At 8 tonight, three young theater entrepreneurs will realize a shared dream when the curtain rises on their ambitious production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” in the New Phoenix Theatre.
The complex musical – a daring undertaking for any company, let alone one that has existed for less than a year – is the culmination of many months of planning and years of fantasizing among University at Buffalo graduates Kelly Copps, Kristin Bentley and Arin Lee Dandes. It marks the official launch of their newly formed company Second Generation Theatre, an outfit poised to deliver a welcome jolt of new energy into Buffalo’s already swelling theater community.
The seeds for the new company were planted at UB, where Copps and Bentley co-directed a variety show in which Dandes was later invited to participate. But after school and some time spent performing on Western New York stages, the trio went off in separate directions to pursue theater opportunities in New York City and elsewhere.
Last year, after Copps and Dandes had moved back from New York City, they found themselves sitting together at a Delaware Avenue restaurant and batting around the idea of a new project with Bobby Cooke, a server at the restaurant who will play the Baker in “Into the Woods.”
“It really happened at Merge brunch one day with Bobby’s bottomless mimosas, which is where all good ideas start,” Bentley said. Bentley said he and Copps “felt we were going to do this someday, and this was the place to do it. You really can have it all in a way that I don’t think you can in other cities.”
It was as easy as that: Over champagne and OJ, a company was born. Because each member had a special affinity for “Into the Woods” and knew a few local actors who were dying to play roles in it, their first show seemed to materialize naturally.
The musical, a perennial favorite of theater students and musical fans, tells a tragicomic tale of human longing through the eyes of classic fairy-tale characters. It was last produced by MusicalFare Theatre (then SummerFare) in 1991.
“We felt that now was the time for us to make our own mark and to really own something,” Dandes said. “I think we were ready for that.”
Soon after that fateful brunch, the trio began to make its plans known in Buffalo’s tightknit theater community, and said the response was overwhelmingly positive. Copps said she’s received plenty of advice on marketing and other aspects of running a company from the likes of Shakespeare in Delaware Park founder and Jewish Repertory Theatre co-founder Saul Elkin and MusicalFare founder Randall Kramer.
“It seems that the established theater companies in Buffalo have looked to our generation much more recently, and picked shows that are aimed more toward our generation,” Bentley added, pointing to the success of the Irish Classical Theatre Company, Jewish Repertory Theatre, MusicalFare, Torn Space Theater and Kavinoky Theatre as inspiration. “We want something that can have that longevity that is of our generation.”
Members of the bright-eyed trio were hesitant to provide specifics about its exact mission, preferring to remain open about what niche it will eventually fill in Buffalo’s ever-changing theatrical ecology. At the outset, they seem to be more interested in producing traditional plays and musicals and building on the work of Buffalo’s existing theaters than offering bold or edgy interpretations of classics or delving into new work. Its second show, Neil LaBute’s play “Some Girls,” is slated for February.
Each member of the trio has spent plenty of time on stage. But aside from their directing experiences in college, none has a great deal of behind-the-scenes experience. At this early point, they seem high on the prospect of seeing “Into the Woods” on its feet and aren’t worried about the challenges of forming and sustaining a new company.
“We’re all very ambitious people,” Bentley said. “Why wait for someone else to do what you want to do? Go out and do it yourself.”
What: “Into the Woods”
When: 8 tonight through June 23
Where: New Phoenix Theatre, 95 Johnson Park
Tickets: $20 to $25
Info: 206-4964 or www.secondgenerationtheatre.com