Michael Hall returns to Caldwell to helm “Next Fall”

Extensive travelling, photography, and writing books: Michael Hall’s non-retirement as head of the Caldwell Theatre has been full and satisfying since he turned over the reins to Clive Cholerton in May 2009.

Although he never ruled out directing again, serendipity was responsible for this month’s temporary return to the company he helped create in 1975 and the new facility he labored so long to bring to fruition.

‘It would have to be something special,’ he said.

Initially, he had not even heard of Next Fall, Geoffrey Nauffts’ play about religious faith that opens Friday at the Boca Raton theater.

He recalled a brief trip to New York about a year ago. Seeking a play recommendation, he called his friend Pat Nesbit who starred in many of Hall’s successes including Ring Around the Moon in the Caldwell’s inaugural season.

‘Turns out she had been on tour with Geoffrey Nauffts in Biloxi Blues years ago. So she said she’d see if we could get tickets.’ It was spur of the moment for both of them.

Hall was floored by the story of a gay couple, one a devout Christian, the other an atheist, who argue about belief and non-belief until their philosophies are tested by tragedy.

Unlike many plays about religion which usually have a purely secular bent, ‘this has no particular bias,’ Hall said. ‘It’s very well-balanced no matter where you come from.’

He and Cholerton began seeking the producing rights even while the play was scoring strong reviews and box office on Broadway and nabbing a Tony nomination for best play.

The proverbial icing is that Nesbit agreed to return in the role of the stricken man’s vivacious mother and, in yet another surprise, Seattle actor Dennis Bateman returns as the man’s born again father. Bateman also was in the Caldwell’s first season’s South Pacific.

The play also stars Tom Wahl and Josh Canfield as the lovers, plus Irene Adjan and Christopher Kent as their friends.

Next Fall sits solidly in Hall’s comfort zone. While Hall often programmed ‘safe’ but significant plays and musicals that his subscription audience recognized from their youth, he also brought the same audience many contemporary works with dramatic heft from recent Broadway seasons. He was especially noted for doing gay-themed plays that almost no mainstream company was producing.

Now that the Next Fall work is done, Hall is going back to writing. He has recently completed a family history and is eyeing a memoir of the famous people his career intersected with, ranging from survivors of the Ziegfeld era who mentored him in his youth to Christopher Reeve, Roddy McDowell, Julie Harris, Estelle Getty and Len Cariou.

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