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Celebrating 70 Years of Entertaining

Little Theatre opens anniversary season with “Cabaret.”

"Cabaret" is not your grandmother’s type of theater. Or is it? Although it has some racy scenes in it, it is written about Berlin, Germany in 1930, about the same time a group of Alexandrians started meeting for play readings. This initial group formed The Little Theatre of Alexandria (LTA), and 70 years later, they are still a vibrant organization.

Frank D. Shutts II is directing the show, one of many that he has done for LTA over the years. The majority of his theater training came from Dorthie Kogelman at Groveton High School, now West Potomac.

“She [Dorthie] knew theater and could teach theater as if she was a disciple of Thespis himself. I did my first show with LTA in the early '80s, but I became a part of the core group in 1989 when I directed "The Fantasticks" which had both Karen [Jadlos Shotts] and Doug [Sanford] in the show. I was thinking as I saw the two of them onstage together during the "I Don't Care Much" number [in Cabaret] how lucky I am that they auditioned for that show almost 15 years ago ... they have been in several of my productions, not because they are my friends, but because they are two of the more talented performers in the area,” Shutts said.

SHUTTS DIRECTED both of them in "Cabaret" at Dominion Stage five years ago and pre-cast Sanford, Jadlos Shotts and Tom Flatt in this production. Sanford said that it’s kind of nice to be doing the role again five years later. He enjoys working with Karen and said, “Karen and I have done six shows together — she’s an amazing performer.”

Sanford said that he is enjoying playing the role, but at the end of the evening, he is “totally wiped out.”

“It definitely works better in a smaller theater — it’s much more intimate, which ties in the cabaret theme,” Sanford said.

In addition to the smaller setting, he likes LTA because they have a bigger budget and more of a technical staff than most community theaters and “can make things happen. As a performer, they treat you very well.” He also likes the fact that it is a longer run than other theaters.

“The fact that you have the chance to do 21 shows is great. I’m looking forward to having the role change naturally during the course of the show,” Sanford said.

Christopher A. Tomasino, music director, agrees that the smaller theater makes for a more intimate production and said, “It allows some of the darkness to come through; it’s a little edgier. It’s interesting as the show progresses to hear the audience’s reaction to the show. In the first half, they’re laughing, but the second act is extremely serious. It’s not like most shows, where it has an upbeat ending. People’s lives were changed.”

THE LONG RUNS are one of the two things that Christopher A. Tomasino, music director for “Cabaret,” likes best about LTA.

“It enables you to improve, and allows actors and musicians to build upon their performances,” said Tomasino, who has been working with LTA for many years. He did his first production in 1998, and has done other shows and served on several committees since then. He also likes the fact that LTA has their own space so that shows don’t have to move every weekend.

The downside of the long runs is that it’s a “big time vacuum.” While the directors and musicians receive a very small stipend, Tomasino said that most people are involved with community theater because they love performing. He believes that people are attracted to LTA because they put on consistently good shows and like working with Frank, Mary Beth Smith-Toomey and himself.

“We put on a quality production, but it’s also a social outlet and you can still have fun,” Tomasino said.

SHUTTS THINKS the area itself is what brings in the caliber of people that are associated with LTA, and said, “There is a ton of theatrically trained/educated performers and technicians in this area who, for whatever reason, do not want to pursue the grueling life of making it in show business. So, they are software engineers during the day and actors/technicians in the evening. Our stage manager for this show just graduated with a degree in stage managing. She works in marketing during the day, but is ours at night.

“As I travel throughout the country, I look to see what other areas have going as far as community theaters. When I was in Philadelphia last, I was shocked at how little theater they have compared to D.C. and practically very little theater or at least theater that advertises in the big papers. Again, I think it's D.C. and the government, there are many government employees who have degrees in theater.”

Shutts also said, “I like LTA because of its resources, its extremely talented crews, its reputation for quality theater, and its run (the number of times it repeats a performance, 21 times usually). I like LTA because it is a grassroots theater, created by local Alexandrians who wanted to educate and entertain their community through classes and through performances.”

Tomasino attributes part of LTA’s success to their strong subscriber base. Susan Strauss has been a subscriber for the past four years. She said that she saw her first show, “Jesus Christ Superstar” when she moved to the area. Strauss liked it so much that she signed up for the rest of the season. She has since convinced her boyfriend and a friend from Washington, D.C. to subscribe as well. In addition, she tells people in her Alexandria condominium how good the shows are.

“It’s a very inexpensive evening, but the quality is always good,” said Strauss, who only saw one show (over four years) that she wasn’t excited about. The show she didn’t think she’d like, “On Golden Pond,” turned out to far exceed her expectations.

“I thought the actor was better than Henry Fonda,” she said. Other shows that Strauss really liked were "Master Class," "Music Man" and "Teahouse of the August Moon."

“This is one [ticket] I wouldn’t give up—I think it’s the best deal in town.”