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CONCORD

Backstage, a sense of family

By Lenny Megliola
Globe Correspondent / February 10, 2011

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In the case of one community theater, the back story is as compelling as the productions it puts on.

The history of the Concord Players dates to 1856, when Louisa May Alcott helped form the Concord Dramatic Union, making the author of “Little Women’’ one of the first patrons of the arts in her hometown.

In 1872, it became the Concord Dramatic Club, and in 1919 the Concord Players. Two years later, it added a stage to an armory at 51 Walden St., the group’s home to this day.

Doing strong productions is the lifeblood of theater. And it’s just as much about the people behind the scenes, the ones handling lighting and sound, set construction, props, and makeup; the stage manager quarterbacking cues.

“The thing that impresses me is the depth of the talent offstage, it almost runs like a union shop,’’ says Hudson resident John Alzapiedi, sitting in the director’s chair for the troupe’s production of “Breaking Legs,’’ which opens tomorrow at 8 p.m. with a special reception, and runs through Feb. 26. “Everyone knows their jobs. It’s a wonderful group of dedicated people,’’ says Alzapiedi, who has also acted in several Concord Players shows.

“Breaking Legs,’’ says Alzapiedi, is about “a clash of cultures between a college professor thrown in with a bunch of mob guys.’’ The professor, an aspiring playwright, needs financing to stage his new piece, and doesn’t know what he’s getting into when he turns to the mobsters for help. It’s played for laughs. Italian food plays a big role in the show, keeping the head of props, Corinne Kinsman, hopping.

“They eat a lot of food in this show,’’ says Kinsman, a Concord resident who has been with the troupe since 1992, and so the stage meals — calamari, pasta, antipasto, fish, chicken, hot peppers, three baskets of bread — have to be prepared fresh every day.

Kinsman is no stranger to Italian dishes. “Don’t be fooled by my name,’’ she says. “My mother’s maiden name was Tringali, from Sicily.’’

Playing the only woman in the comedy is Alexandra Corwin of Waltham. “She came out of nowhere and just blew me away,’’ says Alzapiedi.

“I was on stage when I was 3,’’ Corwin says, but after majoring in drama at Vassar College she stepped into the corporate world for a while.

“I’d been on a 10-year hiatus from theater,’’ she says, before she took a role in the Footlight Club’s production of “An Ideal Husband’’ in Jamaica Plain last winter, earning a best-supporting-actress nomination and stoking the flames again. She followed that up with “Blackpool & Parrish,’’ an Acme Theater production in Maynard last spring.

For her Concord Players debut in “Breaking Legs,’’ she plays Angie. “She’s a strong girl in a ‘wise guy’ family,’’ says Corwin. “She’s a quirky character, sweet, kind, and then she can fly off the handle.’’

Playing Lou, one of the mobsters, is Framingham resident Tom Large, who is a teacher and drama director at Wayland Middle School, and a Concord Players veteran. He’s been cast as Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’’ King Henry in “The Lion in Winter’’ and Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman.’’

The Concord Players ensemble has relied on a core of actors, directors, and stage hands who stay on for years or even decades, in many cases.

Concord resident Sally Bull has been with the troupe since 1980. Her late husband, Roger, was cast in several productions, and Sally would be in the audience. Heddi Kent, who was with the Concord Players for about 50 years before she died in 2009, talked Bull into helping out with props. “Heddi kind of pulled me into the Players,’’ says Bull, who has done everything from handling subscriptions to producing.

“I like doing the gopher jobs,’’ says Bull, a list that includes running tech suppers. “I feed everybody. I make sure the workers who build the sets have sandwiches in the green room kitchen.’’

The Concord Players put on three major productions a year. Every 10 years since 1972, the ensemble stages a version of Alcott’s “Little Women,’’ which is always box office gold.

The Walden Street building also serves as home to the Concord Orchestra, the Concord Band, and a ballet studio, all under the umbrella of the Friends of the Performing Arts in Concord.

Bull calls the Concord Players “my second family.’’ It’s a sentiment a lot of theater people have voiced through the years while rolling up their sleeves to put on the best possible production.

They may not be breaking legs, but they break a sweat. Louisa May Alcott would be proud.

For show times and ticket information, go to www.concordplayers.org or call 978-369-2990. Lenny Megliola can be reached at lennymegs@aol.com.

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