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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: ‘The Last Five Years’ to launch theater troupe in Menominee Opera House

Critic At Large

Coastal Players

Posing for the inaugural Coastal Players production, “The Last Five Years,” are cast members James Porras II and Brittany Welch, founder of Coastal Players. (Troupe photo)

MENOMINEE, Mich. (WFRV)

One. New troupe.

Two. Old theater in the midst of revitalization.

Three. That adds up to news.

Theater person Brittany Welch of Marinette has founded Coastal Players. The first production arrives next week in the 1902 Menominee Opera House at 5th Ave. and 2nd St. in downtown Menominee.

The two-person musical “The Last Five Years” by Jason Robert Brown will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 13 and 14, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15.

It’s an adult show about a couple’s marriage, and it contains mature language.

Performing opposite Brittany Welch as Catherine Hiatt is James Porras II as Jamie Wellerstein.

Some tips about story: Jamie is a writer on his way up, and Catherine is an actress who has peaked. Their individual perspectives unfold in forward direction for Jamie and in reverse for Catherine.

As a whole, many things are swirling around next weekend.

Coastal Players

Brittany Welch said, “A few years ago, a couple of friends and I started discussing starting our own theater company. We had a name and everything, and were starting to talk about which show we’d want to do first. Well, one of them ended up getting a job in another state, and the project just sort of ended up fizzling out. Flash forward to earlier this year when I started thinking about how badly I still want to start my own theater production company in the area. One of my good friends helped me come up with the name. I knew I wanted ‘Players’ attached to the name somehow because my hopes are to be sort of a traveling group where we can perform in a variety of different spaces around the area and perhaps even out of this area.”

The goal is to produce at least one show annually, according to a press release. Brittany Welch has other fish to fry.

She said, “My normal work in theater includes directing children’s theater, performing in community theater shows at Theatre on the Bay and also music directing the summer shows there. Serving as the producer for this production has been an entirely new challenge, but I’ve enjoyed learning this part of the business as I go. 

“My hope is that this small show will be a success and that we will be able to grow and do even bigger shows as the years go on involving a bigger staff and bigger company of crew and actors overall.”

Brittany Welch and James Porras II have deep associations with Theatre on the Bay at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Marinette Campus, and so does John Thornberry, their director for “The Last Five Years.” Most recently, for “Mama Mia,” John Thornberry was director and Brittany Welch and James Porras II were music directors. Brittany Welch and James Porras II have acted aplenty, too, with Theatre on the Bay.

Menominee Opera House

From a news release: “The Menominee Opera House has opened its doors for the Coastal Players production. The Menominee Opera House Committee, Inc., a non-profit organization of local volunteers, was given the deed to the 117-year-old building by the Vennema family corporation, with the objective of ‘restoring the historic Menominee Opera House to become a multifunctional performing arts center.’

“With renovation and construction ongoing, the Opera House has hosted several musical events and open houses under their ‘Theatre in the Ruins’ banner, starting with a public reopening of the facility in 2014. ‘The Last Five Years,’ however, will be the first actual theatrical production at the Opera House in at least 69 years, since a fire rendered the facility a total loss in March of 1950.”

Historic theaters have been successfully revived in this region. They include the Grand Opera House in Oshkosh, Weill Center for the Performing Arts in Sheboygan, Capitol Civic Centre in Manitowoc and Meyer Theatre in Green Bay.

John Thornberry said, “The Opera House is an interesting piece of this puzzle. When they announced ‘Theatre in the Ruins’ back in 2014, I knew I wanted to be in on it somehow, and hoped I might be part of the first new production. We’re – Brittany, James and I, that is – hoping that we’ll draw beneficial attention to both Coastal Players as a new theater troupe and to the ongoing restoration efforts at the Opera House at the same time.”

“The Last Five Years”

From a press release: “Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, ‘The Last Five Years’ was named one of Time magazine’s 10 best shows of 2001, and the show won Drama Desk awards in that same year. It enjoyed an Off-Broadway revival at Second Stage in 2013, and a film adaptation starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan was released in 2014.

John Thornberry said, “‘The Last Five Years’ has been a bucket list show for me for over a decade. Even though the characters are not always likable – Jamie in particular can come off as really unsympathetic – they’re honestly drawn and very human in their flaws. The music in places is just beautiful. And, as a follow-up to the massive undertaking that ‘Mamma Mia!’ was for me this summer, the idea of doing a deep dive into just two characters in an intimate musical was just too good to pass up. It’s been that much more attractive to me as a project because I get to work with Brittany and James again. They’re good friends, and extremely talented artists.”

Brittany Welch said, “‘The Last Five Years’ has been on my bucket list of shows to perform in for years. Between the score and the story, it has been one of my favorite musicals since I was first starting college 10 years ago. I think everyone can relate to going through a heartbreak and feeling yourself ‘fall out of love’ with someone. 

“James Porras and I have wanted to do this particular show together for a while. I am good friends with the person who is in charge of scheduling performances in the opera house, and I asked what he thought they would think of having an actual theatrical production in the space, and they were thrilled about it. So, that is what sort of got my gears moving toward finally getting a group going and having our first show be the one we’ve wanted to perform for years.”

A perspective

John Thornberry said, “Theatre on the Bay has been the only regularly produced adult theater in this area (Marinette/Menominee) for years. I’d certainly like to see Coastal Players grow over time as a place where audiences can see shows that Theatre on the Bay can’t really produce in the same way. Companies like Coastal Players typically do smaller, sometimes less commercial pieces, since they don’t have the pressure of trying to put people into a three- to four-hundred-seat venue like Theatre on the Bay does. My hope is that the company will do things that will fit a smaller profile and complement what others in our area are doing. Time will tell, of course, and I’m sure Brittany has some ideas about what comes next.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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