“I can’t wait to see Harold. I’m dying to see the show. I’ve read the script and it’s fabulous,” enthused Sue Ryan, unofficial president of the Harold Schmidt fan club and owner of the Good Earth Market in Clarksville.
Schmidt is a formerly local author and playwright. He now lives, works and writes in Tucson, Ariz. The new show – his latest offering to musical theater – is titled “Plain Beautiful.” And, like “Einstein’s Breakfast,” “Coconut Road” and many others, it is having its debut in Sussex County courtesy of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation.
“Plain Beautiful” is about difficult choices. It is set within the framework of an Amish community where young adults in their mid teens make the life-defining decision to become baptized and thus eligible for marriage to another Amish or “plain” person. The choice to not become baptized and to integrate within the “English” or non-Amish community is the equivalent of forever leaving behind home, family and all that is familiar.
“Plain Beautiful” is described as “a thought-provoking, poignant, bittersweet love story” that takes place in the 1970’s. In the mode of “Romeo and Juliet” and “West Side Story,” it is about two young people – Rachel (played by Ashley Martin) and Gideon (played by Carl Anthony-Tramon) – from different worlds. Their love provides a dilemma fraught with consequences.
The depth and charm of the song lyrics and the breadth of musicality raises “Plain Beautiful” to a new height for Schmidt.
“Getting to know John Thompson, and then having him collaborate with me, has been a privilege and pleasure,” he said.
Thompson is a relative newcomer to Bethany Beach, but his accomplishments in the world of music are far-reaching. He has spent more than 30 years composing, producing and directing live and recorded musical ventures, including sold-out events at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.
“I was enthralled by the concept of ‘Plain Beautiful’ when Harold first talked to me,” said Thompson at his home, back in the winter, when the show was auditioned for inclusion in the 2010 summer season on the Freeman Stage at Bayside. “Then I happened to see a group of Amish people enjoying our beach when I was on the boardwalk. An idea for a song struck me, and I went straight home to my piano.”
The resulting song is called “Choices,” and Schmidt calls it “the essence of the musical.” It is sung by local actors Robin Cannatelli and Rich Warfield, who play the Amish parents of Rachel. In the song, Cannatelli’s character remembers the painful decision she herself made as a teenager and of her regret-tinged choice to never forget it.
As well as collaborating with Schmidt on the book, lyrics and music, Thompson also serves as the show’s musical director.
Anthony-Tramon is a nationally known, New York-based equity actor who has worked with Schmidt on previous productions. Both directing and acting in “Plain Beautiful,” he said he is “stoked” to be back at the Freeman Stage and working again with “the esteemed and brilliant Harold Schmidt and John Thompson.”
In addition to Cannatelli and Warfield, names of local actors who may be familiar to Sussex County audiences include Julia Idoni, Shelby Cannatelli, Buddy Ryan, Taylor Fisher, Tom Halverstadt, Stephanie Downes and Morgan King. They are joined by two other professional actors from New York, Michael Mott and Anthony Duke Claus.
Kathleen Young of Bear Trap describes herself as a “Harold groupie.”
“Over the years, she has helped me in so many ways, but this year her help is visible in every scene,” said a grateful Schmidt. Young has sewn all the Amish costumes, being careful to ensure every detail is as authentic as possible.
Schmidt and his wife, Sheila, will be in town for the week of the performances. Schmidt said he is also excited to announce that his recession-timely “Coconut Grove” is currently in “rewrites” for its New York showcase. Schmidt is working with Anthony-Tramon and award-winning composer Diana Belkowsi to make that happen.
This reporter acknowledges she will be among the first to sign up for the bus trip to be in the audience on opening night!
“Plain Beautiful” will be performed on the Freeman Stage at Bayside, 4 miles west of Fenwick Island, at the intersection of Routes 54 and 20, on Thursday and Friday, Aug. 19 and 20, at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $10 each. Children 12 or younger are admitted free of charge. Bring your own folding chairs or blankets to enjoy the magic under the stars.
A children’s theater workshop is set for Saturday, Aug. 21, at which children can join the cast of “Plain Beautiful” and learn basic theater skills and on-stage tips.