Round House Theatre in Silver Spring has tried to carry on that tradition with its first community musical, "Ocean Song." Its 25 cast members range in age from 6 to 46. They sing about a dozen songs written by the theater's resident composer, Chris Patton.
Patton said the teachers and students in last year's summer arts day camp at the theater gave him the idea for the show: happy songs about a tropical island.
More than 100 community residents auditioned for the show. Some of them came from the county's theater labs for children and adults. Others were music and dance teachers and students from around the county.
Bert Wirth, one of the adults in the cast, said this was one of the few times in their lives that parents, teachers and children were all on the same level -- "being yelled at by the same person, the director."
That director, Jerry Whiddon, is an alumnus of the county's Street '70 Theater, the predecessor of the current theater at 12210 Bushey Dr. After living in New York, Whiddon returned to the area to direct this show and assume the lead role of El Gayo in Olney Theatre's final production of the summer, "The Fantasticks."
According to Patton, capacity audiences have filled the 218 seats of the theater to see this musical about, ". . . sun, water, windsongs, wanting to leave home, sailboats, finding adventure, pirates, following the wind, sharks, porpoises, fights, following your heart, a magic flash, an old lady, being alone, a young girl, coming home, hurricanes, working together and the joy of imperfection." The show ran through the first week of August.
While musicians Brian Bennett (bass guitar), Phil Hosford (piano), Patton himself (saxophone, flute, bongos), and Mary Beth Parrotta (soprano vocalist) created a tropical atmosphere for the "mystical island of perfection, Abu-Wataan," Leslie-Marie Cocuzzo's flashy costumes, including a school of sharks in the form of a West Side New York street gang, and Jill Falci's aggressive choreography sustained it.
Standout child performers Chris Shih and Sherry Stregack were endearing. Earlier this summer they had performed in a children's musical, "Dirty Sneakers," at the theater. Dance soloist Allyson Rice, who portrayed The Wind, has been a dance apprentice in the Montgomery County department of recreation arts programs at the theater for almost four years. The Walter Johnson High School senior plans to be one of four in next year's "core of apprentices" and hopes for a professional career in dance or film. Others in this cast will continue in classes at the theater or return to volunteer stage-related services.
Composer Patton, who was assisted by Irene Elliott and Jerry Whiddon on the musical, will resume teaching at The Center School, a school for children with learning disabilities in Kensington. Later this month he will visit the Edinburgh (Scotland) Festival to provide music for a new show, "The Last Book," based on the last book of Homer's Iliad, with the original Greek lyrics. When time permits, Patton said, he will "rework and rebuild 'Ocean Song,' perhaps adding more songs and hopefully getting it published."
Arts coordinator for the theater, Eliot Pfanstiehl, said there will be more community musicals produced at the theater: "look for one next summer." Anyone who has seen "Ocean Song" will likely do just that.