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New production runs Sept. 25-29 at Farmington Civic Center

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FARMINGTON — The actors who are involved in the debut production of Farmington's new professional acting troupe, the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company, arrived in town only a few days ago. They're working on an abbreviated nine-day rehearsal schedule for the opening of "The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)" that opens Sept. 25, and so, during nearly every waking moment during their time here, they are either rehearsing their parts or thinking about rehearsing their parts in the production.

But that hasn't stopped them from spending at least a little time getting to know the city where they will be working on and off for the remainder of the new company's first season. And while performing such mundane tasks as stopping for coffee, going through the checkout line at a local grocery store or pharmacy, or eating lunch at a downtown restaurant, they are impressed by the reception they've gotten as they work to add an ambitious new element to the local cultural scene.

"I was having lunch at Three Rivers the other day, and the people there were so nice," actor Matthew Aaron gushed as company members relaxed during a break in rehearsals on Sept. 19.

Fellow company member Natalie Szczerba said the daily interactions she has had around town lead her to believe the community has a welcoming nature — and she hopes that means Farmington residents will be willing to give the new troupe a chance as its brings professional musical theater to a town that, for the past several years, has been markedly underserved in regard to its arts and entertainment options.

Nick Drivas, another company member, said there's a reciprocal element to the relationship between the city and the actors.

"We're going to be here giving our energy, and we want them to come to the show and give their energy back," he said. "Hopefully, we'll culminate that during the run of the show."

Randy West, the recently hired supervisor of the Farmington Civic Center and the man responsible for launching the new company, also is serving as the director of "The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)." A longtime veteran of professional theater organizations all over the country, he is well acquainted with the challenges of launching a new company, especially in smaller communities.

He said he's learned a thing or two about what to do and what not to do in that time. He specifically cited his experience starting a new company and simultaneously opening a new building in Fairfield, Iowa, many years ago — a community one-fourth the size of Farmington.

That facility was named after Stephen Sondheim, and West, who was on friendly terms with the famed Broadway composer, sought to wow the local audience for the debut by using that connection to bring in highly accomplished cast and crew members to work on the production.

More: New Civic Center supervisor launches bold plan for performing arts venues

"Steve's name kicked open all kinds of doors," West said, recalling that many New York professionals who rarely, if ever, left the city to work were willing to travel to his small town in Iowa to break in the new facility.

West assumed the lure of those well-regarded theater professionals would be sufficient to make the new company an immediate success.

"I thought that was enough," he said. "It met a certain criterion, but it took me a little while to figure out that while I was offering first-rate entertainment through the theater, it wasn't enough to just have people come see (the production)."

The problem, West acknowledged, was that he hadn't done enough to generate a real connection between his company and the community it was designed to serve. He realized he needed to find a way to leverage those heavyweight assets he was bringing in to promote deeper buy-in from local residents.

The way to do that, he said, is by augmenting the company's productions with a series of workshops, academies and summer productions featuring children that help train, grow and promote a local talent pool. West is employing exactly that approach in Farmington, and by the end of the company's first season here, he plans to deliver productions that offer liberal mixes of local and national professional performers.

But for this debut presentation, West is relying on a handful of veteran actors, singers and dancers with whom he has worked before. That helps relieve some of the pressure on everyone, he said, especially since he wasn't able to use his normal 12-day rehearsal schedule for this show because the Civic Center already was booked through Sept. 14 for the inaugural Four Corners Film Festival.

In addition to Aaron, Szczerba and Drivas, the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company includes Margaret Clair and Emily Seibert, each of whom was chosen for his or her versatility, according to West. All five appear in this first show, with Farmington resident Melissa Cheffers — a veteran of the past two Sandstone Productions summertime shows at Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater — serving as the stage manager.

"We know this is a new thing, and we want it do well so we can continue to do shows here," Szczerba said. "So we're kind of guinea pigs. It's pressure, but it's good pressure."

Cheffers said she is excited for members of the community to have the chance to see a show performed by professionals.

"It's inspiring for younger (acting) students to watch these amazing singers and dancers and piano players, and see what a real professional company can be," she said. "And this first season will offer a different range of shows instead of just one show during the summer."

West said "The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)" is a highly accessible show that spoofs the work of five well-known Broadway composers — the aforementioned Sondheim, along with Rodgers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jerry Herman. If you are familiar with those artists, he said, you're likely to enjoy the numerous inside references to their work.

But even if you're not, he said, the play's humor is broad enough to appeal to everyone. He likened it to the well-known Mel Brooks comedic films "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein," which included specific gags based on many of the classic entries from those genres.

"It makes you want to go back and look at the source material," he said.

West emphasized the play pokes only gentle fun at the five legendary composers, serving as much as a tribute to their work as a parody. In any event, the tone of this debut production is lighthearted enough to make anyone feel welcome.

"In this setting, I think the audience can come in with no pre-education or exposure to musical theater and still have an evening that's very enjoyable," he said.

"The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)" will be presented by the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25-28 and at 2 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St. Tickets range from $10 to $32. Call 505-599-1148.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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