First City Players announces its new season slate: 'The Secret Garden' to open Nov. 8

The poster for First City Players' upcoming production of “The Secret Garden” is one of many watercolors painted for the theater group by Ketchikan artist Lori Orlowski. Image courtesy of First City Players

The First City Players has announced its new season of plays, music performances and dinner theater ranging from productions filled with music and laughter to those delving into the deeper psyche of the human experience.

The season will kick off with the organization’s annual “Divas & Divos” event, produced by Sharolyn Kroscavage, and slated to be held on Sept. 28 at the Ted Ferry Civic Center. In that event, women and men vie for the Diva or Divo crown with song and dance performances. They raise money for First City Players by selling votes prior to and during the event.

The first play to be offered this season will be ““The Secret Garden”,” scheduled to open Nov. 8.

“It’s a beautiful story that’s very well told,” First City Players Executive Artistic Director Elizabeth Nelson said in an interview Tuesday at Ketchikan High School, where FCP ArtsCool summer program kids bustled between workshops and projects.

“It’s a classic kid’s book, a youth book,” she said of the origins of “The Secret Garden” story.

“In the early ‘90s they made a musical out of it, with music written by Karly Simon’s older sister Lucy Simon,” Nelson added.

Nelson said she saw “The Secret Garden” on Broadway with the original cast, and was impressed. At first, she’d been unsure that the story from her beloved book would translate well to the stage, but was happily surprised.

“They so caught the essence of what the story was, that whatever changes they needed to make to tell that story in that condensed way were glorious and just tied in and made complete sense,” she said.

She said “The Secret Garden” features a smaller cast than most musicals, with 21 roles — three of them for children. Although it’s a family-friendly story, she said it also is a serious story full of music.

“It has more music than dialogue,” she said. “It’s just beautiful.”

She said they will be looking especially for singers who specialize in the soprano and tenor ranges, especially sopranos who can achieve “a light, almost ethereal sound.”

Auditions for “The Secret Garden” will be held on Sept. 3 and 5, Nelson said.

“We really encourage anybody to audition,” she added, explaining that the process is very friendly and people need not prepare material in advance. She said perusal scripts will be available by mid-August, and information about and scripts for the play also can be found by searching the internet.

The next production First City Players will bring to the Ketchikan scene is the annual Jazz & Cabaret event.

That event features a two-week series of workshops for locals led by musicians who, this year, are all from New York City. Three are pianists, one is a jazz guitarist and one, a bass player.

“It’s sort of a really cool opportunity for our local musicians to get to stretch themselves and work with these people who are kind of amazing,” Nelson said.

She described the workshops as designed for vocalists who are looking for an opportunity to sharpen their skills.

“People who have been shower singers their whole life and want to take that chance of standing on stage in front of a microphone and seeing what happens,” are whom this experience is for, she explained.

She said workshop leaders work with people to help them perform a song of their choice to perform at the final gala events at the Ted Ferry Civic Center on Jan. 17 and 18.

Nelson said the workshop leaders work to help people to find their styles and how they can make their performances shine.

“It’s fun and terrifying and exciting,” Nelson said of the experience for participants.

She added that they’ve had participants as young as 8 years old in the program, and entire families have attended workshops then performed together.

Another aspect of the program is led by New York City musician Anne Phillips, founder of “Kindred Spirits,” a youth program that aims to share traditional “great American songbook” jazz from the ‘20s through the ‘50s with school-aged children, Nelson said.

While in Ketchikan, Phillips will work with youth, who will then perform at their schools as well as at a Sunday afternoon family show at the Civic Center.

“It’s a very inclusive, very fun, wonderful couple of weeks of music,” Nelson concluded. “It’s a very open way to let people live a dream, if it’s something they’ve ever wanted to do.”

The next event, as the new year rolls along, will be two dinner theater performances of “Love Letters,” planned to be held around Valentine’s Day on Feb. 8 and 15, at the New York Cafe.

“Love Letters” is a reader’s theater style performance featuring a couple that reads their letters to each other stretching from when they were in second grade together to their senior years.

“It’s one of my favorite reader’s theaters I’ve ever seen,” Nelson said. “It’s amazing how moving it can be.”

She added that the venue only holds about 40 attendees, so tickets should be secured early.

“It’s a really nice way to spend a date evening,” she said.

The next production First City Players will tackle will be the play “The 39 Steps,” slated to open March 6, with auditions on Dec. 2 and 3.

“This is a very complicated show,” Nelson said.

She described the play as based on an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

“The kick of this show is that it is four actors — three men and one woman — and they’re playing 150 characters,” Nelson said, adding, “it’s fun and funny and fast-paced and complicated and a blast.”

Casting will be the first challenge, Nelson said, as experienced actors with the flexibility to play many characters will be needed.

Next, First City Players will offer the multi-generational musical, “Honk,” based on the story of the Ugly Duckling.

“It’s light and fun and charming,” Nelson said, describing it as being reminiscent of early 20th century British music hall productions.

She said the play is a “really sweet re-telling of that story,” with all of the animal characters played by people, and she expressed hope that families would audition together.

“Honk” will open May 1, with auditions to be held March 9 and 10.

The next play to be offered, opening on June 12, with auditions on April 20 and 21, is “The Little Prince,” another story adapted from a classic children’s book. It will be directed by First City Players Marketing and Outreach Director Amanda Glanzer. It will be her second time directing a FCP production. The first play she directed was the 2018 FCP production of “Charlotte’s Web.”

As she had said about the stage adaptation for ““The Secret Garden”,” Nelson said “The Little Prince” also is true to the original book.

Although “The Little Prince” is not a musical, Nelson said, there is a dance ensemble that will be choreographed by Ketchikan Theatre Ballet’s Rachel Jacobucci.

In July, audiences will have the opportunity to engage in the exuberance offered by the 54th annual “Fish Pirate’s Daughter” dinner theater production at the Ted Ferry Civic Center.

In 2019, First City Players volunteers created fresh sets for the classic farcical play written by locals and set in Ketchikan.

“Every year is different, every year is fun,” Nelson said. “It’s a little piece of Ketchikan history, it’s part of who we are as a community.”

The 2019/2020 First City Players season will wrap up on Aug. 7 and 8 with performances by the ArtsCool summer camp students of the play “Frozen Jr.”

Nelson said that they do a fresh play each year for the program.

“I say if we can have 20 years between a show, it’s great,” Nelson said.

She added that the program has often had students who’ve attended from age 7 to 17, and bringing the challenge of a new show each year keeps things fresh not only for those students, but also for First City Players staff.

Even more importantly, “I think audiences like new things” as well, Nelson added.

Each season’s lineup of productions is chosen by the Season Selection Committee, Nelson said, currently made up of eight people who read scripts and gather to select a variety of shows that will span the range of community tastes and values.

Nelson said that every production they offer has a local business that sponsors the cost of the play’s royalties, “which is exciting and hugely generous.”

She also mentioned that the support is more crucial now, with the loss of funding and support from the State Arts Council due to recent budget cuts.

But, she added, “You can’t kill art by killing art funding, you can just make a lot of it more difficult.”

Nelson said that community theater has been integral to Ketchikan culture for a long time.

“There has been community theater in Ketchikan — documented community theater — since 1910,” Nelson said, continuing to say that “it’s part of island life, it’s part of how we tell our story — of how we connect with each other. It’s part of our nature.

“We tell stories,” she added. “That’s what theater does, theater tells our stories, dance tells our stories, music tell our stories, visual art tells our story because humans are incapable of not having that — it’s gonna happen.

“Come see theater,” she concluded. “It’s good for your soul.”