This summer, you can take a voyage on a 19th-century British ship, visit ancient Rome, witness 50 years in a couple’s bedroom, travel to the underworld, and even go to the prom, all within the confines of the Buckeye State. Those are only some of the journeys offered by Ohio college theater programs that celebrate summer as a time to heat up the stage with musicals.
Of course, college summer theater programs showcase the talents of their own theater students. But it’s also a time they may feature alumni, students from other schools, and professional actors and designers from around the country, says Terri Kent, producing artistic director for Kent State University’s Porthouse Theatre. The combination adds up to robust performances that delight audiences, she says.
“The enthusiasm and commitment of the younger actors inspires everyone,” she says. “More seasoned actors are teaching by example. There are no classes, no exams. The students are learning through experience, and everyone is having a wonderful time.”
Ohio Cooperative Living caught up with three renowned college programs to get a sense of what’s happening on campus during the summer months. (Several others stage their own productions, so make sure to check out your local institution’s website to see what might be in store).
Ohio Light Opera at the College of Wooster
Freedlander Theatre, 329 E. University St., Wooster, OH 44691. 330-263-2345; www.ohiolightopera.org
At its peak, Ohio Light Opera’s program allows ambitious theater lovers to see as many as six shows in one week. While there are some devoted ticket holders who do just that, many others come to see one or two favorites.
Ohio Light Opera, the resident professional company of the College of Wooster, has been entertaining audiences since 1979, says Laura Neill, OLO’s executive director.
“The program offers a classical rotating repertory,” Neill says. “We open one show, then the next, then the next, and so on, and by the last three weeks of the season, we are playing and rotating all six shows.”
Performers, musicians, and production workers come from all over the country to participate in OLO shows. Auditions are held in Wooster and New York City, as well as virtually.
Cast members tend to perform in more than one show, Neill says. Actors might have lead and supporting roles in a couple of shows and perform in the chorus of a third, she says. Stage crews work on all the shows.
- Camelot (Lerner and Loewe) — June 10, 14, 23, and 27; July 1, 7, 15, 18, 20, 23, 28, and 30.
- How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Loesser) — June 15, 21, 24, and 30; July 2, 8, 12, 15, 21, 26, and 29.
- No, No Nanette (Youmans, Harbach, and Caesar) — June 22, 24, and 28; July 1, 8, 14, 21, and 29.
- H.M.S. Pinafore (Gilbert and Sullivan) — June 29; July 5, 7, 11, 13, 22, 25, and 28.
- Arizona Lady (Kàlmàn) — July 6, 9, 14, 20, and 27.
- Orpheus in the Underworld (Offenbach, Crémieux, and Halévy) — July 13, 16, 19, 22, and 27.
Porthouse Theatre, Kent State University
3143 O’Neil Road, Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44223. 330-672-3884; www.porthousetheatre.com
This year’s theme for Kent State’s Porthouse Theatre is “LOL all summer long,” Kent says. “To young people, that means ‘laugh out loud,’ but to some more ‘mature’ people, it can mean ‘lots of love.’ Our shows will provide plenty of both.”
Porthouse Theatre’s summer season features three shows: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a classic Stephen Sondheim musical; The Marvelous Wonderettes, a jukebox musical that follows four high school friends from prom to a reunion and features songs from the ’50s and ’60s; and The Prom, a Broadway show that tells a compelling story of love and acceptance.
The performances take place in the 500-seat Porthouse Theatre, a venue that is outdoors but covered from the elements, at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls. That setting, with lots of land adjacent to the beautiful Cuyahoga Valley National Park, enables the group to offer an experience that goes beyond viewing the performances, Kent says. “People come to picnic before the shows,” she says. “Longtime subscribers come to meet and become friends. Some people stay to tailgate after the shows, meet the actors, and toast with champagne.”
(Shows run Tuesday through Sunday each week; check website for showtimes)
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Shevelove and Gelbart; music/lyrics by Sondheim) —June 9–24
- The Marvelous Wonderettes (Bean, Baker, and Borth) — June 30–July 15
- The Prom (Martin, Beguelin, and Sklar) — July 21–Aug. 6
Otterbein University’s Fritsche Theatre
30 S. Grove St., Westerville, OH 43081. 614-823-1109; www.otterbein.edu/summertheatre
When students and faculty in Otterbein University’s nationally recognized theater program returned to campus from winter break in January 2023, they discovered pipes had burst under the main stage in Cowan Hall.
The damage required a subfloor to be replaced, a major repair that forced all theater performances and other programs to be relocated. To everyone’s relief, the new stage will be ready when I Do, I Do! opens June 1.
Otterbein Summer Theatre was launched in 1967 by a former theater department chair, Charles Dodrill, who, with technical director Fred “Pop” Thayer, built a theater in the basement of the student center, then the campus’s only air-conditioned building. In 2013, the summer theater moved to Cowan Hall’s Fritsche Theatre.
Most of the summer season’s performers are Otterbein students, according to Lenny Leibowitz, the artistic director, but professional Equity guest artists, Otterbein graduates, faculty members, and performers from other theater programs occasionally are hired. Most performers live on campus during the shows.
Saltzgiver says when Leibowitz was named artistic director in 2016, he brought a vision to the program to be “a company of epic imagination and intimate encounters. He challenged us to think bigger, to re-imagine
the big, lush musicals in smaller, more
- I Do, I Do! (Jones and Schmidt) — June 1–4 and June 8–10
- Baby (Shire, Pearson, Maltby Jr.) — June 15–18 and June 22–24