Back in the early 50s there was a musical revue on Broadway called "New Faces." It spotlighted some up-and-coming talent (including Eartha Kitt and Alice Ghostly) and a few new tunes.
Salt Lake theatergoers are - and will be - seeing a few "new faces" this spring, too . . . as two new theater companies settle into such historic spaces as a 1920 cinema (then the Kinema) and a 1907 chapel that once housed the Murray LDS 1st Ward.
Finding usable, flexible space in older buildings is nothing new for local theater troupes. Center Stage on Highland Drive is a former smorgasbord restaurant. Salt Lake Acting Company is housed in another historic chapel in the city's Marmalade Hill district, and Hale Center Theater has made innovative use of a building that once served as a meetinghouse for a protestant congregation.
One of the community's newest theater companies - the Old Nauvoo Playhouse - just recently moved into newly remodeled space in the Mount Vernon Academy's private school - a historic LDS Church meetinghouse in Murray, and another familiar landmark - the former Rialto Theater in the Clift Building in downtown Salt Lake City - is about to emerge from its dusty metamorphosis as the Broadway Stage.
Both companies, over the next several months, will be feeling their way and looking for their individual niches in the city's ever-broadening theatrical landscape, as the lively arts in Salt Lake City get even livelier.
Here's a look at the plans, goals and projects the two companies are considering.
- WILLIAM SARGENT, the man behind the Broadway Stage project, sees his theater as a forum for innovative new works as well as classic American and European pieces. Some of his friends and former colleagues in Los Angeles, where he operated a theater and was involved in television and other aspects of the Southern California entertainment industry, even envision Salt Lake City as a sort of "New Haven of the Western states" - a city where theatrical trial balloons can be launched to see how they'll fly.
The intimate, 250-seat space will also be available for recitals, chamber music concerts and stand-up comedians - a broad range of not only theater, but allied arts.
Sargent has been busy putting together a board of directors and the nucleus of an operating staff. At least one name already on board should be fairly familiar to Salt Lakers - Richard Jewkes, formerly of the Intermountain Actors' Ensemble (and currently appearing in "Inherit the Wind" at Pioneer Memorial Theatre). Sargent said Jewkes is his right-hand man and will assist as both a producer and director once the theater gets going.
For now, Sargent will be happy to get the seats installed (the main floor will feature plush, rocking-chair loge chairs, and the slightly remodeled balcony will have newly upholstered standard seats - all from the now-closed Centre Theater).
Sargent is also gingerly making his way through all the bureaucratic forms and paperwork it takes to renovate and remodel an older building.
(Much of this, however, is also being shouldered by the developers who own the Clift Building - such as the installation of an entirely new air conditioning system, and a new fire escape, which eliminates some of Sargent's precious backstage space.) The Broadway Stage will have, Sargent hopes, a unique, flexible proscenium-type stage that can accommodate a variety of staging options. There will also be a convertible grid system above the stage for variable lighting and sound. The stage, being built out into the auditorium, will be approximately 32-by-32-feet.
As if being preoccupied with the physical structure of putting together a theater isn't enough, Sargent has also been surrounding himself with as much good, solid, local talent as he can - such as Catherine Owens, who will soon graduate from the University of Utah with a doctorate in theater and business management. She's also a competent lighting designer.
His board secretary and another production assistant is Terri Jackson, "a very creative lady, published author of several children's stories, photographer and artist."
Sargent said "everyone in the company will wear several hats."
For now, it seems, most of those are "hard hats," at least until he gets closer to putting the finishing touches on the lovely old Rialto.
Sargent's theater company will be officially known as Hiatus Productions Inc., the resident company at the Broadway Stage.
One important woman who wears at least two hats - as vice president of the company and as Bill's wife - is Patricia K. Sargent. (In fact, the entire transformation of the old Rialto into the Broadway Stage would never have occurred if Mrs. Sargent hadn't transferred to Salt Lake City from Los Angeles with her job at Delta Airlines.) The Clift Building was constructed in 1919 on the site of the old Clift Hotel. The first occupants were Western Union, Schubach Optical, United Cigar Stores Co. and the Kinema Theater - the latter renamed the Rialto in 1928. In the 1970s, the Rialto was operated as the Trolley Midtown, then later closed after a brief stint as a "dollar house."
In his spare time (such as it is), Sargent is reading several scripts. He's considering both new and older, well-proven plays, and is taking a look at the possibility of doing the world premiere of a play about two Vietnam veterans and their pro and con feelings about the war.
He's also considering Jane Anderson's "Defying Gravity," a highly acclaimed play that premiered about three years ago in Los Angeles (in a theater that Sargent had designed and built 10 years earlier).
- DOWN IN THE OTHER end of the valley, the Old Nauvoo Playhouse has been tossed to and fro in its efforts to find a permanent home.
Situated temporarily at first in the gymnasium of the Mount Vernon Academy just off State Street on Vine, the ONP had initially taken a serious look at locating - like the Broadway Stage - in an old movie theater.
When the Old Nauvoo Playhouse plans were first announced last fall, it was going to move into the old Vista Theater in Murray. When that didn't pan out, another vacant showhouse in Midvale was considered - but that fell through, too.
Meanwhile, ONP staged "Saturday's Warrior" and a couple of other LDS Church-oriented musicals - and underwent some major leadership changes. Linda Fitt, who has experience in both theater and business, came on board to get the "business" end of the operation whipped into shape.
(A couple of seasons ago when Triadtheater was sinking into oblivion, one local theater person commented that thespians need to learn that "show business is two words - `show' and `business'. The `show' part may be exciting - but if they don't understand the `business' half, then they'd better reconsider their career choice.")
Fitt first became involved with ONP last summer when the playhouse sought her expertise in writing grant applications. Fitt had spent four years with the University of Utah Theater School for Youths (as executive director for Xan Johnson) for four years. Originally from California, Fitt directed several plays in Fontana, including one that was presented at the renowned Pasadena Playhouse. She minored in theater at BYU (where one of her classmates was Carol Lynn Pearson).
Some of the early works by author Pearson and composer Lex de Azevedo have been presented by the Old Nauvoo Playhouse, including "Saturday's Warrior" and the current revival of "My Turn on Earth."
But Val David Smithson, a well-known local composer-director who is managing director of the playhouse, said during a recent interview that one of the company's challenges now is "not to be stereotyped as an `LDS theater.' We'd like to foster some new work. There's a lot of potential out there - people with ideas and projects just sitting on the shelf."
Like the Broadway Stage, there are also some well-known and experienced performers and talent involved in the Old Nauvoo Playhouse endeavor, including Smithson, artistic director Ric Kirschner and J. Omar Hansen.
The fledgling company is branching out into other areas. The next production will be Neil Simon's comedy, "Star Spangled Girl" (mid-April through May) and there are plans for a playwriters forum this summer, a couple of melodramas and some children's theater.
Fitt noted that since this summer marks the sesquicentennial of settlement of Nauvoo, Ill., by the early Mormons, they're considering doing something that will "pay homage to our namesake."
The chapel of the old LDS Church meetinghouse will seat about 220 theatergoers - in pews, not regular theater seating r and a 32-by-22-foot stage has been built over what was formerly the podium and choir seats.
Smithson notes that the "220 seats" is a flexible figure - depending on how many occupants can be packed into each pew.
The company's board of trustees includes Jack Lambson as president. Lambson operates the Mount Vernon Academy, a private school (kingergarten through 12th grade) that utilizes much of the old Murray 1st Ward building. With Old Nauvoo Playhouse as the theater-in-residence, it is anticipated that there will eventually be some student productions and involvement in the company as well.
J. Omar Hansen started the Old Nauvoo Playhouse concept last summer with his Restoration Players company. He's still part of the operation and will probably be teaching some theater classes.
Kirschner's own "Kidsco" children's theater program also will be integrated into the Old Nauvoo Playhouse effort, with classes for children and other projects. Kirschner has been involved in similar projects at Rowland Hall-St. Mark's, Hansen Planetarium and the Children's Museum of Utah.
With the addition of Old Nauvoo Playhouse on Salt Lake City's theatrical scene, and the Broadway Stage looming on the horizon, local theatergoers will have more options than ever for live theater.
Both companies are aware of the risks involved - but, like Irving Berlin once wrote, there's an unbeatable excitement about "another openin', another show." And that applies to everything from a tried-and-true Rodgers & Hammerstein musical to an unknown drama by an up-and-coming playwright.
Hopefully, both the Broadway Stage and the Old Nauvoo Playhouse will find comfortable niches in Salt Lake City's ever-expanding arts.