This weekend, the boards of the Lexington Opera House stage will be trod by actors who have played starring roles on Broadway including the title role and Christine in Phantom of the Opera, Eva in Evita, Joseph Smith in The Book of Mormon, Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard, Enjolras in Les Miserables, Arachne in Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, Sister Mary Robert in Sister Act, the Musical and Eileen in Wonderful Town … to name a few.
Behind the scenes are people who have worked on Broadway productions of A Chorus Line, The Little Mermaid, August: Osage County, Beauty and the Beast and Mary Poppins, the show they will be working to present this weekend.
The hefty resumes beg the question: what are they doing here, in a Lexington-produced show?
“Lyndy and Jeromy,” purrs Christina DeCicco, the aforementioned Eva who plays Mary Poppins, a role she has also played at Theatre Under the Stars in Houston.
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She’s speaking of Lyndy Franklin Smith, a Lexington native, and her husband Jeromy Smith, co-directors of The Lexington Theatre Company, which debuted last summer with a production of 42nd Street featuring a similar lineup of Broadway talent working with student and community performers and technicians to put on a really big show.
Performers such as DeCicco, Denis Lambert who plays Bert, Jennifer Hope Wills who plays Mrs. Banks and choreographer Brian Collier are associations and friendships the couple cultivated when they were in New York working on Broadway in productions such as A Chorus Line and August: Osage.
“Good people, smart people, creative people, and they’re starting this company not only so the communities can grow and learn, and economies can prosper from it, but also so we can have jobs,” DeCicco says. “So, we love it when our friends go off and create wonderful spaces that we can create art in.”
Ron Bohmer, whose Broadway credits include that aforementioned Phantom, grew up in Cincinnati and says he had a general awareness that The Lexington Theatre Company was trying to do something new in terms of professional theater in Lexington.
“I just really wanted to support them, and I thought this would be a great thing to be a part of, and be a part of it in the early stages, when they’re just getting going,” Bohmer says.
One thing the out-of-town artists really like about the Smiths’ effort is they are starting big, with major productions such as 42nd Street and Mary Poppins, shows with large casts, sets and challenges.
“They’re not being shy about the fact that they’re here, and they plan on being here for a long time,” DeCicco says.
Lambert says, “This is a gigantic show, and I get to do some pretty spectacular effects,” though he wants to keep what those are a surprise.
Collier, who was the dance supervisor for the Broadway production of Poppins and several subsequent tours and productions, said the Lexington Theatre Company’s staging of the show is some of the most ambitious choreography outside of the original production and tour.
“For Jeromy and I, our mindset is if we gather the best people in every department and have a fantastic cast and fantastic technical team … it feels very attainable,” Lyndy Franklin Smith says. “We bring in a group of great people, and they make the magic happen.”
Local and student talent, throughout the cast and crew, help make it happen, too. Last year, the Smiths auditioned student performers in several cities in the region and Oklahoma City — home of their alma mater, Oklahoma City University. The cast includes some familiar faces from the University of Kentucky — UK Theatre alum Peter LaPrade and Opera veterans Amanda Balltrip and Gabrielle Barker — as well as School for the Creative and Performing Arts student Alexandra Simpson and home school student David Hensley as the Banks children.
“This group of young people who, historically their only option was to get the hell out of Lexington, if they had any prayer of doing anything in professional theater, are building friendships that will last them their whole careers,” says Lexington actor Robert Parks Johnson, who plays Admiral Boom and the bank chairman in Poppins. “This company is incredibly valuable to the city of Lexington as an artistic endeavor, an entity.”
Parks Johnson is in his second production with the company, after playing Abner Dillon last year opposite Tony Award Winner Karen Ziemba in 42nd Street. He and fellow Lexington actor Karyn Czar, who plays Mrs. Brill, have both now worked with The Lexington Theatre Company and AthensWest Theatre Company, the other professional troupe to arise in the last couple of years. It just finished its first full season.
Czar recalled years of consternation over Lexington’s lack of a true professional theater company, concluding that what was really needed were people like the Smiths and AthensWest’s Bo List and Jeff Day who had the experience to know how to make companies work in Lexington.
Czar draws a parallel to the problem-solving title character in the current show saying, “You guys magically, like Mary Poppins, made it happen.”
If You Go
What: The Lexington Theatre Company production of the Disney and Cameron Mackintosh musical
When: 7 p.m. July 14 and 15; 1 and 7 p.m. July 16; 1 p.m. July 17
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 West Short Street