Le Petit Theatre Makes a Big Comeback
Just a couple of years ago, it looked like New Orleans might lose one of its most beloved cultural institutions, Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, due to extreme financial difficulties. But like many of the shows this nearly 100-year-old community theater has staged, their story has a happy ending. Local restaurateur Dickie Brennan bought the charming building on Saint Peter Street that housed the theater (and opened an adjoining restaurant), took care of the company’s crippling debt, and helped clear the way for some much needed renovations.
This summer, the theater offered its first show in over two years, Nora & Delia Ephron’s "Love, Loss, and What I Wore," and earlier this month officially kicked off its 2013-2014 season with Eric Simonson’s sports drama "Lombardi," about the life of legendary former Green Bay Packers’ coach Vince Lombardi. So far, everything is going just as swimmingly as the theater’s new executive director (and former board president) Cassie Worley had envisioned it.
"I am very happy," she says. "The renovations are beautiful, while the space has retained its wonderful charm. People are loving the access to a full bar in the building, because this is New Orleans where everyone loves to eat and drink. And, as I hoped, ’Lombardi’ is bringing in sports fans and other people who would not normally go to the theater. And that’s what I want, because if they like this show, maybe they’ll keep coming back as a habit, no matter what we do."
Worley says she and her production committee - which includes her closest friend and fellow New Orleans native, actor Bryan Batt - thought long and hard about how to program this new season. "We decided to start with ’Lombardi,’ because it coincides with the start of the football season and New Orleans is a football town. And a lot of people don’t know that Vince Lombardi’s grandson, Joe Lombardi, is a coach for the New Orleans Saints."
Indeed, not only did Joe Lombardi attend the show’s opening night, so did his boss, Saints head coach Sean Payton, who also brought along the Vince Lombardi Trophy that the Saints took home for winning the Super Bowl in 2010. "It was a magical night," says Worley.
Up next in November, the theater will present the quintessential 1960s rock musical "Hair." "I am selling it as the original rock musical. I tell people who haven’t heard of it that it’s what ’Rent’ was before ’Rent,’" says Worley. Rest assured, though, those people who audition for the show don’t have to worry about disrobing on stage - this version will not include the show’s famed nude scene. Nor is Worley, a lifelong educator, letting anyone under 21 participate in the show. "I think some people don’t realize how nasty some of the lyrics are," she laughs.
In 2014, things will take more a serious turn with William Gibson’s one-woman bioplay "Golda’s Balcony" about former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, starring local favorite Claire Moncreif, and Arthur Miller’s award-winning drama "Death of a Salesman." "We want to do at least one Pulitzer Prize-winning play every season," she says. "I want NOLA audiences to have great cultural references, which means seeing excellent productions of these classic plays."
To conclude the season, Worley chose Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s ever-popular "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." Says Worley: "It’s family friendly, it’s short, and it’s colorful. And people always leave humming the music and perhaps having learned something more about the Bible. We really wanted to do something for everyone this season."
Not surprisingly, she and Batt have already begun dreaming about future productions. Their wish list includes the beloved jazz revue "Ain’t Misbehavin," the fantastical "Peter and the Starcatcher," and Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning comedy "Sonia and Masha and Vanya and Spike." Still, says Worley, you never know what might show up at Le Petit Theater next year. "We’re constantly throwing out titles and changing our minds," she says. "I kind of live and breathe reading scripts and seeing plays."