1) How long have you been a part of the CLT family?

My first production with CLT was "Fiddler on the Roof" back in January, 1994... so that would make it 26 years, presuming this is published in January, 2020. However, I lived in Brooklyn, NY, from very late 2003 to not-quite-as-late 2008, so there was a period of almost five years where my participation decreased to zip, zilch, zero, and nada. Maybe those shouldn't count? I'll let you decide. (We decided he was “on hiatus”)

2) How many shows have you played for at CLT?

If my math and my recollection are good (to be clear, the math is fine; the recollection, well...), this past October's production of "Annie" was my 42nd show at CLT. I've done "Little Shop of Horrors" twice (once in the late 90s / early 00s (pre-NY), and again in April, 2016 (post-NY)). My notes indicate that I've played "Into The Woods" twice at CLT (in the same pre-NY / post-NY configuration), but I seem to think that the first time (late 90s / early 00s again) was one of those all student productions - and I further seem to think that it was the only time I actually saw the "pit" utilized as such. For what it's worth, those 42 productions represent about 25.15% of my musical theater career thus far, which puts it at #1 on My List of Where I Play Musicals (the #2 spot is only 13.77%, if that says anything)... so I guess CLT has always been my home base.

3) What first got you involved in playing in our musical pits, and why do you keep coming back?

This might not sound good, but I wasn't originally that "into" musical theater. I heard mostly oldies at home growing up, which led to my affinity for rock 'n' roll... and when I got to high school, I started listening to more classical - and, perhaps oddly enough, at the same time, to more jazz. I was aware that musical theater existed, but it wasn't something I actively listened to (my dad had an old vinyl record of "Fiddler On The Roof" that he played from time to time, and my mom occasionally played some songs from "My Fair Lady" on our piano, and I was familiar with "West Side Story", though I don't remember who introduced me to that).

Then, around my Junior year, a friend (who was vastly more cultured than I) showed me his collection of these new-fangled CD things, and played a few that he thought I would enjoy. One of them was the soundtrack to Cy Coleman's "City Of Angels", and it was great - all smokin' hot big band charts and such (remember I was getting more into jazz during this same time), and I had him dub me a copy onto cassette.

I knew CLT existed, but since musical theater wasn't my thing, I didn't pay it much mind. But then somewhere in the spring of '93, that same friend informed me that CLT had announced their 1993-1994 season, and that "City Of Angels" was on the docket for the following May. I was interested, but I didn't really know what to do.

As luck would have it, another friend had been tapped to play alto sax in the August, 1993, production of "Grease" (by his teacher, who was playing tenor sax, if memory serves), and my at-the-time girlfriend really wanted to see it... so we went. After the show, I went up to talk to my friend, and he introduced me to Music Director Extraordinaire Paul G. Caron. At the time, I had just completed my Sophomore year at the University of Southern Maine (do they still call it that?), and my friend made mention of that. Paul asked if this meant I could play timpani and xylophone and bells, and I said yes, I was fairly competent at all of them. This seemed to please him, and he told me that he was Music Directing "Fiddler On The Roof" the following January, and maybe he would call me up for that if I was interested, as his "regular guy" was good with drums but didn't love all the percussion stuff as much.

It occurred to me that if I did a good enough job playing "Fiddler" (remember, now, that my dad had that record, so I was already pretty familiar with the songs), maybe Paul would ask me to play for "City Of Angels"... and to make a long story not quite as long, that's pretty much what happened.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself in pretty steady rotation at CLT... and here we are.

I keep coming back to CLT for a few reasons:

[1] There's always a good blend of familiar faces (the "regulars") and fresh talent (the "newbies").

[2] There's always a good mix of "classics" and newer material on the schedule.

[3] Everyone there is committed to the common goal of putting on the best possible show for the audience.

[4] It's close (even if I hit all the red lights, it's ten minutes from my house to the theater).

4) When you’re not backstage playing percussion, what else do you enjoy doing?

My drumsticks and I do get around a bit. I play at some other musical theater venues around the state, often with other musicians from CLT pits; I play fairly regularly with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, Bates College, Bowdoin College, the Maine Music Society, and the Maine State Ballet Orchestra (I recently determined that their 2019 production of "The Nutcracker" was probably my 25th time playing it - there's that iffy recollection again)... and I play in a wedding band with several regular CLT musicians (Mike French, Neil James, Rebecca Caron, Mike Plossay, Steve Barter, audio engineering guru Tom Anderson...). I also have a day job; I might not always "enjoy" it, but it's usually bearable. I really enjoy my family: my wife, Joni, and I have a five-year-old son, Silas; we like LEGOs and Thomas The Tank Engine and PJ Masks and Puppy Dog Pals and Paw Patrol and Hot Wheels and the Trampoline Park... I enjoy cooking, crossword puzzles, reading (whenever there's time), listening to music, attending concerts of bands I like (2019 was an especially good year for that: I got to see Joe Jackson, Dream Theater, The Winery Dogs, Snarky Puppy, Thank You Scientist, Periphery, Jonny Lang (that was more for the wife), The Pineapple Thief, and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones!). I've also composed music, in my younger days, and I have numerous unfinished pieces that I would love to work on... whenever I can carve out enough time for such an undertaking.

5) Can you tell us something about you that most people may not know?

My original "life plan" was to graduate high school, go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and get a job working for NASA - not as an astronaut, necessarily, but probably somewhere in Mission Control.

6) Why do you feel theater is an important part of a community?

For the performers and others involved in a theatrical production, theater provides an outlet for their creativity, a chance for them to be someone else for a period of time, an opportunity to showcase their unique talent(s) and ability(ies) that they might not otherwise have. For the audience members, theater provides an escape from the ins-and-outs of daily life - similar to a book, or going to see a movie. With a book, though, it's just the reader and the words on the pages - and sometimes that could be just what one needs; going to the theater, though, allows for a similar experience, but shared with a couple hundred fellow audience members - and they all laugh together, feel surprised together, get teary-eyed together, and clap together - there's that sense of belonging that one doesn't get with solitary reading. And while going to the movies may be similar to going to the theater, there's something more powerful, more immediate, more compelling about seeing the action unfold right in front of you with real, live people, instead of just watching images on a big screen. And for everybody, theater is important because it affirms that the arts are still alive and that they still matter... for are not the arts a very significant part of what makes us human?

7) Is there one show (or more) that you could play for over and over and never get tired of?

Hmm. This is a little challenging; there have been numerous shows that I've wished could have extended beyond their 7 / 8 / 9-performance run... but I wonder if I would feel the same way if I was playing those same shows day in, day out for months (or even years) on end. That said, I could see myself enjoying long runs of "Jesus Christ Superstar", "City Of Angels", "Pippin", or "West Side Story"...

8 ) Will we be hearing more from you during our 80th season?

Unknown at this time, but the possibility remains.

I am sad to report that I will not be heard during "The Drowsy Chaperone", as I am already committed to another show in another town.

Fingers crossed that someone calls for "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"; hopefully I'll see you all in August!!

Mark Fredericks and the pit crew luxuriously sandwiched between the back wall and the stage at CLT.


Rehearsing a scene from CLT’s upcoming production of “Annie” during Monday night’s dress rehearsal in Auburn are, from left, Sean Wallace as Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, Dan Burgess as Harold Ickes, Jane Mitchell as Frances Perkins, Tessa Hayashida as Annie, Ken Mansur as Henry Morganthau, Roger Philippon as Franklin D. Roosevelt and David Handley as Louis Howe. Photo: Russ Dillingham

AUBURN — Leapin’ lizards! That irrepressible comic strip heroine Annie will take center stage starting Oct. 18 at the L-A Community Little Theatre in one of the world’s best-loved musicals.

Based on the popular Harold Gray comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan, the original Broadway production of “Annie” opened in 1977 and ran for nearly six years. It spawned numerous productions in many countries, as well as national tours, and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. The songs “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard Knock Life” are among its most popular musical numbers.

The setting is New York City during the Depression, and Annie is determined to find the parents who abandoned her years ago at an orphanage run by the cruel Miss Hannigan. With the help of the other girls in the orphanage, Annie escapes and then encounters adventure after fun-filled adventure in the big city. She finds a new home and family through billionaire Oliver Warbucks, befriends President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and of course, finds a lovable mutt named Sandy.

“Annie is a classic tale of good versus evil. It’s also a story of hope and positivity, said director Paul G. Caron. “Annie personifies these attributes as she goes through several adventures to escape the grip of Miss Hannigan. She also shows that no matter how dark and desperate the times are, we can always expect a better tomorrow.”

Caron, who is also music director for the show, has assembled a talented cast of CLT veterans and newcomers. Playing the lead role of Annie is Tessa Hayashida, a seventh-grader at Auburn Middle School. “I decided to audition because Annie has always been one of my dream roles,” said Hayashida. “I have been obsessed with it since third grade when I sung ‘Tomorrow’ at my school’s talent show.”

Long-time CLT favorite Renee Mahon-Davis plays the evil Miss Hannigan, who runs the orphanage; Sean Wallace and Emily Flynn, who were the leads in last year’s “The Music Man,” play billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks and his secretary Grace Farrell. The conniving Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis, who pretend to be Annie’s long-lost parents, are played by newcomers Chris Benoit and Rachel Campoli.

The plucky and persevering orphans are played by Shaylyn Brown, Anna Courtemanche, Isla Shovilin, Maria Groover, Ansley Kate Watson and Julia Groover. They perform two big song and dance numbers: “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” and “You’re Never Fully-Dressed Without a Smile.”

Annie’s dog Sandy is played by local celebrity dog Lucky, who has had a hard-knock life of his own, having a misshapen right leg amputated when he was just 12 weeks old. The 10-month-old pup is a therapy-dog-in-training with Christy Gardner, an Army veteran and USA para-Olympic multi-sport athlete. When Lucky appears on stage, Gardner stays just out of view in the wings. She acknowledges that she does have some “stage mom” jitters.

“The kids, all of them, took to Lucky immediately, as well as the cast,” said Caron. “Christy was able to train Lucky to do exactly what we need on stage. He can’t be barking, rolling around, and doing anything; he has to obey the commands and he has to act — we needed an actor.”

Caron also has a strong ensemble of 15 men and women, many of whom play multiple roles. The experienced “Annie” crew is led by choreographer Becca Tinkham, producer Jackie McDonald, stage manager Brandon Chaloux, and assistant director Kay Warren.

“Annie” will run Oct. 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays Oct. 20 and 27 at 2 p.m. For tickets, use the new online ticketing platform at www.LACLT.com or call the box office at 207-783-0958. The Community Little Theatre is located at 30 Academy St. in Auburn.

Six young women are portraying the orphans in the L-A Community Little Theatre’s production of the hit musical “Annie.” From left, front, are Shaylyn Brown (Tessie), Anna Courtemanche (Molly) and Isla Shovilin (Kate); back, Maria Groover (Duffy), Ansley Kate Watson (Pepper) and Julia Groover (July). Based on “Little Orphan Annie,” the popular comic strip by Harold Gray, “Annie” opened on Broadway in 1977. Productions are Oct. 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m., and Oct. 20 and 27 at 2 p.m. More information and tickets are available online at laclt.com.