‘The Theaters Are Alive’: Loudoun’s Community Companies Go Big for Fall

This spring, Loudoun theater companies dipped their toes back into the water with socially distanced productions, small casts and lots of COVID-related adaptations on stage. For fall, local directors are jumping back in with both feet. 

While safety precautions remain in place, this season’s shows are bigger and bolder. And with favorite local actors ready to get back onstage, directors are taking advantage of a bonanza of returning talent for their shows. Here’s a look at what’s coming up on Loudoun stages.

“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” at StageCoach Theatre Company

Susanna Todd portrays Jean in StageCoach Theatre Company’s production of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone.”

The pandemic has changed the way Ashburn’s StageCoach Theatre Company does business. It also means expanded offerings and a chance to put on different types of shows. The company has moved many of its popular dinner theater cabarets and murder mysteries to the Carriage House at Oatlands Historic House and Gardens near Leesburg. That leaves the company’s home theater in Ashburn for innovative stage productions, children’s programs and comedy shows. For director Kat Brais, it offers the chance to tackle a juicy stage show she’s been dying to direct for years. Brais’ production of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” by the Pulitzer Prize finalist and MacArthur Fellowship-winning playwright Sarah Ruhl runs through Nov. 7.

“We’ve taken a new twist and we’re experimenting,” Brais said.

Dead Man’s Cell Phone tells the story of solitary, quiet Jean who answers a dead man’s cell phone in a cafe. Her decision sends her on a date with the dead man’s brother, a drinking binge with his wife and a mysterious rendezvous with his mistress. 

Brais was able to snag veteran actor Susanna Todd for the role of Jean after a COVID-related acting hiatus. The piece is heavy on women characters—another plus for Brais—but she was thrilled to cast Michael Sherman as the male lead, as both the deceased Gordon who led a dark and complicated life and his gentle brother Dwight who emerges from his brother’s shadow. 

“He’s one of the best actors in the region in my opinion,” Brais said.

Brais saw the show at DC’s Woolly Mammoth Theater in 2006 and was determined to put it on locally. 

“This quirky, funny, dark play about human beings just floored me,” Brais said. “I wanted to direct this character piece, to explore these people. … There’s something about these damaged souls who find each other.”

StageCoach Theatre Company’s “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” runs Oct. 30 and 31 and Nov. 6 and 7 at StageCoach Theatre in Ashburn. Tickets are $25. Masks are required for audience members while inside the building.

The Pickwick Players’ ‘Sound of Music’

The cast of Pickick Players’ upcoming performance of The Sound of Music. [Renss Greene]

The Pickwick Players production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic “The Sound of Music” was cast and ready to roll in in the spring of 2020. But the pandemic stopped the community theater company in its tracks. Now the production is back with a cast of 40, including most of the actors originally cast in the show who are delighted to finally jump into their roles.

For Chelsea Zeidman, getting cast as Maria for the 2020 show was a dream come true—and finally getting to play the role is even sweeter. The longtime Julie Andrews fan is thrilled to finally sink her teeth into the role.

“Getting to taste it and having it ripped out from under us and now having it open again, it’s become a dream all over again,” Zeidman said.

For Zeidman, one of the unexpected upsides of the hiatus has been getting to spend more time with her character. Zeidman traveled to Austria this summer and took the famed “Sound of Music” tour, delving into the story of the real Von Trapp family on which the musical is based.

“I almost took it as a method acting opportunity to really dive into Maria that much more,” Zeidman said.

And starring in next month’s production is even sweeter for Zeidman: one of her first roles with Pickwick was Louisa Von Trapp in the company’s 2009 production of the musical. 

“This is very much a full circle moment in so many ways,” Zeidman said.

Spencer Milligan, who was cast with Zeidman in Pickwick’s production of “The Fantasticks” last spring, plays Captain Von Trapp. The two actors are looking forward to reigniting their onstage chemistry under loosened restrictions.

“It’s a good show to come back to—being on a break from theater for so long and getting to do a show that everybody has grown to love,” Milligan said.

Milligan says he’s also enjoyed working with the 14 young actors who play the VonTrapp children—the show is double cast for the children’s roles.

“Honestly, it’s been a blast,” he said. “The kids are some of the most energetic and excited about the show, and they’re putting in a ton of work.”

Audiences will find some differences between the beloved movie and the stage production, including a few fun musical numbers that aren’t in the movie. But the show’s producers have also brought in a few fan favorites from the movie score including “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good.”

“The hills and the theaters are alive. The opportunity for all of us to be back in person and finally enjoy live theater again and with a show that everyone already carries so warmly in their hearts—there’s nothing better,” Zeidman said. “We are just excited to be back doing what we love and sharing a beautiful show with everyone.

The Pickwick Players presents “The Sound of Music” Nov. 4-6 and Nov. 11-13 at Capital Community Church in Ashburn. Tickets are $21 for adults, $15 for children and seniors. Masks are required for audience members. For tickets and information, go to thepickwickplayers.com.

‘Catch Me If You Can’ from Sterling Playmakers

Catch Me If You Can’s Carl Hanratty, portrayed by Jonathan Mulberg, chases Frank Abagnale, Jr., played by Brett Stockman. [Courtesy of Alan Price Photography]

Shanna Christian chose the fast-paced contemporary musical “Catch Me If You Can” for her directorial debut with The Sterling Playmakers. 

The Tony-nominated musical, based on a 2002 movie, made its Broadway debut in 2011 with a book by Terrence McNally of “The Full Monty” fame and a score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman who wrote the Tony-winning score for “Hairspray.”

The production is based on the allegedly-true story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a high-flying conman who poses as a pilot, doctor and lawyer, living the high life with FBI agent Carl Hanratty in hot pursuit.

Christian scooped up Brett Stockman for the Frank Abagnale Jr. role, bringing a community theater favorite, who has performed with the Playmakers, Main Street Theater and Pickwick, back to the Loudoun stage after a three-year hiatus.

Like Pickwick’s fall show, “Catch Me If You Can” was initially planned for 2020 and pushed back. Christian has had the script for two years, which she says has its upsides.

“I’ve had the privilege of sitting with the script much longer than we usually get to in community theater,” Christian said. 

The pause has given her the time to immerse herself in the swinging score and nonstop action.

“This is my dream show to direct,” Christian said. “I’ve always found the story very fascinating. … It’s fast-paced. Once that first plane takes off, the show takes off. There’s no time to be bored.”

Sterling Playmakers presents “Catch Me If You Can” Nov. 12-14 and Nov. 19-21 at Seneca Ridge Middle School. Tickets are $15. For more information, go to sterlingplaymakers.org. Masks are

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