Theatre Baton Rouge Starts its 75th Season Opening

Amongst every challenge to live theatre 2020 has brought its way, Theatre Baton Rouge will be celebrating its 75th season by presenting a blend of in-person and online, broadcasted performances in October, November, and December, The Advocate reports.

Since 1946, Theatre Baton Rouge has produced over 400 productions of dramas, comedies, and musicals for the local community, and amid the pandemic, live, engaging theatre is a highly-coveted commodity. Jenny Ballard, the managing artistic director of Theatre Baton Rouge remarked that there is simply “no substitute for live theater. You can have 400 channels on your TV at home. You can have every conceivable iteration of Shakespeare … but there is nothing that compares to being in the room. It is a special intimacy.”

This season, the Theatre Baton Rouge performers will be staging three productions. “Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play”will be staged October 29-31 over the Zoom Teleconference app. In November, live audiences up to 40 people will be able to see “An Act of God,” and up to 80 audience members can see the troupe’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life”come December. Also that month, TBR will stream their “The Gift of the Magi” online.

For 75 years now, this theatre has been adapting to the changing environment in order to remain relevant as social and entertainment attitudes, options, and tastes have varied dramatically since 1946.  What would eventually be known among the cultured of Louisiana’s capital as Baton Rouge Theatre began its stored career as the Baton Rouge Civic Theatre with a production of “The Male Animal” at the Woman’s Club on East Boulevard. In fact until the Harding Field theatre became its home in 1948, the theatre staged productions at various venues around the city.

Jerry Leggio, a member of the theatre who began acting in the late 1950 recalled actors exiting stage having to run around the back side of the building in order to return to stage on the opposite side, as the venue at the Harding Field theatre had no backstage. The theatre was built in order to entertain servicemen stationed at the airfield with live performances and films, but weather proved to be quite challenging as rainfall would regularly cancel performances or interrupt them, as it did during the theatre’s run of “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 1959.

Though, just as the theatre proves to be versatile in adapting to the challenges of COVID and 2020, the actors improvised. Leggio recalled in his interview with The Advocate, ““One night, I went out and came back so wet I had to inject a line: ‘Stella, don’t you know it’s raining outside? Of course, everybody knew what I was doing.”

Theatre Baton Rouge changed its name in 1951 to the Baton Rouge Little Theatre, and Theatre House Magazine rated it as the third-best community theatre in the country due to its quality and community support. In fact, while operating as a membership-based theatre, prospective members had to wait for existing members to leave in order to be granted entry.

With time and community support, the Theatre Baton Rouge’s operations and legacy grew exponentially, starting with its first artistic director, Lee Edwards, who committedly held the role until his death in 1978. Edwards was followed by Frank Pope, Henry Avery, Roy Hamlin, Keith Dixon, and J
Enny Ballard, all of whom have succeeded in carrying on the legacy of this staple of Baton Rouge.

Ballard remarked, ““We have a lot of great things happening, but as soon as COVID lets up, we plan to be able to shoot back into action, but in the meantime, we’re doing what we’re doing, and we’re doing it really well.” So, as the expression goes, despite it all, the show truly must go on.

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Local Entrepreneur Benny Cenac Donates To The Oh La La Theater Series to Nicholls State

The “Oh Là Là” theater series will behosted by Nicholls this school yearthanks to private donor and philanthropist Arlen Benny Cenac, Jr.  Cenachas always been a major proponent for the arts and education and jumped at theopportunity to help make that a reality for his community.  

The donations went toward several funds and projects necessary to make the show a reality, including renovations on the Mary and Al Danos Theater totaling upwards of $9.6 Million.  According to Dr. Bruce Murphy, Nicholls President, the name Oh Là Là is an homage to Al Danos, who enjoyed conversing in French. The Danos family, whose parents donated $1 million toward the theater’s renovation, released a statement in support of Nicholls’ upcoming series.  “Mom and Dad would have loved this and attended every show,” The Danos family said. “Oh Là Là is exactly what Dad had in mind when he started raising money for the theater.”

In August the university hosted donors, lifetime alumni members and Nicholls Foundation board members at the newly renovated theater for a special preview and an opportunity to purchase season tickets, and spectators were blown away by its beauty, functionality and charm. Monique Crochet, Nicholls’ acting director of advancement, said the upgrades to the Danos Theater were the cornerstone and missing piece that made the theater series possible. Crochet said the improved theater allows Nicholls to bring high-quality, high-demand shows to Thibodaux, enriching the community by increasing exposure to the arts.  “We noticed other universities were doing it. We thought it would be a great idea to bring this to our local area,” Crochet said. She said revenues from sponsorships and ticket sales will go toward maintenance of the theater and the purchasing of future shows.

The first show featured at “Oh Là Là” was back in September. Touring for over seven years and featuring six vocalists and dancers, the Frankie Valli tribute show “Let’s Hang On!” entails a live band that performs all the hits from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” “December,” “Who Loves You” and “My Eyes Adored You,” among others.

In November, a Christmas show by the Dutton Experience, a 15-member family band that has been playing together since 1991, made its debut bringing a variety of genres from bluegrass to classical music to the Danos Theater.  The next act to be featured will be the New Orleans-based Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra on Feb. 15. Formed the very same year as the Dutton Experience, the LPO is the oldest full-time musician-governed and collaboratively-operated professional symphony in the nation. After that in March, the acrobat troupe The Golden Dragon Acrobats will bring their aerial excellence to Thibodaux.  This 50 year old Chinese act is recognized as the premier Chinese acrobatic company in the United States, according to Nicholls’ press release announcing the shows.

“Oh Là Là” finishes by  featuring the timeless songs of the Fab Four. A Grammy-nominated Beatles tribute band featuring four musicians handpicked by George Harrison’s sister will feature vintage instruments and iconic costumes from the Beatles’ collection.  Crochet said she thinks the wide range of music brings a good diversity of performances, and she expects Nicholls to find different acts in the future. She said the university will start working on its booking efforts for the 2018-19 season in January when acts start revealing their schedules. Dr. Murphy attributed “Oh Là Là” as an important step toward successfully reaching the university’s goals.  “Here at Nicholls, our vision is to be the intellectual, economic and cultural heart of the Bayou Region. The diversity of world-renowned acts coming to our campus as part of the Oh Là Là series fits perfectly with what we’re trying to accomplish,” Murphy said.

Season tickets are now available to purchase. To purchase tickets or become a sponsor, call Tammy Toups at (985) 448-4134 or email tammy.toups@nicholls.edu.

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