North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT) owner Bill Hanney says he can’t sing or act, but he loves being involved in every aspect of theater.
That love drove him to buy Beverly’s renowned 1,500-seat theater-in-the-round a few years ago, despite its having endured a devastating fire and lagging season. He has no regrets.
He takes pride in rebuilding the theater, its subscription base, and its glory, which easily draws celebrities who enjoy performing here and has amassed satisfied audiences from all over New England, along with international and national tourists, aware of the theater’s fame.
Eight years ago, Hanney bought Theater by the Sea in Wakefield, RI, a much smaller venue, and it has enjoyed its biggest grossing year ever. Claiming he’s hands-on and supervises every aspect of the theaters’ productions, Hanney shuttles between the two, located 2½ hours apart.
Hanney promises this year’s line-up of shows, concerts and children’s events is bigger and better than ever.
“We have a vibrant season,” says Kevin Hill, artistic director of Hanney theaters. He also directs and performs most of the important tasks, with Hanney’s final stamp of approval. Hill owns a dance studio, Hill Studios, on California Street in Newton.
“We took a risk with this year’s line-up. The shows aren’t new titles to us but may be to our audiences. We want them to know they’re in good hands, and the shows will be amazing,” Hill says. “We had a terrific run with ‘Dreamgirls’… our second is a family-style show, ‘Shrek the Musical,’ in July; third is ‘Saturday Night Fever’, a classic movie that is a new musical, in August. The writer is coming to revamp the show and eventually take it back to Broadway. We’re the first to do it this way.”
“The audience’s reaction will form the next version of this show,” adds Michael Ceceri, director of marketing and communications.
Explosive “Billy Elliott the Musical” appears in late September-early October and comedic musical “Sister Act,” headlines in November. “We end with an upbeat show, a humorous, G-rated show that’s uplifting and hilarious; and we’re gonna have some fun with it,” says Hill.
The theater’s beloved Christmas favorite, “A Christmas Carol,” returns in December, starring perennial star David Coffee as Ebenezer Scrooge, and Hill as director-choreographer.
“This year is a really eclectic season, with something for everyone,” says Hill. “You can see all five [featured shows] and not be disappointed. Many of these shows haven’t been here.”
Another NSMT draw for area and northern New England patrons is they don’t have to travel to Boston or New York to see quality theater, he says. And they don’t pay big city prices. “We’re a nice alternative.”
“Bill Hanney has done an incredible job…. He’s dead-on with casting, selecting the right people for the job,” says Julie Arvedon Knowlton, longtime publicist.
“Where we can’t do the large extravagant sets, we can get great actors and casts. The casts like performing here, because of the theater personnel’s professionalism, warmth and homey atmosphere.
“They also tend to do a great job of incorporating local talent… It’s great for audiences to see local talent from their backyard. They can watch them grow up and see them on Broadway later, then come back and see them perform where they started, on NSMT’s stage.”
“I love finding the right person for the right part,” adds Hanney, who travels to New York City for auditions, but also seeks Boston headliners and local favorites here.
Being an exemplary performer is a must in the round. The cast can’t hide behind extravagant scenery and large sets, he says, so Hanney and Co. concentrate on the production’s story and the people telling it.
Arvedon Knowlton adds that patrons especially enjoy the theater’s intimate atmosphere. No seat is more than 40 feet from the stage, says Ceceri.
Performers are merely feet away from theatergoers — in the aisles, on satellite stages, and within the audience. That closeness is symbiotic. Theatergoers feel like they’re part of the production, and performers are energized by the audience’s enthusiastic response.