Theater Pros Keep it Fresh

Stages new and old set a high bar for creativity and performance

Becky Allen and Ricky Graham

If experience is the best teacher, it sometimes is also a liberator, boosting an individual’s confidence and calming the fear of failure.
Fred Nuncio began feeling a yen to open his own theater years back as he was cutting his teeth in various venues around town.” I’d been doing theater since high school, and I started working in management part-time in the days of the Rose Dinner Theater,” he says.
He also worked in production and stage management at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre.

In time, his devotion to theater and growing belief in his own abilities led him to set up shop on his own. “I enjoyed producing and decided, this is what I wanted to do,” he says.

“This,” as he refers to it, is Mid-City Theatre, a year-old enterprise that has quickly become a performing arts anchor in a part of town that previously didn’t have a permanent stage to call its own.

Dedicated to “comedy, drama, cabaret and music,” the theater seems to be living up to its wide-ranging promise. with offerings from original one-act plays to Pat Bourgeois’ “Debauchery” soap opera, to the dramatic play “SubUrbia,” by Eric Bogosian. “We’ve had some great success so far,” Nuncio says.

Recently the theater featured two of the city’s most popular one-of-a-kind performers, Ricky Graham and Becky Allen. “It was the first time in a dozen years or so that they’ve performed together,” Nuncio says.

While Nuncio didn’t plan it this way, Mid-City Theatre likely benefitted from difficulties that befell a few other venues. After Southern Repertory Theatre lost its lease at Canal Place, for instance, the “Debauchery” production shifted over to Mid-City, as did a series of original one-act plays that would have played at Southern Rep.

But Nuncio is also putting his own touch on the theater. Featured in October is “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson,” a relatively new musical that debuted on Broadway a few years ago.

Ricky Graham will return later, with a favorite co-star, Varla Jean Merman, and he’ll be back in December with Yvette Hargis for a holiday performance of “Scrooge in Rouge.”

In between, the theater will host “Song Stories,” which Nuncio describes as a Tuesday night celebration of New Orleans culture, featuring local musicians in an interview and audience-discussion format.

As Nuncio continues rolling out new offerings at Mid-City, other local acting companies and theaters are doing the same.

The energetic team of Cripple Creek Theatre Company presents “The Lily’s Revenge” Oct. 18-21 at the Den of Muses. Presented in collaboration with Southern Rep, Mondo Bizarro, Skin Horse Theater and Allways Lounge, the play is described as a “larger-than-life epic romp” in five acts featuring nearly 40 actors.

At the newly named Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, managers Gary Rucker and Kelly Fouchi of Theatre 13 offer up the musical comedy “Boeing Boeing” in November, with the “Class of ‘70 Something” coming in January, as part of the team’s Broadway Series.

In addition to its role in “Lily’s Revenge,” Skin Horse Theater in November will present “The Importance of Being Earnest,” joining with Elm Theater’s Garrett Prejean to tackle Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy of errors.

Also coming in November is the event fast becoming a must-do each fall – the New Orleans Fringe Festival. This creative and eclectic selection of theatrical, visual and performance art unfolds at more than a dozen locations Nov. 14-18.

The festival has become an important staging ground for new works and young performers as well as veterans who chose to push the envelope. It also offers workshops that provide practical advice and tips for theater and performing arts aspirants.

Both veterans and newbies will take the stage this fall in the various settings of the Jefferson Performing Arts Society. Well-known actors Janet Shea and Lance Nichols star in “Driving Miss Daisy” in October at Teatro Wego! Theatre in Westwego. And “Frost Nixon” is on tap at Westwego Performing Arts Theatre Oct. 26-Nov. 4.

Families will want to watch for the society’s presentation of Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” and “A Celtic Christmas” in December, followed by a musical lineup coming in the spring.

Throughout the fall and winter, the city’s musical performing arts organizations will present a rich season full of offerings by both local professionals and guest stars from elsewhere. Check the websites of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the New Orleans Opera Association and the New Orleans Ballet Association for details of upcoming performances. •

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