But it was a great show to take my son, then in first or second grade, to. That and Gypsy, presented in the company's 210-seat mainstage theater in the Willows shopping center, was top notch. Professional, entertaining. Gypsy, a sophisticated musical biography of the young life of striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, was great. Over the years, I had occasional contact with the company's former managing director, Andrew Holtz, who was smart, talented, enthusiatic, and, like other members of this company, incredibly inventive.
Sure, Willows might be a "surburban," or "regional" theater. And, sure it might mount some of those crowd-pleasing, Broadway-touring usual suspects. But the company did those shows with an amazing enthusiam and attention to artistry. What's amazing is that you'd go see a big Broadway show, like Annie or Gypsy, with all the song-and-dance razzmatazz, but you would view this spectacle in this very intimate space.
Willows offered this very unique theater experience, some of the most enjoyable of the past few years.
And now the company is pushing that envelope of supposed propriety by--I'm shocked, shocked--allowing actors to appear onstage nude in its production of Hair, the now classic, 1960s hippie, counter-culture musical. The show is sold out, testament to the company's popularity, but with tough budget times that's not enough to prevent possible closure.
Plain and simple, Willows is struggling, like every other arts organization in our area.
Yes, the recession. Willows is a 33-year-old East Bay treasure, a company that has been bringing professional level theater to the East Bay, at its mainstage in Concord and at its newer cabaret theater in Marintez. Willows has dedicated audiences and patrons.
But Willows, according to a press release issued today, needs a sudden infusion of $350,000 before November 1. Or it will have to close its doors.
"For more than a year, we've been struggling to achieve a balanced budget but the reality is that the recession has had a major impact on our operations," said Charles Lewis, board president, and Richard Elliott, artistic director, in a joint statement. "We've cut staff, sharply reduced expenses and stretched every scarce dollar, but clearly it is not enough. Any further cuts could put us out of business for good. Clearly, we need help."
It probably goes without saying, but it doesn't hurt issuing a reminder, that the company could use some help, from fans and long-time patrons.
You can send donations to the Willows Theatre, 636 Ward Street, Martinez, CA 94553. For more information, call (925) 798-1300.