My teenaged and college summers were dominated by swimming pools (I was a lifeguard) and theater. I grew up in northeast Ohio where summer theater was easy to find, from productions featuring TV and movie stars by Kenley Players in Warren to classical plays at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Lakewood. I enjoyed shows at one of the earliest “tent” theaters, Musicarnival in Warrensville Heights. I saw musicals at Cain Park’s amphitheater in Cleveland Heights and Rabbit Run Theatre, a barn in Madison. Porthouse Theater, operated by Kent State University at Blossom Music Center, offered shows, and even in my hometown of Chardon, the Geauga Lyric Theatre Guild kept busy in the summer, with productions of South Pacific and The Pajama Game.
But there were precious few opportunities for kids with a passion for theater to get involved. A group of my friends pulled together our own company in the summer of 1970 and staged an old-time melodrama, Ten Nights in a Barroom, working late evenings when we could get away from summer jobs. But we went back to our respective colleges in the fall, graduated in a year or two and went our separate ways.
I’m put in mind of this every summer when I hear that Cincinnati Young People’s Theatre (CYPT) is mounting another production. With this summer’s Crazy for You (lots of tunes by George Gershwin from July 29 to August 7), CYPT marks its 30th year of involving area teens in theater. Back in 1982, founder Tim Perrino checked in with a dozen area high schools proposing to involve teens in a summer theater program. He hoped to bring together kids from various parts of the city and work together to put on a show or two. The 1982 season started with 16 kids who performed a collection of one-act plays (Perrino called it “What I Did on Summer Vacation”) at Dunham Recreation Center. Before long, Perrino’s band of kids, grown to 26, moved to the Westwood Town Hall where they produced The Man Who Came to Dinner. Even more ambitiously, in 1983, with 40 participants, they staged West Side Story.
Since the early 1990s, Perrino has focused on one ambitious musical every summer and, since 2002, CYPT’s home has been at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. Last year they produced the “student edition” of Les Misérables. That took a cast of 75 kids with another 25 working backstage and serving on crews to build sets, make costumes and such. Over the course of 30 years, CYPT has presented 53 productions (about 350 performances) and — most remarkably — involved more than 2,000 kids. Dozens of CYPT alumni today are working professionals in the performing arts, and many more are avid theatergoers.
Crazy for You is the story of a wealthy playboy in the 1930s who dreams of a career in tap dancing despite the resistance of his proper mother and jealous fiancée. Perrino has selected 80 performers for this show (115 auditioned), representing nearly 40 area schools. It’s quite amazing to see this many kids having a ball onstage. I’ll be in attendance, and I hope you check it out, too. Tickets are affordable; call 513-241-6550 and get a few for yourself. While you’re there, wish Perrino and his troops a happy anniversary. They’ve earned it.
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]