First Posted: 4/19/2013
Five years ago the Phoenix Theatre had a “clue” about what to do. “Clue: the Play” was the first show the community theater in Duryea produced in May 2008. Performed by Phoenix Theatrics, the theater’s company for children and young adults ages 12 to 20, “Clue” is an intricate musical based on the iconic board game. It sold out four consecutive weekends.
Since then Phoenix, led by director/choreographer Lee LaChette, has taken on other elaborate, large-cast musicals such as “Rent,” “Fosse,” “Avenue Q,” “Rocky Horror,” “Fame” and “Cats.”
“We were the first ones ever to do ‘Cats’ and ‘Fosse’ in our area because of the difficulty of the show,” LaChette said.
Continuing the trend, Phoenix is celebrating its fifth anniversary with a production of “A Chorus Line” with a cast of 28 young actors from 12 to 20 years of age.
The show is about 17 Broadway dancers auditioning for spots on a chorus line. Among the songs are “At the Ballet,” “What I Did For Love” and “One.”
The show opens at 8 p.m. Friday, May 3 for the first of seven performances at the Phoenix Performing Arts Centre in the old Kurlancheek Furniture store building at 409 Main St. in Duryea. Shows continue at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 4, 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 5 and at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, May 10 and 11.
The fifth anniversary will be celebrated with two additional shows at 8 p. m. on Friday and Saturday, May 24 and 25 with special giveaways and cake for everyone at intermission. Tickets are $12 and reservations are recommended. Call 457-3589 or visit www.phoenixpac.vpweb.com.
“A Chorus Line” performances will benefit Be Relevant Ministries Inc., an organization for homeless young adult and teens.
Past shows have raised money for the Red Cross HIV/AIDS Education and Awareness Program and the Jolee Boarder Foundation for childhood cancer and anti-bullying. Phoenix also gives back to the community in benefit walks, hosting the elderly for holiday shows and performing at nursing homes.
“Our ‘Avenue Q’ cast raised money for Broadway Cares HIV Awareness,” LaChette said. “and personally delivered the donation in New York City when we took the cast to see ‘Avenue Q’ and did a meet and greet with the off-Broadway cast. Our ‘Annie’ cast also went to New York to see ‘Annie’ on Broadway and we delivered pajamas for orphans in New York.”
“Annie,” which sold out nine shows from April 19 to 28, was performed by the Phoenix Kids, the theater’s company for actors and singers ages ages 4 to 13.
LaChette, who is also director of Dimensions in Dance Studio in the same building, said “A Chorus Line,” which will use original Broadway choreography, is special to her. “This show is dear to me. It was the first Broadway show I ever saw and always wanted to part of it. It was my dream to tour professionally with this show.”
That dream came true. LaChette toured for a year professionally playing Bebe on the line in 1986 and ‘87.
LaChette, who grew up in Hazleton, began studying dance and theater when she was three years old. She studied locally and at the Philadelphia Dance Center and in New York. She earned a degree in accounting with a minor in musical theater from Penn State University.
After playing Bebe, she returned to the Hazleton area to teach dance, perform and choreograph. She got a day job with Sears Holding Co. in Wilkes-Barre and moved there for an easier commute. It was then she got on the board of the theater that predated Phoenix.
“I was on the board of a theater company that was in the building we are in now and was a choreographer for KISS Theatre Company who rented the upstairs,” she said. “When the theatre company closed and KISS moved, a few of us stayed and rented the building and opened our own theatre company. This was in February 2008.”
The condition of the theater, which had been used as a haunted house around Halloween, prompted LaChette to name it. “When we took it over, the stage area was pretty well destroyed and all the rooms needed a face lift so, like the Phoenix, we rose from the ashes. We remodeled one area for a dance studio, rebuilt the stage and updated the lighting booth. We decided to call the building Phoenix Performing Arts Centre.”
LaChette now lives in Duryea, just blocks from the theater with her domestic partner and their Maltese, Miracle, the theater mascot. Living nearby is convenient as LaChette puts in 16 to 20 hours a week between teaching and rehearsals during a typical week and about 30 hours a week the two weeks before a show opens.
LaChette said the staff and players are like a family, close enough to rib her about her size. “I’m 5-1 and most of the kids I work with are taller than me, so I am the brunt of a lot of jokes.”
Olivia Bellanco, 13 and a Wyoming Area seventh-grader, plays Connie on “The Chorus Line.” She’s been with Phoenix since the beginning and agrees it’s like a family. “The main thing is,” Bellanco said, “everybody gets along. Lee is very professional. She’ll push you far enough so the show will be good, but she won’t be forceful; she’ll be nice and funny.”
Last week and this, “Chorus Line” cast rehearsals are held every night for 2 1/2 hours. “It’s hard work,” Bellanco said, “but it’s going to be a really good show, so it’s worth it.”
The Phoenix staff includes LaChette, Jenn Stanton, president and director of shows; Bev Boos and Barb Maxwell, costume directors; and Chase and Audrey Beleski, Carey and Dave Rambus and Shelly Manley, volunteers.
LaChette said most of the students are serious about theater and some who got their starts at Phoenix are studying musical theatre in college.
As a non-profit, Phoenix relies on sponsors.
Bath Fitter has been a sponsor of the theater for three years and Avenue Diner is a new sponsor of individual shows this year. Phoenix also charges cast members a small production fee to help with sets, costumes, props and programs.