Inspired by Pinehurst History A New Theater Company Is Unveiled
BY MARY ELLE HUNTER
Special to The Pilot
"The Stars Come to the Sandhills" heralds the debut of a new theater company opening a winter season in the middle of January at Owens Auditorium at Sandhills Community College.
The Judson Theatre Company is the brainchild of Morgan Sills, who grew up in Southern Pines, and his longtime friend and colleague, Daniel Haley, who is the company's artistic director.
The pair, both involved in New York's theatrical world, had talked for years about having a theater company outside Manhattan, and the only questions was, where?
"Each of us had toured all over the United States in different shows," Sills says, "and we tossed ideas back and forth."
The inspiration for the Judson Theatre Company had its roots in a summertime job for Morgan Sills at Pinehurst's Given Memorial Library.
His lunch hours were spent in the Theatre Building, where he was fascinated by the posters on the walls depicting all the stars from stage, screen and television who had appeared in plays at the original theater.
Then, in 2010, while appearing in a show of Broadway tunes at Weymouth, Morgan revisited the Theatre Building, and walked by the same posters, and thought, "We should have this in Moore County now!"
On Sills' recommendation, it was decided that the Sandhills might be an ideal location. A subsequent visit by Haley to look at the area impressed him with its charm and -possibilities, and the setting was sealed for the new theater company in a bit of Pinehurst history.
"To name our new venture," Morgan relates, "we went through a list of old New York City -telephone exchanges. We live a few blocks away from each other in the section once known as Hell's Kitchen, with 'Judson' being the exchange for this part of town, and so the Judson Theatre Company was born."
The Judson Theatre Company's inaugural winter season features "Love Letters" with Tab Hunter and Joyce DeWitt; and "Tuesdays with Morrie" with Jamie Farr.
Morgan Sills believes that the two shows they are bringing to the Sandhills are unique, because well-known actors don't currently tour in plays these days.
"The Broadway tours that come to Charlotte and Raleigh are big musicals, with actors you don't necessarily recognize," he says. "However, our Moore County audiences have a long history with Tab Hunter, a Hollywood icon, and with Joyce DeWitt in her starring role in 'Three's Company.' And who could forget Jamie Farr in 'M*A*S*H'? These two -television favorite shows have never been off the air."
"Tuesdays with Morrie" was a natural choice when Sills and Haley were thinking about the shows they wanted to present. The book sold 14 million copies, and the stage version has been very popular.
According to Sills, "Everyone loves Jamie from his 11 seasons on 'M*A*S*H,' and he recently received rave reviews for his performance as Morrie, when he appeared in the show in Toronto."
The other play on the Judson Theatre Company schedule, "Love Letters," teams Tab Hunter with Joyce DeWitt, both of whom have numerous credits for their work as actors in stage settings, as well as in films and television.
Sills learned that the two have been friends for decades, and when he contacted each of them, "they both said that they wanted to do the show together."
The rehearsals for the two shows, which will be presented at Owens Auditorium the last two weeks of January, are taking place locally, and production and backstage assistance is also being secured locally.
Sills says, "Daniel and I feel it is important to be a local company, as much as possible, to buy from locally owned and operated businesses, and to hire locally. The late Joan Scott of The Country Bookshop taught me how crucial this is when I worked with her during another summer and -vacation job I had during my high school and college years."
Sills is the executive -producer of the Judson Theatre Company, having taken a break from performing to fully commit to the success of the company.
Right after graduating from Wake Forest University, he moved to New York to start his -theatrical career, and within three days landed a small part in an off-Broadway show. Since then, he has appeared in more than a dozen different tours of "Forever Plaid," and has acted in numerous musical productions, as well as doing solo performances interpreting the songs of Johnny Mercer and Oscar Hammerstein.
In addition, Sills added to his theatrical knowledge by attending the Commercial Theater Institute in New York.
"At CTI, Broadway producers teach you how to produce a show at the Broadway level, and I also learned about how to run a theater working at the Snapple Theatre Center, home of 'The Fantasticks,' gaining the skills that I am using as an executive producer for the Judson Theatre Company."
When asked if there are future plans to produce the two shows in other locations, Sills says the only place either or both of these shows can be seen is here in Moore County.
"We are planning on producing the winter season as an annual event, and we've already been in touch with several stars about what their schedules are and what shows they would like to do for next year, but we don't rule out the possibility of producing more shows at other times of the year," he says.
The Judson Theatre Company appears committed to being a vital part of the Moore County arts community, and right now, they are focused on this upcoming season.
As a personal aside, Morgan Sills expresses his appreciation for being back in Moore County and for having the opportunity to give back to the community.
"Live theater is so -important," he says. "It is the synthesis of all the arts."
For information, visit www.judsontheatre.com or call Etix at (800) 514-3849.
Contact Pinehurst freelance writer Mary Elle Hunter at mehunter1055 @hotmail.com.
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