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Playhouse 412 will merge with Holmes Theatre; plans final 'greatest hits' show March 16-18

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Three decades will come to a close next weekend when Playhouse 412 hosts its final production.

Founded in 1977, the local theater group has voted to dissolve. Its final performance, a farewell greatest hits show, is scheduled for March 16-18 in the Historic Holmes Theatre.

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"When PH 412 began 30 years ago, entertainment opportunities were significantly fewer than they are today," said Playhouse 412 President Doug Schultz, who has been involved in seven Playhouse 412 productions since 2002.

"But even then, locating adults willing to perform on stage was -- and remains -- a challenge."

With the changes over the years in entertainment, including cable, Internet and other technology, live theater is becoming less recognized.

"We have two choices," he said. "We can wring our hands and say 'woe is me, woe is me' and continue to do what we've done before, hoping for different results, or we can recognize the changing landscape and change with it."

Enter the merger with the Holmes Theatre.

"We've always had a theater model, and one thing we'd like to do is produce a couple shows a year," Amy Stearns, Holmes Theatre administrator, said.

When the Holmes board decided to move forward with its theater model, Stearns approached Playhouse 412 about merging together under the Holmes umbrella.

Playhouse 412 has a "legacy here, and we wanted to respect that," she said.

The board showed an interest and after several meetings to discuss the merger, Playhouse 412 members voted in favor of dissolving and joining Holmes.

"It's an offer to produce without having to do the business end of it," Stearns said.

It's the business end that has affected Playhouse 412 in the past.

"Playhouse 412 has had its own financial challenges in the past few years," Schultz said.

He added that while musicals draw bigger crowds, they are much more expensive to produce, and stage plays, which are cheaper to produce, draw significantly smaller crowds.

Plus sponsorships and donations for the theater group have been "generally further down the list."

Schultz said after much discussion, the board decided it would be in the organization's best interest to "pursue the direction of blending our talents" with the Holmes Theatre.

The merger will officially take place April 1, the start of the Theatre's fiscal year.

Stearns said with the merger -- the production group is not named yet -- she wants to celebrate what Playhouse 412 has done in the community. She'd like to start off the new production branch of the Theatre with a big show and get anyone and everyone in the community involved.

During Playhouse 412's final show Sunday, March 18, there will be a sign-up sheet at the Theatre for anyone in the community interested in getting involved in the production group. Interested parties can also call Stearns at the Theatre to inquire.

Besides shows, Stearns hopes to have the production group involved in extra aspects like readers theater, exploratory theater, inviting guest artists and two shows a year.

"There is so much talent in the area," she said.

One of those talents, Schultz, said he plans to continue with local theater after the merger.

"I've gotten to know some wonderful people in the course of doing these shows," he said. "The shows take a tremendous amount of time and work, but the friendships developed and the audience reaction at the end is worth it."

Audience members will have the chance to react to one last Playhouse 412 production next weekend.

The show will be a mixture of musical selections and scenes. The scenes will be from "Steel Magnolias," "Romantic Comedy" and "Last of the Red Hot Lovers."

Musical selections will be included from the productions "King and I," "Sound of Music," "Fiddler on the Roof," "West Side Story," "Camelot," "South Pacific" and "Guys and Dolls."

"We selected a mix of shows from Playhouse 412 performance history that were certainly familiar to listeners, but others perhaps not as well known," Schultz said of the selections.

"The songs were representative of the shows that we thought listeners would enjoy and relate to."

Many of the performers throughout the last 30 years were invited back to partake in one last show.

One of those performers, who never left, in fact, is board member Eric Abrahamson.

"I was at the inaugural meeting when they discussed it," he said of when Playhouse 412 formed in the 1970s. Abrahamson performed in the first production, "Charley's Aunt" as an English butler.

Being active for the past 30 years, Abrahamson has witnessed the changes of Playhouse 412 and theater in the community.

"Financially was the biggest thing," he said of changes. "Years ago, we put on productions on a shoe string budget to musicals for tens of thousands of dollars."

One thing that remained a steady, though, was the talent, he said.

With the merger of Playhouse 412 and Holmes Theatre, Abrahamson said he's thrilled with the change.

"It's a fabulous co-op between us and the theater," he said.

He added that the partnership will allow for Playhouse 412 to bring its strongest assets to the table and the same for the Holmes Theatre.

"We're not going away, just changing our face of the way to do business."

Abrahamson is participating in the greatest hits show, actually singing on stage in a "duet with my beloved Stacy." He said the last time he did a solo on stage was in the '70s.

"It's bittersweet for me, being in the first and last, per say," he said. "We (he and his wife) are thrilled to be part of the last, but not last production."

Although a three-decade chapter is closing on Playhouse 412, members are planning on continuing the legacy through the merger with Holmes Theatre.

"We have the opportunity to learn from two organizations -- the experience of Playhouse 412 and the experience of the staff of the Holmes Theatre..." Schultz said.

"We don't have a format yet written, but it is exciting to consider what might be," he added. "The last time we had an opportunity like this was 1977 when Playhouse 412 got started."

"Playhouse 412's Greatest Hits" will be March 16-17 at 7:30 p.m. and March 18 at 2 p.m. in the Historic Holmes Theatre.

Tickets are available at the Theatre or by calling 844-SHOW. Suggested donated price is $15.

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