Connecticut Association for the Arts stepped in to save the building when it was slated for demolition in the early 1980’s and then devoted several decades to raising close to $17 million to restore the theater and earn it landmark status from the National Park Service in 2002. Next, a former department store next door was purchased, dubbed the Carole and Ray Neag Performing Arts Center and converted into a space that could house the rest of the Warner’s artistic pursuits. Meanwhile, John Bonanni was earning his theatrical stripes, beginning about 60 miles southeast of Torrington with a stint at the Goodspeed Opera House. He credits the legendary “Abominable Showman” with his start. “David Merrick produced a show from Goodspeed called Very Good, Eddie,” Bonanni recalls. “And he gave me my Equity Card as the assistant stage manager. That was my first Broadway show.” Bonanni continued in stage management at Goodspeed from 1977 to 1983 working on some 20 musicals, including three more transfers to New York, Whoopie, Take Me Along and The Five O’Clock Girl. Finally, Bonanni made a permanent move to Broadway where he spent the next two decades backstage at a string of hits that ran the gamut from Singin’ in the Rain (’85-’86) to Grease (’07-’09). “I was very lucky,” he demurs. “They were all long runs. I had a ten year career out of three shows!” (Me and My Girl, City of Angels and Crazy for You). And while he’d occasionally travel out of town to tour with the likes of solo artist Barbara Cook or the arena-sized spectacle He-Man and She-Ra: Masters of the Universe, Bonanni was happiest working within a few blocks of Times Square. So happy, in fact, that he almost passed up the opportunity that would lead to the next significant milestone in his career. “I had a nice little office at the Gershwin Theater during Crazy for You,” Bonanni explains. “ And the understudy for the leading lady Jodi Benson would hang out with me there because she had nothing to do. Jodi was never out! She was looking at the trade papers and saw an ad for a production stage manager at Radio City Music Hall. And I said, ‘Why do I want to go to Radio City? It’s the other side of Sixth Avenue?! Emotionally, that was the ends of the earth.” Nevertheless, he sent in his resume and landed the job where he oversaw the production details for everything from the Tony Awards to appearances by Elton John, B.B. King and the Dali Lama to, of course, the famous Christmas Spectacular for the next dozen years. “The Christmas Spectacular was the only self-produced show,” he says. “There’s nothing quite like it. There were 80-foot drops, 72 elevator moves and two separate sets of casts that did four, five and then six shows a day, seven days a week for two months. It was a great way to learn about stamina, concentration, organization and scheduling. But, after I’d
done just under 3,000 performances, I decided to try something else -- something on my own.” So Bonanni formed a production company, Big Fish Big Pond Ltd., and began to develop projects for the New York Musical Theatre Festival (Under Fire), regional stages (Slow Dance with a Hot Pick Up) and Hollywood (Lawdy, the life story of rock-and-roller Lloyd Price). And he had every intention of continuing on as an independent producer when he was seduced the Warner. Fortunately, Bonanni has discovered that serving as Executive Director draws on just The Warner Stage Company performs Jesus Christ Superstar, Dan O'Brien (center) as Jesus . Photo: Contributed.
“First and foremost, we are a community theater,” he emphasizes. “I want the Warner Stage Company to be a community theater of national prominence. That’s my mantra.” about everything in his past. “I can do things here that I’ve never done before,” he feels.” I can take all the stuff I’ve learned, apply it and learn something more. The Warner affords me the opportunity to call the artistic shots. And I can back it up with production experience.” “First and foremost, we are a community theater,” he emphasizes. “I want the Warner Stage Company to be a community theater of national prominence. That’s my mantra.” To that end, Bonanni plans to mount an ambitious schedule of musicals in the next season that includes local stagings of Damn Yankees, Curtains, City of Angels, Sunset Boulevard and
Warner Theatre, 68 Main Street, Torrington, CT 06790, (860) 489-7180, www.warnertheatre.org
Next to Normal. He’s also tapped his connections in New York to import the original shows Liberty: The Monumental Musical, The Gefilte Fish Chronicles and Steeplechase for productions that star the area’s actors (Liberty will run on the mainstage from June 30th to July 14th). Bonanni will also launch the Warner International Playwrights Festival, a three-day celebration of new one-act plays. Along with all of that in-house production, Bonanni says that the Warner will continue to host a broad spectrum of touring entertainment. Scotland’s Black Watch, The Russian National Ballet Theatre and the Vienna Boys Choir are among the acts that will be traveling to Torrington in the season ahead. The Litchfield Hills Film Festival has also decided to make the theater their new home. Perhaps the greatest concentration of performances will take place during the holidays, under the heading “30 Days of Christmas,” with Melissa Manchester, the Nutmeg Ballet’s Nutcracker and a dramatic retelling of the Christmas Truce of 1914, All is Calm, already scheduled. Bonanni says that, after 12 years of doing the Christmas Spectacular, he starts to automatically think about December programming every summer. “That happened when I got the job here last August,” he says with a laugh. “My first thought was, ‘What are we doing for Christmas?’ CONTEMPORARY CULTURE//MAGAZINE
Published on Jul 1, 2012
VENÜ Contemporary Culture Magazine highlights the regions finest professional and emerging creative talent with stunning visuals and intrigu...