Half Moon Theatre at the Culinary Institute of America is the best thing to happen to the performing arts in the Hudson Valley in a long time.
While we have plenty of local, good quality community theatre in the area, professional companies like Half Moon are few and far between, with the notable exceptions of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival and Vassar’s Powerhouse Theater. Like the Powerhouse Theater, the Half Moon Theatre is now affiliated with an institute of higher learning, The Culinary Institute of America, and like the Powerhouse Theater, CIA students have an opportunity to participate in theatre opportunities. Unlike Vassar, though, the students are contributing their culinary talents for pre-dinner and cabaret type events, rather than as performers and stage crew. Half Moon Theatre’s first season at the CIA last year was notable for it’s thought provoking productions and coordinated top-notch dining experiences.
How fitting then, that the company would choose “An Evening with Sutton Foster,” complete with a pre-show cocktail hour and dessert afterwards, for it’s kick-off fundraising gala of the season. As a both a Sutton Foster fan AND a Half Moon Theatre fan, I was thrilled to attend the gala event with my husband September 26.
We were unable to attend the pre-show cocktail party, which was in full-swing when we arrived to see the show. The crowd was warm, friendly, dressed for a party, and clearly enjoying the opportunity to see their favorite Broadway star in an intimate solo performance right here in the Hudson Valley.
The evening performance began in typical fashion with the producer of the gala, Molly Renfroe Katz, coming out to acknowledge the big sponsors of the event and the theatre company. Suddenly, like in a musical, she burst into song and began singing an ode of thank you to the sponsors. Then the rest of the Half Moon Theatre Company came out to join her. They proceeded to enthusiastically sing a song with parody lyrics for each and every one of their sponsors from I Heart Radio to the Vanikiotis Group, which owns several restaurants in our area. Think “Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital of Westchester Medical Center” sung to the tune of “Superkalifragilistic” from “Mary Poppins.” Of course the audience of insiders thoroughly loved it, but it was so well directed by Michael Schiralli, that even a relative outsider like myself was entertained.
But this was just a brief prelude before the main event, Miss Foster’s big entrance. The Half Moon Theatre Junior Company was enlisted to sing a song written especially for them to introduce the Tony-award winning performer. (I was delighted to find one of my former students from my after-school Pawling theatre program, Maryrose Canevari in the company of talented young people.) It was a great opportunity for the kids to perform with and meet an accomplished Broadway star, and the looks of awe on their faces were priceless.
Sutton Foster truly is the Carol Burnett of her generation, but she also has a gracefulness that one doesn’t usually see in performers with her goofy comic quality. Her solo show brings the audience on an emotional journey, from the romantic joy of “I Get no Kick from Champagne” to a moving arrangement of “Sunshine on My Shoulders” dedicated to her mom who passed away, to a whimsical version of “Up on the Roof.” She introduces many of her songs with personal anecdotes. Her musical director and collaborator Michael Rafter skillfully accompanies her on the piano, and the raport between them is evident throughout the performance.
One highlight was her hilariously lustful performance of Christine Lavin’s “Air Conditioner” , in which she describes in great detail her desire for a mate with an air conditioner. Another was when she sang a song to her adorable and well-trained dog, Mabel. “This is Mabel…she’s a rescue….she’s a combination Dachsund and a Yorkie, so she’s a “Dorkie”….which was also my nickname in high school, by the way.” Her humor and humility belied the amazing sound of her remarkable voice. Like an Olympic figure skater who spins and jumps with seemingly effortless skill, so too Miss Foster sang every perfect note as if it was no effort at all.
After all of the standing ovations and encores, supporters of the Half Moon Theatre were treated to exquisite desserts created by CIA students in a post-performance party attended by Miss Sutton herself. It was the perfect ending to a delightful evening, and represents so much of what the Half Moon Theatre is bringing to our area: inspired and unique theatrical productions combined with fine dining experiences to match them.
Half Moon Theatre’s first production of its second season at the CIA opens on October 8. “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” is a one-woman comedy starring Denise Summerford , which celebrates Italian home cooking, as she cooks an entire 3-course dinner live on stage. A few premium ticket holders will even be able to sit on stage during the show and eat the meal! The production runs until October 25, and will be followed by the holiday classic “A Christmas Carol,” which begins December 4. For more information about the Half Moon Theatre and its upcoming season, visit them on the web at halfmoontheatre.org.