company in Chicopee, and the project was started in the early 1850s and not completed until 1865.  We may assume at the time of Dickens’ visit, the cows of local farmers continued to stray across the quadrangle and the lawns of the Army officers’ quarters.  

After his brief tour of the Armory, Dickens traveled down the Connecticut River to Hartford aboard a steamboat.  We discussed that journey in this previous post.

Though Dickens apparently felt favorably toward Massachusetts, the United States on the whole did not impress him on that trip, and, of course, he was particularly angered and disgusted by slavery.  He wrote of his impressions in American Notes.  He had made two trips here in 1842, but did not return until after the Civil War, when in 1867 on his next trip, both the war and slavery were over.  

Something else was different, too.  New England had adopted the custom of celebrating Christmas.  He could see this for himself as he arrived in late November and remained for the following month, giving readings from his novels in Boston and in New York.

The following year, 1868, he returned for another book tour, this time commencing in February and returning to England in late April.  He gave his readings in Boston, New York City and upstate, as well as Washington, Philadelphia, and in Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.  He read from many of his books, including A Christmas Carol.

His first public reading of A Christmas Carol was on December 3, 1867 at the Tremont Temple in Boston. According to this article at the New England Historical Society website, his agent noted the audience reaction at the end of the first chapter:

When at least the reading of The Carol was finished, and the final words had been delivered, and "So, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us every one," a dead silence seemed to prevail -- a sort of public sigh as it were -- only to be broken by cheers and calls, the most enthusiastic and uproarious.

He spoke at Tilly Haynes’ Music Hall in Springfield on March 20, 1868.  For a long time, the Tilly Haynes Music Hall on Main Street was the only theater in Springfield, built in 1856.  It burned down in 1864.  Haynes rebuilt it, and in 1881, he sold out to Dwight O. Gilmore, who established Gilmore’s Opera House there, until it burned down in 1897.  Twentieth century audiences would remember this as the site of the Capitol movie theater that showed Warner Brothers films. That has long since been demolished and is now the site of One Financial Plaza.

He arrived here on the train during a snowstorm, and stayed at the Massasoit House (part of this building remains in the building that was later constructed in 1929 for the Paramount Theater).  The Music Hall was packed for his appearance, as he was probably the most famous author of his day.

The Springfield Republican reported,

“Mr. Dickens is not a reader... He is simply and emphatically a very natural and delightful actor, gifted with the power of throwing a whole personality into his face.” He spoke in the voices Scrooge, the Cratchits, Mr. Pickwick and other characters from his novels. “There walks on the stage a gentleman who gives you no time to think about him, and dazzles you with 20 personalities.” 

He was “slightly bent, in the street not a remarkably noticeable man.” His face “bears signs of incessant toil.”

The tour was successful, but has been described as grueling, and Dickens died only two years later in 1870 at the age of 58.  That year, President Ulysses S. Grant declared Christmas a national holiday.

We discuss two classic film versions of A Christmas Carol in my post “Mankind Was My Business” here at Another Old Movie Blog.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Maude Tait - Aviatrix - Springfield, Massachusetts

Maude Tait, who was born in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 1901, once beat Amelia Earhart in an airspeed race. She was one of the most successful and prominent pilots in a time when the word aviatrix called to mind a dashing figure in slacks climbing into an open cockpit of a wooden biplane, wearing a leather flying helmet, goggles, a long white silk scarf, and a smile as big as the sky. She was courageous, she was intelligent, and she was professional. An aviatrix had to be all these things to be successful.

Her father, James Tait, grew up on his parents’ farm on Chicopee Street. He and his three brothers eventually became very successful when they took over the farm in adulthood and established a dairy distribution business and also became a manufacturer of ice cream. They owned property in Springfield, and also in Agawam. They owned dairy farms and milk processing plants, and their sales territory spread out across New England and New York. Some of their milk and ice cream products were used on the White Star and Cunard steamship lines.

By the 1920s they employed over 500 people. However, in an interesting and perhaps, inexplicable to us, turn of events, the Tait brothers sold their business in 1928 in order to launch themselves into a new industry: the young and vibrant and promising aviation field. A farm in Springfield between Liberty Street and St. James Avenue became their launch pad for an adventurous new endeavor. They established the Springfield Airport with the intention of making Springfield an important aviation center, a hub in New England flight and manufacture of this new mode of transport.

Air travel was not yet common; indeed, only the very brave would risk their lives strapping on a parachute and hopping into one of the wooden crates. But visionaries, like the Tait brothers, foresaw a day when air travel would be a popular mode of transportation, perhaps even surpassing trains. Travel by automobile was not yet even considered a rival, because most roads in the U.S. were still poorly kept or even unpaved. A car trip across the country in those days before interstate highways or even paved roads, was at best inconvenient and at worst, dangerous.

The Tait brothers found another band of brothers to join in their new enterprise: the five Granville brothers. Originally from New Hampshire, the brothers Zantford, Robert, Mark, Tom, and Ed, were largely self-taught mechanics who, with the lauded Yankee ingenuity of the time, fashioned themselves into aircraft mechanics, designers, and even pilots; they wanted to set up a plant to produce their famous design of Gee Bee racing planes. “Gee Bee” or GB stood for the initials of Granville Brothers. Zantford, the oldest, was the leader of the group. But there was another notable member of their band, and she was the daughter of James Tait: Maude.

Maude attended Springfield’s McDuffie School for Girls among other seminaries, and began a career as a schoolteacher in a one-room schoolhouse in the town of Hamden, and also in East Longmeadow. She taught school until 1928 when her father and the Granville brothers set up shop on the old farm that was now the Springfield Airport. She had taken flying lessons in 1927 from Roscoe Brinton of the Curtiss Flying Service. Brinton would team up with another associate of the Granville Brothers, Lowell Bayles, to form a new flying service in Springfield. By 1928, when the Taits’ and the Granville brothers’ new enterprise “got off the ground,” she had achieved her pilot’s license as well as gaining a commercial pilot’s license. She was the first female to become a licensed pilot in Massachusetts and Connecticut to fly solo. In 1929 she set an unofficial altitude record for women at a height of 16,500 feet. An era of stunts and personalities, she flew an airplane over a football field and dropped the football from her cockpit for the kickoff at the Silvertown professional football season opener.

Two years later she would break Amelia Earhart’s speed record at 214.9 mph in her Gee Bee Sportster.

Maude Tait with Gee Bee Model Z

The Granville Brothers planes were built for speed and they used designs that were far ahead of any other plane of their time. Indeed, planes flown by the military in their fledgling air services were slower than the Granville Brothers planes. The distinctive snub-nosed Gee Bee some called a flying engine, and indeed was far advance of the skills of most pilots of the day.

The pinnacle of this happy band of pilots, designers, mechanics, and their Tait investment backers, and the adventurous Tait daughter, was the 1931 Cleveland Air Races.

Bob Hall was their chief designer; he and Lowell Bayles, and Zantford Granville, and Maude Tait, swept the championships in the week-long flying events. In those golden days around Labor Day 1931, Springfield was the capital city of aviation and the sky was the limit. Maude Tait for her part, won the Aerol Trophy race for women. She set a new record in the Gee Bee Model Y Sportster—and beat Amelia Earhart’s record by 10 mph. She missed hitting the men’s existing record only by 1 mph.

That was the high point. Unfortunately, the worst years of the Great Depression now set upon the country, and for those with dreams of starting a new business or expanding industry, it was extremely difficult to set plans in motion, or even to meet payroll. The Granville brothers engaged in these airspeed races not only for the prestige and the publicity to interest buyers for their planes and backers for their manufacture, but they needed the prize money just to keep things going.

It wasn’t enough. By 1934, the Granville Brothers closed shop and the Springfield Airport though it continued for still many more years, would eventually be replaced by a shopping plaza in 1959. Aircraft industry went elsewhere, and the plot of land, with its air strips of dirt and grass, was never big enough to accommodate the larger planes of the future, especially as it was hemmed in by residential neighborhoods on all sides.

A Gee Bee model returns for display at the Springfield Plaza, 1982, photo by J. T. Lynch

A Gee Bee model returns for display at the Springfield Plaza, 1982, photo by J. T. Lynch

Maude Tait married attorney James Moriarty in 1932. She had plans to participate in the 1932 National Air Races but mechanical difficulties sidelined her plane. That was the end of her competitive flying career. She would occasionally be seen flying her Gee Bee over the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts through the decade of the 1940s, but otherwise lived a quiet and private life. She died in Springfield in 1982, at 81 years of age.

We might wonder why the dream and the excitement of flying was so quickly extinguished, but the Great Depression had its chokehold on most people, and very few were able to continue their dreams in that desperate era. There was another reason, however, and it was even sadder, and more tragic, for two of her pals in that tight-knit Springfield Airport gang died in their Gee Bee planes. Only a few months after the glorious 1931 Cleveland Air Races, their friend and partner Lowell Bayles flew one of the Gee Bee planes to Detroit, Michigan, in an attempt to establish a world speed record. It was December, and he flew the Model Z Super Sportster. Lowell Bayles was clocked at 314 mph, breaking a record; but on the return run, he crashed.

A few years later, in 1934 Zantford Granville also met his death in one of their Gee Bee planes. We might well imagine that the venture collapsed because the money was gone, but we can well imagine, too, that the heart and soul of the enterprise was gone as well with the deaths of Bayles and Zantford Granville.

On that glorious day in 1931 when the Springfield Airport gang flew home after their streak of victories at the Cleveland Air Races, the scene occurred which still lives in the memories of the lucky remaining few who were there. For five days, the feats they achieved at the Cleveland Air Races were splashed all over the headlines of the Springfield newspapers. When it was time for them to come home, a crowd of over 100,000 mobbed the Springfield Airport to watch their heroes fly home. They flew home to a dirt and grass field, with that old ramshackle hangar that had used to be a dance hall, flying the fastest planes in the world.

They came in, one by one, first it was Lowell Bayles flying the plane christened the City of Springfield. An announcer called their names over a loudspeaker and the crowd cheered. Next it was Maude Tait in the red and white Senior Sportster, followed by Bob Hall, and finally, Zantford Granville. When Maude landed, cheers erupted, and people in cars parked on the edge of the field sounded their horns. Maude’s parents ran up to her taxiing plane and everybody rushed it, and she was handed a bouquet of flowers. There was a band and they were taken in a parade down Liberty Street down to City Hall. That evening there was a banquet at the Hotel Kimball. It was the high point of Springfield aviation in a time when people needed something to cheer about.

And one of the boys was an aviatrix named Maude Tait.

A replica of one of the Gee Bee planes is on display at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History.

For a dramatization of the events, please see my one-act play written on commission for Springfield students, Soaring in the City of Springfield, courtesy of In the Spotlight, Inc., here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Norman Corwin - Boston, Greenfield, and Springfield, Massachusetts

Norman Corwin, was of the finest writers and producers of the Golden Age of Radio, as well as being a screenwriter and teacher, had New England roots, and some of his earliest writing was for western Massachusetts newspapers.

During the 1930s and 1940s, he used the medium of radio drama and comedy to address social issues in profound ways.  His writing was vivid, lean, and imaginative.  Here on my Another Old Movie Blog, we covered his emotional We Hold These Truths, broadcast the week after Pearl Harbor in December 1941 with a cast of stars dramatizing the nuances of the Bill of Rights. It was the most famous radio event of its day, and he won a Peabody Award.

Corwin was born in 1910 in Boston, the son of a printer.  The family moved to Winthrop and he graduated from Winthrop High School.  At only seventeen, he was hired as a cub reporter in Greenfield, Massachusetts, for the Greenfield Recorder, reporting on the courts and writing movie reviews, and made western Mass. his home for several years.

He next worked down river for the Springfield Republican, where he was the editor for radio news, his column  called "Radiosyncracies," written under a pseudonym.  It was during his stint in Springfield, Mass. that Corwin became involved in radio broadcasting.  In the early thirties he worked for WBZ and WBZA in Springfield and in Boston as a commentator and reader of poetry.  He left New England in 1935 for work first in Cincinnati, and then New York City where he remained with CBS until 1949.

On a Note of Triumph, a celebration of victory in Europe, was broadcast May 8, 1945 with actors and commentators broadcasting from both New York City and Los Angeles. Corwin wrote Fourteen August, which was similarly broadcast on V-J Day.  He earned a Distinguished Achievement Award from Radio Life magazine.

He eventually left radio, disgusted by the blacklist and being a victim of that notorious era, though he was not a communist; his work, particularly where it relates to freedom of speech, brought his liberalism into question.  He also wrote the two episodes of Hollywood Strikes Back, the actors’, producers’, and writers’ response to the persecution of the Hollywood Ten.  Have a look at my Another Old Movie Blog on Thursday for a post on that program.

Corwin moved on to television, the theatre, film, and teaching writing, and is the subject of a documentary on his life and work: A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin (2005).  He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1993.  Norman Corwin died in 2011 at the age of 101.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Vaughn Monroe Show - a review

from Dan Gabel's website

DO NOT MISS the current Vaughn Monroe Show tour presented by Dan Gabel and his magnificent orchestra and singers: their next stop is this coming Sunday, October 15th, Worcester, at the Holy Name High School from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The program is an extraordinary opportunity to experience live Big Band music as it was meant to be performed, and is a notable tribute – perhaps the best kind of tribute—to Vaughn Monroe and his orchestra.

Lynch photo

But the two hours is more than foot-stomping entertainment from an 18-piece orchestra with brass so exhilarating it practically lifts you off your seat.  It’s a recreation of the old Camel Caravan live radio remotes.  It’s October 1949, and you are there.

Lynch photo

Last weekend I was delighted to attend their gig at the Springfield Technical Community College, sponsored by the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.  The only disappointment was that the show as not as well attended as it should have been.  All fans of Dan Gabel need to spread the word, for this Vaughn Monroe Show is as much about skill and musicianship of this young orchestra leader, arranger, and musician and his superlative band members, as it is about Vaughn Monroe and the heyday of the Big Bands.

Lynch photo

The program began with a warm-up act, so to  speak, of vintage video clips – a cartoon, some early television commercials, to set the stage for 1949.  It was a good lead-in; the audience laughed, particularly at the cigarette commercial, which Gabel and his troupe later reprised in a teasing “commercial” for their live program.

Lynch photo

Specialty numbers included Gabel’s regular featured vocalist Elise Roth, who always impresses me not only with her 1940s-look in dress, hair, and makeup, but that she sings with the style of the best of the swing singers of that era.  She displays great control and range, “selling” the songs in the classic manner of back in the day.  For this program, she was joined by a recreation of Monroe’s “The Moon Maids” – Sarah Callinan, Annie Kerins, and Emily Greenslit.  Their vocal blend and dreamy expressions during the romantic numbers—and a lot of Vaughn Monroe’s hits were romantic—gracefully lends the perfect combination of charm and talent.

Lynch photo

Craig Robbins, who plays first trombone, also steps up to the mic and displays a terrific baritone voice, particularly the romantic number, “There, I’ve Said it Again.”

Lynch photo

Steve Gagliastro, who plays second trombone, wowed ‘em with his comic rendition of “The Maharajah of Magador.”  He was Jerry Colonna on steroids—but his tenor voice is outstanding.

Katie Piselli and Steven Plummer, a pair of lively jitterbugs, brought a novelty and physical expression to the music.  Ms. Piselli had a featured role as the “Ballerina” of Vaughn Monroe’s hit song while Monroe himself was seen in video singing, Gabel’s orchestra backing him up, a nice effect.

Lynch photo

Leader Dan Gabel also croons, and was joined by his “girl singers” and “boy singers” for a spirited “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”  Gabel is a genial host, and his youth may strike some fans of this kind of music—mostly middle-aged to quite elderly seniors—as being something of an anomaly.  However, that is doing Gabel, and for those of us who grew up loving music that was popular long before we were born, a disservice, for such completely misunderstands the attraction of this music.  Gabel’s The Vaughn Monroe Show is not simply nostalgia.  That’s part of it, to be sure, especially for those older folks who actually remember dancing to this music.  But it’s more than that.  It takes the music and the musicianship of this era and recreates it, plays it as it should be played so fans new and old can appreciate the magic of it.

Lynch photo

This is not just an exercise in parody.  This, despite it’s being 2017, is the real thing.  This is genuine Big Band music.  Gabel’s orchestra is that good.

To call it nostalgic is to dismiss all that is excellent about this music.  When we hear of a symphony orchestra performing Bach, we don’t think, “Oh, how cute they’re doing nostalgic music from the sixteen century!”  No; we accept it as an art form.  So, too, is Big Band music an art form, a cultural expression from the first half of the twentieth century.  Dan Gabel’s critical success is that he understands that and respects that, and has become a most skilled interpreter.

Lynch photo

Here is Dan Gabel’s website for more information.  Here are links to two previous posts we’ve discussed on Gabel’s music and on Vaughn Monroe’s New England base.

Don’t miss the rest of The Vaughn Monroe Show tour!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Vaugh Monroe Show - Dan Gabel's troupe on tour this month!

This month the 1940s Big Band era comes to life again in a touring show by the terrific musician and band leader Dan Gabel, who goes beyond his already fabulous Abeltones swing orchestra to morph into a delightful version of a live stage show such as New England's own great big band of yesteryear, lead by trombonist and singer Vaughn Monroe might have conducted.

From the press release:

This unique show transports the audience to October 1949, just after World War II.     The Vaughn Monroe Orchestra under the direction of Dan Gabel performs the original hits of Monroe, along with the Moon Maids vocal group, dancers, comedian, and skits from the Camel Caravan radio and TV show. "Racing with the Moon", "There, I've Said It Again", "Ballerina", "Let it Snow" and "Ghost Riders in the Sky" will all be heard using the original hand-written manuscripts through special arrangement with the Monroe family and New England Conservatory. Original band member and legendary guitarist Mr. Bucky Pizzarelli joins the outfit in a truly spectacular event. It is our goal to create an evening of entertaining time travel and "the voice that won the war."

A list of the dates and cities is above.  The next performance is at Springfield Technical Community College - the Springfield Armory site grounds - on Sunday, October 8th from 2:00 p.m. to 4 p.m. and the show is FREE!

Give yourself a treat and catch one of these shows.  You'll love it!  For more info, see this website.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sistine Chapel Artwork Exhibit at the Big E - West Springfield, Massachusetts

 photo by JT Lynch

The best exhibit at the Big E this year is the must-see artwork of Michelangelo.  A show of copies of his restored work on the Sistine Chapel is currently on tour, and the Eastern States Exhibition fairgrounds are the lucky hosts of a smaller version of this exquisite art exhibit.  From the website of the production:

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition

For more information,  follow the exhibit on social media on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The exhibit is produced by Special Entertainment Events (SEE), a L.A.-based exhibition production company which acquired the worldwide rights to the fresco reproductions. The photographs were taken post-restoration of the ceiling; in some cases, color enhancement was necessary to match the images for consistency.

photo by JT Lynch

The highlights of the frescoes are presented in their original size. This innovative interpretation of the timeless masterpieces can be viewed up close, including The Creation of Adam. It has previously made stops in Montreal, Vienna, Shanghai, Dallas, Munich, and New York.

photo by JT Lynch

On display in the Young Building, we are able to see the master's work close up as we never could at the Vatican in all its majesty in that setting.  The administrators of the fair are to be congratulated and most sincerely thanked for obtaining this exhibit.  More such artistic and cultural displays in the future would be a splendid addition to New England's Great State Fair.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Goodspeed Opera House - RAGS - East Haddam, Connecticut

A press release from The Goodspeed:
A bold refocusing of the musical by Broadway legends Strouse, Schwartz, and Stein
 with a revised book by David Thompson is set for The Goodspeed this fall

EAST HADDAM, CONN August 31, 2017: Join Rebecca and David Hershkowitz as they journey to a “brand new world” in Goodspeed’s reinvented Rags. Original creators Charles Strouse and Stephen Schwartz have teamed up with David Thompson, who has adapted Joseph Stein’s book, to rework this timely and inspiring piece. Goodspeed explores the grit and determination of American immigrants through this joyous reimagining of a musical by  some of Broadways biggest legends. Rags will run October 6 – December 10 at The Goodspeed in East Haddam, Conn [Official Press Opening will be October 25, 2017].
Welcome to the new world! Fresh from Ellis Island, a young mother and her son search for a new life and a sense of home as the 20th century beckons. The streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side may not be paved with gold, but they echo with the music of opportunity, optimism and hope. A ravishing score by the songwriters of Annie and Wicked colors a sweeping saga of America’s immigrant past. Celebrate our rich roots in Goodspeed’s new adaptation of a neglected masterpiece of the musical theatre.  Rags is made possible in part by support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lucille Lortel Foundation, Eversource Energy, and Amica Insurance.
Directed by Rob Ruggiero, Rags features music by Charles Strouse, original book by Joseph Stein, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, revised book by David Thompson and vocal arrangements are by David Loud.
Samantha Massell will play Rebecca Hershkowitz. Ms. Massell recently performed the role of Hodel in the 2015 Tony nominated Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. She performed in the Broadway production of La Bohème and the New York City Center ENCORES! productions of Little Me and It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane …It’s Superman. Regionally she performed as Florika (Esmerelda U/S) in the La Jolla and Paper Mill Play House productions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and in The MUNY productions of Aladdin, Into the Woods and Bye Bye Birdie. David Hershkowitz will be played by Connecticut native Christian Michael Camporin, who was in the original Broadway productions of Finding Neverland, covering both the roles of Michael Llewelyn Davies  and Jack Llewelyn Davies, and Matilda The Musical in the role of Eric.
Sal Russo will be played by Sean MacLaughlin who made his Broadway debut as Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera. Sara Kapner will be playing Bella Cohen. On stage, Ms. Kapner was most recently seen performing in the MUNY’s 2015 production of Into the Woods, but can also be seen in Twisted Sisters and The Murder Pact, which are both currently running on Lifetime TV. Returning to the Goodspeed stage after playing Tevye in 2014’s Fiddler on the Roof as well as performing in Goodspeed’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Pseudolus) and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Harry) is Adam Heller who will be playing Avram Cohen. Mr. Heller’s most recent Broadway credits include Uncle Morty in the Original Broadway Production of It Shoulda Been You, Elf The Musical, and Baby It’s You!.
Mitch Greenberg returns to Goodspeed as Jack Blumberg having previously performed in Cutman the musical and You Never Know. On Broadway, Mr. Greenberg was in the 2015 Revival of Fiddler on the Roof and the Broadway hit It Shoulda Been You. The role of Anna Blumberg will be played by Emily Zacharias who made her Broadway debut in Chu Chem as Lotte. Ms. Zacharias was also in the original Broadway production of Jekyll & Hyde as Guinevere. Also returning to Goodspeed in the role of Rachel Brodsky will be Lori Wilner who previously performed the as Golde in Goodspeed’s 2014 production of Fiddler on the Roof. Additionally, Ms. Wilner played Grandma Tzeitel in the 2015 Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof.
Returning to The Goodspeed stage having wowed audiences as Billy Crocker in the 2016 hit Anything Goes,  David Harris will perform the role of Max Bronfman. Earlier this year, Mr. Harris was seen in the role of Father in Barrington Stage’s production of Ragtime and as Dan Goodman in TheaterWorks’ acclaimed production of Next to Normal. Nathan Salstone will be playing Ben Levitowitz. A recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, Mr. Salstone’s one-man play All Anonymous featuring original music and lyrics premiered at The Carnegie Mellon School of Drama’s ‘Playground’ in December 2016.
The members of the Quintet include JD Daw who recently performed the roles of Doctor Madden in TheaterWorks’ production of Next to Normal, Jacey in The Muny’s production of The Music Man and Sir Dennis Galahad in North Shore Music Theatre’s Spamalot. Joining him will be Ellie Fishman whose credits include A Christmas Story at Paper Mill Playhouse and both Beauty and the Beast and My Fair Lady at The MUNY. Danny Lindgren returns to Goodspeed as a member of the Quintet having previously appeared on The Goodspeed stage as Clark Gable in Chasing Rainbows, as Smokey in Damn Yankees and as Jake in The Most Happy Fella. Some of Mr. Lindgren’s favorite credits include Benny in Guy and Dolls and Will Parker in Oklahoma! both at Finger Lakes Music Theatre Festival and Nephew Fred in A Christmas Carol at The McCarter Theatre. Sarah Solie whose many Broadway credits include the original Broadway productions of Mary Poppins, High Society, Beauty and the Beast and Cats and Jeff Williams who made his Broadway debut in the 2000 revival of The Music Man and was most recently performed in the Off-Broadway production of Death for Five Voices round out the Quintet.  The swings will be Catalina Gaglioti, (Goodspeed’s Festival of New Musicals We Foxes ,Off-Broadway’s Temple of the Souls ) and Giovanni DiGabriele (Second National Tour of Cinderella)Gordon Beck will understudy the role of David Hershkowitz.
Rags will be directed Rob Ruggiero who has directed numerous Goodspeed productions  including Carousel, Camelot, Show Boat, 1776 and Fiddler on the Roof. He has received numerous awards and nominations for his regional work including multiple Connecticut Critics Circle Awards. Mr. Ruggiero conceived and directed the original musical revue Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn which garnered him nominations for both Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. Mr. Ruggiero currently serves  as the Producing Artistic Director at TheaterWorks in Hartford, where he conceived and directed the highly successful Ella, a production that received Kevin Kline and Joseph Jefferson Awards and has since been produced at major regional theaters around the country.
Choreography will be by Parker Esse who returns to Goodspeed where his previous credits include Fiddler on the Roof, A Wonderful Life, The Most Happy Fella and Carousel.  Mr. Esse choreographed Sondheim and Marsalis’ A Bed and A Chair: A New York Love Affair at New York City Center and Jazz at Lincoln Center. He is a three-time Helen Hayes nominee and 2010 winner for Best Choreography for Arena Stage’s Oklahoma!. Mr. Esse has served as Associate Choreographer for Broadway’s Finian’s Rainbow, A Tale of Two Cities and multiple New York City Center Encores! productions.
Scenic design will be by Michael Schweikardt who has designed several shows at Goodspeed including Fiddler on the Roof, The Most Happy Fella, Carousel, Show Boat, and Big River. He received a Broadway World Award for Best Scenic Design for Showboat as well as a Connecticut Critic’s Circle Award for Best Scenic Design for Big River. Mr. Schweikardt has designed the world premieres of Nobody Loves You and Duncan Sheik’s Whisper House at The Old Globe as well as the Off-Broadway production of Bloodsong of Love at Ars Nova and  several productions at TheaterWorks in Hartford. Other Off-Broadway credits include ReWrite (Urban Stages), The Black Suits (The Public Theater), Things to Ruin (Second Stage, The Zipper Factory), The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks (TheatreWorks USA) and Tryst (Irish Rep). Additionally, he has designed for theatres such as The MUNY, Papermill Playhouse, Long Wharf Theatre, Cleveland Playhouse and California Musical Theatre.
Costume design will be by Tony Award winner Linda Cho who returns to Goodspeed where she previously created the costumes for  A Little Night Music. Her designs can currently be seen in the Broadway production of Anastasia for which she was nominated for a Tony Award, Outer Critics’ Circle Award and Drama Desk Award. Ms. Cho won the Antoinette Perry and Henry Hewes Design Award for her work on A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Ms. Cho received the 2017 Ruth Morley Design Award from the League of Professional Theatre Women. Other credits include designing for places such the Theater for a New Audience, Second Stage, Manhattan Theater Club, NY Public Theater, Asia Society, Classic Stage Company, Hartford Stage, Long Wharf Theater, Westport Country Playhouse, Royal Shakespeare Company and Hong Kong Performing Arts Center.
Lighting design will be by John Lasiter who has designed Goodspeed’s productions of Fiddler on the Roof, The Most Happy Fella, Show Boat, Carousel among others. Other Connecticut credits include, designs for Long Wharf Theater, Hartford Stage and TheaterWorks. On Broadway, Mr. Lasiter designed High, and Off-Broadway, he designed Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn.
Sound design will be by Jay Hilton who has designed countless productions at both The Terris Theatre and The Goodspeed. His work has also been heard on Broadway, National Tours and regional theatres from coast to coast. He also serves as Goodspeed’s audio supervisor.
Wig and Hair design will be by Mark Adam Rampmeyer whose work can been seen in Goodspeeds current production of Oklahoma!. Other Goodspeed credits include Thoroughly Modern MillieAnything Goes; Bye Bye Birdie and Chasing Rainbows, as well as  La Cage aux Folles, Good News!, 42nd Street and Big River to name a few. On Broadway, he designed West Side Story, Lysistrata Jones and The Farnsworth Invention.
The Music Director will be Michael O’Flaherty who is in his 26thseason as Goodspeed’s Resident Music Director. His Broadway credits include By Jeeves and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. O’Flaherty has written music and lyrics for A Connecticut Christmas Carol which will be produced at The Terris Theatre this fall. Orchestrations will be provided by Dan DeLange who has created the orchestrations for over 40 Goodspeed productions. His orchestrations for Show Boat have been nominated for the Best Revival Musical Oliver Award in London. Vocal Arrangements will be by David Loud who returns to Goodspeed having previously provided arrangements for Red, Hot and Blue and served as Music Director for Band Geeks!  at The Terris Theatre.  Mr. Loud’s Broadway credits include vocal and dance arrangements for  Sondheim on Sondheim, vocal arrangements for Curtains,  The Boys from Syracuse, and Steel Pier. In addition, he has been credited as Conductor, Music Director and Music Supervisor for numerous Broadway productions. David Loud has created musical arrangements for Audra McDonald, Barbara CookBetty Buckley, Andrea McArdle, Norm Lewis, Bernadette Peters, Paolo Szot among others.
Casting for Rags is by Paul Hardt of Stewart/Whitley Casting.
Rags will run October 6 – December 10, 2017 [Official Press Opening October 25] Curtain times are Wednesday at 2:00p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.).
Tickets are available through the Box Office (860.873.8668), open seven days a week, or online at For show highlights, exclusive photos, special events and more, visit us at and follow us on Facebook, Twitter @goodspeedmusicl, Instagram and YouTube.
Under the leadership of Executive Director Michael Gennaro, Goodspeed Musicals is dedicated to the preservation, development and advancement of musical theatre. Goodspeed produces three musicals each season at The Goodspeed in East Haddam, Conn., and additional productions at The Terris Theatre in Chester, Conn., which was opened in 1984 for the development of new musicals. The first regional theatre to receive two Tony Awards (for outstanding achievement), Goodspeed also maintains The Scherer Library of Musical Theatre and The Max Showalter Center for Education in Musical Theatre. Goodspeed gratefully acknowledges the support of United Airlines, the official airline of Goodspeed Musicals; official audio sponsor Sennheiser; and official auto sponsor Hoffman Audi. Goodspeed is also grateful for the support of the Department of Economic and Community Development, Office of the Arts.

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