…If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard.” – Dorothy in the film of The Wizard of Oz.
By Bill Hirschman
Not meaning disrespect to local producers, but the founders of the new Marquee Theater Company opening its second show this weekend in Boca Raton argue that there is no need to go to New York to find the talent needed to mount professional musicals with an expansive scope.
Co-founder Ben Solmor, who can quote Dorothy’s speech word for word, hopes the company’s Aida will bear out that the local talent pool can provide all the singing, dancing and acting talent necessary to pull off an epic-themed large-scale production.
“We are home grown. It’s passion and talent within you for what you do that (produces) the electricity that we want on stage and that we want the audience to feel,” Solmor said Wednesday.
Citing companies that hire lead actors from auditions in New York, Solmor said, “It doesn’t matter your zip code. It doesn’t mean you are less talented.”
He said actors here perceive that some companies take an actor more seriously if they are seen in New York auditions – even if they hail from or even have flown up from South Florida. “We are losing out on opportunities just because we live in South Florida.”
Almost all artistic directors in this region deny that perception, noting that it’s expensive to pay for travel and lodging for out of town players, but sometimes they cannot find specifically what they need locally.
Solmor disagrees, “That’s ridiculous because there are so many good people down here.” When they sent out season audition notices on social media, 200 people attended.
The proof will be seen this weekend as 22 local performers populate the Elton John rock reworking of the classic opera. It kicks off Marquee’s first full season of four plays performing at West Boca Community High School, 12811 Glades Road, (known at night as the West Boca Performing Arts Theater). Each show on the schedule including Jekyll & Hyde, Footloose the Musical and Jason Robert Brown’s song cycle Songs For A New World (with considerable staging) exemplifies the pair’s commitment to ambitious productions.
Solmor, best-known as a dancer-choreographer, and childhood buddy Andrew Shultz, a director-actor-singer, compare their niche aesthetically to “the big dancey Broadway-style musical” of The Wick Theatre in Boca, Actors Playhouse in Coral Gables and the Maltz Jupiter Theatre – with a fraction of the budget, but also a fraction of the $80 ticket price charged by some venues.
In that, they are similar to the Slow Burn Theatre Company, which also gravitated to musicals, albeit edgier ones, and relied heavily on local talent –providing a launching pad and unofficial finishing school for a large group of today’s leading young performers. Slow Burn recently moved out of the West Boca auditorium to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
Marquee is still a financially fledgling operation. It will pay its actors a modest but “good rate for a first year,” Solmor said. The cast will be non-Equity, saving on expenses. “It’s not necessary; I don’t think that (actors with) Equity cards are that much better. We’re all professionals,” he said.
But Marquee is getting in-kind help from West Boca school staff and it’s using digital recorded tracks of a live orchestra rather than pay for a band.
Solmor is from New York originally, but he went to high school in Broward with native Floridian Shultz. Solmor tried his professional luck in New York City for five years with some success, but he came home to South Florida when his father had a heart attack in 2012.
“I didn’t want to get stuck down here. I wanted to get back to New York,” he recalled. “But then, a friend, Sabrina (Lynn Gore, managing director of Outré Theatre Company in Boca) said they were putting on The Wild Party and there’s a role in this for you.” The featured role had no lines, no singing, just dancing and he didn’t need to come to a lot of rehearsals while tending to his father. “It kind of just got me back into the scene.”
Since then, he worked in several productions for Outré, Slow Burn and Broward Stage Door. He choreographed several children’s theater shows, worked at Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theater and the late Plaza Theatre in Manalapan. Meanwhile, Shultz had become a partner at a children’s theater in Coral Springs and was directing shows for other companies.
“We just kind of came to the point of ‘Why not do it for ourselves?’ So we opened our own children’s company, Next Level Performing Arts in Parkland, which is still our rehearsal space,” Solmor said.
Marquee was organized in 2012 and “then we did Rent last December at the Township Theater in Coconut Creek and sold out that show.” They had hoped to settle there, but the venue could only commit one week a year to the troupe.
When they heard Slow Burn was vacating West Boca, Marquee was one of the troupes applying to use the space in a partnership. They used a video of the Rent production to win over the school officials. “We were young and we were fresh and they received us with open arms,” Solmor said.
Adding “producer” to their resumes has been eye-opening. “It’s a scary endeavor. There’s a lot of things being on the other side of the table. I talked to Sabrina and Dan (Kelley of Broward Stage Door) and I said, ‘Guys, you could have told me there’s so much involved.’ ”
Aida from Marquee Theater Company runs Sept. 24-Oct. 4 at West Boca Community High School, 12811 Glades Road, Boca Raton; 3 ½ miles west of 441 on Glades Road. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday the 4th only. Tickets are $28 or $18 with student ID. To purchase, call (954) 464-8249 or visit www.marqueetheatercompany.com/#!box-office/c1li9