The Shows Go On

Summertime musicals near a pretty lake: CdA Summer Theatre has been doing that for 43 years.

Another opening, another show; mark your calendar, there are four new shows to go. Yes, it’s almost time for Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre’s season to take off on the stage of North Idaho College’s Schuler Auditorium. And everyone’s invited.

The lineup looks fantastic — four full-scale Broadway musicals. Kicking off on Saturday, June 12, will be The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a comedic tale of six wannabes who go after the spelling championship of their dreams.

From July 3-17, the Rodgers and Hammerstein version of Cinderella will light up the stage. Sets by veteran stage designer Michael McGiveney, along with amazing costumes by Judith McGiveney, will enhance the wellknown rags-to-romance story. Adding variety and spice to this production will be three — count them, three — Travolta sisters playing the roles of Cruel Stepmother and the Ugly Stepsisters.

Ellen, Margaret and Annie Travolta will be acting onstage together for the first time in the lives of these three professional actresses. Infusing excitement into the mix is the rumor that another Travolta sibling, John, is bound to turn up to see the girls onstage for one of the 10 performances of Cinderella. Frosting on the cake is Jack Bannon, cast as the Prince’s father, King Maximillian.

Pump Boys and Dinettes, a lesser-known show, is the third musical and will run from July 22-Aug. 1. The guys pump gas and the gals wait tables; then they harmonize in country-western style. It may be the sleeper of the season.

Hairspray, a return to the ’60s, will round out the summer season (Aug 7-21). You remember the story line: An overweight teenager steals the show by outdancing and outsinging everybody else. Big Musical, Big Comedy, Big Hair.

Roger Welch, the multi-talented artistic director of the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, is the same age as the troupe he leads. Forty-three years ago, in 1967, Founding Director Bob Moe launched the Carrousel Players in Coeur d’Alene in the same timeworn church on Garden and 14th that is now home to Coeur d’Alene’s community theater, Lake City Playhouse.

Bob Moe was a visionary who believed that Coeur d’Alene possesses all the right ingredients for a successful summer theater — a beautiful lake with tourist appeal, a reliable summer home crowd, as well as proximity to Spokane’s musical talent and audience potential.

Bob Moe and his young ensemble developed a devoted following. While the piano accompaniment was unpredictable, the stage cramped and the seats sagging, the high energy of the young performers always made for lively entertainment.

Bob Moe left the area in 1988. The stage was dark for only one season, 1989. Roger Welch, who didn’t become artistic director until 1994, credits Holladay Sanderson, Maureen Gris and Jim Speirs with keeping the Carrousel Players alive during the uncertain days that followed the founding director’s departure.

Bob Moe hired the young Roger Welch in 1986 as a dancer in the Northwest premiere of A Chorus Line. As he approaches his 24 th season with Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, Welch admits that his life’s work has become the struggle to continue Bob Moe’s dream — to bring first-class professional actors and musicians together to perform Broadway musicals to an appreciative audience in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Roger Welch admits to performing all his life.

He remembers impersonating John Wayne and other characters at a very young age to get the attention of his mother, who was his best audience. School plays, movies, Carol Burnett, Lucy — it all fed his growing passion for drama during his school years. An acting award at Mount Hood College in Portland was followed by three years of traveling the world with Missoula Children’s Theatre.

Welch describes those traveling days as his assignment with the Peace Corps of theatre. His job at a different school every Monday was to recruit a cast of child actors, introduce them to a play, instruct, direct and perform the play that coming Friday. Roger maintains that kids have a natural love of the theatre, emanating from their delight in make-believe and play and stories.

While he believes that theatre is a powerful force in many ways, Welch says that “The truest, most powerful commodity is storytelling — which has been true since hunters spun tales around the fire to the box office hits of today.”

In recent years, several serendipitous forces have merged to take Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre to a higher, even more professional level. Ellen Travolta and Jack Bannon arrived from California to add their fabulous acting presence to the stage. Michael Mc- Giveney brought experience with Disney Productions and Broadway shows to the stagecraft, just as Judith McGiveney brought years as a trained designer to the costumes. Steve Dahlke, Max Mendez and members of the Spokane Symphony provide top-rate music for talented cast members from across the country to sing with.

New this season, certified human dynamo Laura Little, formerly with Christian Youth Theatre, has taken on the role of executive director of the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre.

Mix it all together and magic happens. Come see.

While the piano accompaniment was unpredictable, the stage cramped and the seats sagging, the high energy of the young performers always made for lively entertainment.

Mary Lou Reed’s column appears in The Inlander once a month. She is a current board member of Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre. This summer’s shows (June 12-Aug. 21), are on Thursday through Saturday nights, with some Sunday matinees. Visit or call (208) 769-7856.

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