Blue Water Theatre Company celebrating 10 years with another ‘Grand Night’

Past and present Blue Water actors will present the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical revue

Charlie Leonard, founder of Blue Water Theatre Company, stands in the youth theater group’s new home – a century old church on Wayzata’s Rice Street. Blue Water is celebrating its 10-year anniversary by revisiting Rogers and Hammerstein’s“A Grand Night for Singing” and inviting past and present Blue Water actors to be part of the cast. (Sun Sailor file photo by Jason Jenkins)

It was a decade ago when Charlie Leonard was considering what would be the inaugural production for his newly formed Blue Water Theatre Company. Unsure of how many actors would sign up, Leonard decided to go with the Rogers and Hammerstein musical revue, “A Grand Night for Singing.”

“The nice thing about a music revue is that it’s really flexible. You could have a cast of five or a cast of 50,” Leonard said. “You could put the show on at the Orpheum in downtown Minneapolis, or you could put it on in somebody’s basement.”

Ten years after that initial production, Leonard and the theatre company are excited to revisit “A Grand Night” for a special anniversary presentation that includes past and present Blue Water actors.

“As we got close to the anniversary, we started trying to figure out how we wanted to commemorate it,” Leonard said. “It seemed like the logical thing to say, ‘Hey, let’s take that first show and let’s do it again and get as many as Blue Water people as we can – from the current youngest kids that we’re working with right now to some of the kids that were in that very first production.”

The cast for “A Grand Night” is close to 50, the director said, and spans an age range of 10 to 25.

“It’s been really fun for the younger kids to meet and work with some of the older kids, many of whom they had heard their names mentioned over the years, but they maybe have never met them or they’ve just seen them in passing,”  Leonard said. “To have them all in the same show is really special.”

One of the many actors returning to Blue Water for the production is Anoka resident Jacey Gulden, who in 2008 played the lead role in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

Past and present Blue Water Theatre Company actors rehearse Aug. 3 in Wayzata for a special 10-year anniversary production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “A Grand Night for Singing.” (Sun Sailor staff photo by Hayden Farmer)

Gulden, a 2008 Wayzata High School graduate, said it’s been exciting to be back on stage acting again and has had fun working with the cast’s youngest actors.

“We were rehearsing a tap-dancing number the other week and my partner was 12,” Gulden laughed.

While not performer, Gulden has stayed involved with the organizational side of the nonprofit theatre company. For the past five years, Gulden has served on the group’s board of directors.

Another Blue Water alumnus joining the cast for “A Grand Night” is St. Louis Park resident Lizzie Robbins, who was a part of the original production a decade ago.

Robbins, a 2012 Wayzata High grad, hasn’t been in a theatre production in five years, but has continued singing and earned a minor in vocal performance from the University of Minnesota.

“Singing is definitely something that I’ve kept up, but musical theatre, not so much. This will be fun getting back into it. … And [‘A Grand Night’] has a lot of singing. It’s a bunch of classic songs from different musicals that are compiled into one production,” Robbins said, adding that she’s excited to help the theatre company celebrate its anniversary.

Gulden and Robbins will act alongside current Blue Water actors like Ben Sanford, a freshman at St. Louis Park High School.

Sanford, whose latest role was the lead character in “Honk! Jr.,” has been with Blue Water for the past two years. The young actor said it’s been a fun experience meeting and working with the older actors.

“It’s been good to be able to meet people who experienced what I’m experiencing now,” he said.

Founded in 2007 by Leonard, who also serves as Blue Water’s executive and artistic director, the community youth theater group has presented more than 30 productions and is made up of between 150 and 200 actors primarily in grades 6-12 from schools across the metro area. Leonard, a lifelong resident of the Wayzata area, began teaching in 2003 at Wayzata West Middle School. There, he began volunteering as a director for school plays and quickly discovered a passion for directing. After a few years, he created Blue Water as an outlet for young actors looking for opportunities outside of school.

In addition to “A Grand Night,” another special production that will soon be in the works at the Wayzata theater is “The Search for Squatch – Part II: The Legend Begins,” an original musical written and directed by Blue Water alumni Timothy Radermacher and Adam Hebeisen. The two young playwrights presented their first original musical, the fairy tale parody “The Brave and the Bold,” to audiences last summer through Blue Water.

For “Squatch,” Blue Water is doing something it has never done: A 24-hour musical. All actors will come in with no knowledge of the show other than the title and have 24 hours to rehearse before the curtain rises on the first performance.

“There’s going to be awful lot of coffee and Red Bull to get ourselves through it,” Leonard laughed. “It’s going to be fun.”

“The Search for Squatch – Part II: The Legend Begins,” will run for two performances: 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, at Blue Water, 605 Rice St. E., Wayzata.

Both “A Grand Night” and “Squatch” will be performed in Blue Water’s new home, a century old church that sits atop a hill across the street from Wayzata City Hall.

Before Blue Water moved in, the building was home to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Minnetonka until its congregation decided to build a new church in Wayzata’s Holdridge neighborhood. Church officials began looking for a buyer once building plans were approved last summer. Before Unitarian Universalist, the building was home to Wayzata Free Church (1952-1965) and Wayzata Community Church (1916-1949).

The historic church, which was built in 1916 with designs from prominent Minneapolis architect Harry Wild Jones, is a far cry Blue Water’s early days. For its first year-and-a-half, the theater group bounced around to various locations for rehearsal space, including the basement of St. Philip the Deacon Church in Plymouth and school cafeterias in the Wayzata School District. The group then moved into a vacant hair salon in the old Wayzata Bay Center after the building owner offered a space free of charge. Blue Water then found a studio space to rent in the Wayzata Home Center, where the group stayed until moving into its current home this past March.

Leonard continues working to convert the church into a 125-seat theater, with plans to install tiered seating. The director had hoped for the renovations to be complete in time for “A Grand Night,” but the work was delayed. Leonard said a grand opening event will likely be planned once the work is finished.

If you go:

Blue Water Theatre Company presents “A Grand Night for Singing”

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16; 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 17; 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18; 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19; and 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19

Where: Blue Water Theatre, 605 Rice St. E., Wayzata

Info and tickets: bluewatertheatre.com