Cast recordings make it possible to hear the scores of long-forgotten musicals, but only productions such as this let us actually experience lost gems, and the audience around me clearly relished the opportunity. True, you still need to use your imagination to capture the magic of High Button Shoes, but this show, despite its faults, returns the musical to the stage -- where it belongs.
The sixth annual Key West Theatre Festival kicks off on Thursday, October 2, presenting seven productions, six play readings, and one workshop before its close on Sunday, October 12. On the weekends -- starting 7:30 p.m. Friday -- those who quickly bypass all of the town's T-shirt stands can catch the five full productions aimed at adults.
The varied offerings are tied together only by the fact that they spring from new authors. Festival artistic director Joan McGillis laughs with exasperation and explains, "People used to come up to me four years ago when I started doing this and ask what the theme was. What am I'm supposed to say: 'I'm only doing plays about old people this year'?"
The most recent call for submissions drew 400 entries from around the nation. "We have a sofa," McGillis says, "and come mid-April that's where my office is."
Last year's fest played to 3000 people, triple the attendance in 1995; given the increased number of productions (up from four plays) and additional venues (now totaling five, including Old City Hall, which hosts a courtroom drama), the 1997 renewal will very likely draw even more patrons.
Established off-Broadway playwright and Coconut Grove resident Rafael Lima has a firsthand understanding of the fest's appeal; his play Hard Hats went from its world premiere at the festival in 1993 to a production by New York City's Manhattan Class Company in 1994. "For me it's an avenue to polish new works," remarks Lima. "In Key West I am able to work on a play before I feed it to the wolves in New York." Although he does not have a play in this year's festival, Lima will nonetheless participate by moderating a free play-writing workshop. "This is one of the best places I've seen in Florida to get new work produced," he says. "No one is as open to new theater as in Key West -- and sipping rum and Coke under a palm tree ain't bad either."
Tim Ferrell will be flying down from his home in Portland, Maine, to see a production of his Where There's Smoke..., which he co-wrote with Lesley Abrams. "We've done [the play] up here in New England," he says, "and this gives us a chance to take it somewhere else, put it before strangers, and see how it holds up in the real world. Also, there's always the process of peddling the piece and hooking up with someone that might want to develop it." But Ferrell won't jump at just any old offer. "I've been to Key West twice when I was doing children's theater," he recalls, "and was robbed both times. I'm looking forward to going and keeping my money in my pocket."
For more information on the Key West Theatre Festival, call 305-292-3725 or 800-741-6945 or see "Calendar Listings."
High Button Shoes.
Music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Sammy Cahn; book by Stephen Longstreet; directed by Bob Bogdanoff; choreographed by Pam Atha; with Dan Kelley, Jan McArt, Jerry Gulledge, Don McArt, Chrissi Guastela-Ardito, and Jon Popiel. Through November 30. For more information call 800-841-6765 or see "Calendar Listings.