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By JOHN LEE McLAUGHLIN
Daily News Staff Writer
From the tale of a thanatophobic little pig and its clever spider friend “Charlotte” to the gossipy upright nobilities of Georgian-era England and some singing in the rain, First City Players has set another season of community-theater variety in Ketchikan.
The 53-year-old nonprofit recently released its 2017-18 season lineup as the close of the current string of shows draws nearer with the 51st offering of “Fish Pirate’s Daughter” opening Friday night, before August productions of “Shrek the Musical, Jr.” wrap things up.
All still with the traditional peppering of original Ketchikan classics, First City Players’ eight productions for the season ahead run a meticulous gamut of offerings with the community in mind, starting with the popular Divas and Divos show in September.
The group will then jump into the rise of Nazi power in Germany and the ins and outs of the happening Kit Kat Club, producing the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical “Cabaret” for a series of shows in November.
Ketchikan’s Sharolyn Kroscavage will produce and direct Divas and Divos, with First City Players Executive Artistic Director Elizabeth Nelson directing “Cabaret.”
“We have a very specific idea of what we want to be able to do every year,” Nelson said of the season in general. “And we want to be able to challenge our audiences, in some way, once a year.”
“It doesn’t mean that it has to be something that will shock them,” she added. “It could be a more modern playwright; it could be something that involves an idea; it could be simply the way you stage something that is a little different.”
“Cabaret” will be choreographed by Ketchikan’s Elizabeth Avila and Clare Bennett, with Deidre Nuss serving as musical director.
Raised in Ketchikan, Avila earned a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in dance from the private Stephens College in Missouri, also studying dance in New York, before returning to home to her First City.
She now teaches third grade at Ketchikan Charter School and has been choreographing productions with First City Players, off and on, in recent years, in addition to working occasionally as a substitute dance instructor at Ketchikan Theatre Ballet.
The 1972 film adaptation of “Cabaret” was directed by Bob Fosse, who garnered an Oscar for his work. Fosse is a familiar favorite for Avila, with a defined style of his own that will remain apparent in the local production.
“I have experience doing Fosse’s choreography, both as a dancer, as well as resetting his choreography,” she said. “I actually reset one of his pieces in this past spring performance (of) Ketchikan Theatre Ballet. And so, I think the story was (that) Elizabeth (Nelson) saw the Bob Fosse piece that I did and was inspired to ask me to work on ‘Cabaret.’”
As the season progresses, in January, the 2018 Jazz and Cabaret kicks off, before First City Players in March produces Kate Hamill’s modern retelling of the classic Jane Austen novel “Sense and Sensibility.”
The story originally set in the late-18th and early-19th centuries will be directed by Taylor McKenna, a 23-year resident of Ketchikan, who teaches English at Schoenbar Middle School.
Fond of all the upcoming shows, Nelson said the return of McKenna in a directing role comes with an added uptick of delight. McKenna is also directing a classic from one of Nelson’s all-time favorite authors.
The same goes for McKenna, who is classically trained with a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in theater from the University of Georgia at Athens.
McKenna said she pitched the idea of the “Sense and Sensibility” rework, inspired by a recent production of the Hamill script in New York by Theater Bedlam.
“It’s kind of an outrageous take on a pretty traditional piece of literature, and very fast paced,” said McKenna, who last served as director for the First City Players production of “The Trip to Bountiful,” among many other previous plays.
“There’s a core of actors who have to become all kinds of things, from gossips to horses that pull the carriage,” she said. “I was really intrigued by the playfulness of it.”
First City Players’ multigenerational springtime production will be the time-tested E.B. White story of “Charlotte’s Web,” with shows scheduled in April.
“Charlotte’s Web” will be directed by Nelson, who will be assisted by First City Players Marketing and Outreach Director Amanda Glanzer.
In June, Nelson will return to direct a local rendition of the witty musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” an adaptation of the book by Rachel Sheinkin, with production music and lyrics by William Finn. Performances will be held in June.
The 52nd season of “Fish Pirate’s Daughter” will be presented in July, 2018.
And closing the 2017-18 season, the final production will be “Singin’ in the Rain, Jr.,” which is based on the book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with production lyrics by Arthur Freed and music by Nacio Herb Brown.
The show will be the culmination of the nonprofit’s ArtsCool 2018, with performances scheduled in August.