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Legendary RI summer theater opens for season

Posted by Paul Kandarian  June 15, 2011 08:45 AM

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Rhode Island is a place noted for its watery location (hence its nickname, "The Ocean State"), and proliferation of theater offerings. Combing both, Theatre By The Sea in Matunuck, a classic old barn-style theater near the ocean that when summer stock was the rage had the likes of Marlon Brando, Art Carney and Mae West treading its boards, has opened for a season hosting four Tony Award-winning shows. 

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" runs through June 19; "Man of La Mancha" from June 22-16; "Hairspray," from July 20-Aug. 13; and  "The Drowsy Chaperone" from Aug. 17-Sept. 4. There is a bonus show this year, "The 39 Steps," Sept. 9-11 and 14-18.

The Ocean State Theatre Company, the not-for-profit entity that produces the shows there, is also hosting a summer camp for kids from July 18-29. The theater is a delight, from top to bottom, reminiscent of barn theaters of old, including its box office which started life in 1933 as a hay trough for horses. It had shut down from 2003-2007 and was bought by Bill Hanney, owner of the North Shore Musical Theatre in Beverly, who pumped new life into the old theater. 

Hanney was alerted to the sale of the theater by Tommy Brent, who produced shows there for more than 20 years, saving it from demolition, and who it is said never missed a production since its reopening in 2007. Brent died recently at 88, and Hanney said without him, "I would not have had the opportunity to purchase such a magical place."

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