By Dana Casadei
In 1923 the first issue of Time magazine was published and Yankee stadium opened its doors. The roaring ’20s were in full swing and an idea formed in 1922 became a reality. The Village Players of Birmingham was formed, with 16 charter members. Now, in the present day of iPads and DVRs, that same company is celebrating its 90th season.
On Nov. 2 it will become the first Detroit area community theater to do the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Sunset Boulevard.”
“It’s pretty exciting,” said director Michael A. Gravame.
Gravame, who’s been involved on-and-off with the Village Players since 1989 – and who was honored with the 2012 Jim Posante Community Pride Award at this year’s Wilde Awards – went on to say that when most think of the Tony Award-winning musical they go back to that Broadway production, which adds a little pressure to directing it. He is also the first to admit that no matter a theater’s budget, there’s no way to recreate it, even though not many from the area have seen it.
“A lot of people have never seen it and you kind of have your freedom to come up with your own interpretation,” Gravame said. “If you concentrate on the characters and you have the elements people remember, like the staircase, then everything else can be done kind of abstractly.”
Gravame’s interpretation includes a “film noire essence” to the show and creating “pictures,” which includes a lot of stage freezes. His directing style is a little different than others as well, starting with the little details and gluing them back together.
Having a company that fully supports your vision helps too.
“(The Village Players is) just a wonderful place to do shows because they have that support for you, they let you do what you love to do,” said Gravame. “Village Players is a family.”
That family aspect is one that the company has had since the beginning, even when it was a private theater club.
While playing piano at a children’s center in Pontiac, Julie Bowes got to know a woman that was part of the Village Players, who invited her and her husband to the Christmas party.
“You had to have sponsors at that time,” said Bowes, who joined in 1960. Even though none of their sponsors could go, Bowes and her husband decided to go anyway.
“We thought we’ll just stay here for a few minutes and then leave,” she said. “We came home at 3 a.m.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Bowes has since directed music for 25 Village Players shows and countless others after her first job as assistant musical director for “The Boyfriend.”
“I’ve given hours of my life to Village Players and loved absolutely every moment of it,” Bowes said. “My happiest time was sitting at the piano.”
Bowes isn’t the only member that talks about The Village Players with the warmth of a blanket on a cold night.
When asked how they got involved, Ty Perkins and his wife Ann, who joined in 1962, simply laughed and said friends dragged them in.
Luckily they weren’t kicking and screaming.
Both had wanted to make new friends and enjoyed theater and singing, making their years as much about the memories they had on the stage as well as off, including the countless birthday and Christmas parties. “It was swell,” he said.
Some of his fondest memories include the night that he played Li’l Abner, where his name, Ann reminds him, was forgotten in the program; the first Christmas party in 1962, where they had to decorate with only $10; and earning a plaque for doing so well when they ran concessions.
Out of all the stories, one of the best happened during a night of one-act plays. He was told that they wanted him to be the male lead for “Family Album,” one of the nine acts in “Tonight at 8:30,” where he might have to sing a song; there were four. “As I stood off-stage I couldn’t have told you the name of the play much less my first line, but we got through it,” he said. “Ever since then there’s a toast in there that we still use in our family for every occasion.”
Ty then sings it over the phone, without missing a beat, something that the Village Players seems to have been doing the last 90 years.
Village Players, 34660 Woodward Ave., Birmingham. Nov. 2-18. $19. 248-644-2075. http://www.Birminghamvillageplayers.com