15 Sep 2014
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'Closer Than Ever' Premieres this Weekend at Leetsdale Playhouse

Well Played Productions, a new Leetsdale-based theater company, will present the musical revue "Closer Than Ever" on Friday and Saturday nights.

'Closer Than Ever' Premieres this Weekend at Leetsdale Playhouse 'Closer Than Ever' Premieres this Weekend at Leetsdale Playhouse 'Closer Than Ever' Premieres this Weekend at Leetsdale Playhouse 'Closer Than Ever' Premieres this Weekend at Leetsdale Playhouse

A new Leetsdale-based theater company -  Well Played Productions - will launch its premiere production this weekend with the help of four professional  actors who also happen to be good friends. 

Jonathan Surmacz said he and his wife, Elizabeth Matthews, have an extensive acting background and came up with the idea to perform Maltby and Shire's, "Closer Than Ever," in hopes of drawing draw some attention to their long-time dream of a permanent theater in the Sewickley Valley.

“There needs to be a theater here and we would love to start it,” said Matthews, who moved to Leetsdale with Surmacz 10 years ago.

The musical revue also stars the professional players of Leah Hillgrove and Danny Siford, longtime friends of Surmacz and Matthews. The show is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, two nights only at the Broadstreet Playhouse in Leetsdale, formerly the First United Presbyterian Church at 200 Broad St.

Siford, originally from Whitehall, has a master’s degree in psychology, but attended the Boston Conservatory of Music. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he appeared in more than 20 shows at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and CLO.

Leah Hillgrove of Peters Township, attended Gannon University and has performed in numerous productions in the region including Nunsense at the CLO. Hillgrove's mom, Rosette, was a vocal teacher at Duquesne University and her dad is Pittsburgh Steelers commentator Bill Hillgrove.

“We are just the luckiest people to have gotten these two,” said Surmacz, who is production manager for the Conservatory of Performing Arts department of dance at Point Park University, where he also graduated.

And the timing couldn’t be more perfect. The venue being used for the performance happens to be up for sale and Matthews and Surmacz are hoping this first production will draw audiences and bring in some donations.

Surmacz said everything has been coming into place, though not everything has neatly fallen onto the calendar. He said the show’s availability left them in a holding pattern as they waited for the rights, then suddenly things opened up and it was go time.

“We said ‘let’s just do it,'" he said. "'Let’s go for it.'”

Matthews, who also attended the Boston Conservatory of Music, said she has performed parts of the revue, but never a full production. Preparing for show-time has been a community effort. The building’s owner, Denny Campbell, not only loaned out the venue, but has also allowed the actors to make adjustments for the set. Economy Electric donated the electrical supplies needed to run the power. Neighbors, Beth and Matt Carroll, have helped with the project and Mike Jehle, who has done lighting in the past, has lended his talents.

Leet Township resident Jeff Canter will share his talents, making a special singing appearance. 

Charles Wilson, musical director, is also the musical director for Sewickley United Methodist Church. He was a dancer in New York in the mid-1970s before moving here and earning his master's degree in music. 

“A lot of the people from the community have been willing to help for free,” Matthews said.

Hillgrove and Siford are also donating their talents. It helps that Surmacz and Hillgrove have known each other since high school, and Siford and Matthews since middle school. The four have been in various productions together in the past. 

Siford now lives in New York, but has been in town since Monday learning the score. He said there are 20 songs, but as one who acts and sings, including past performances off Broadway, he'll be ready. Hillgrove said her friends were gracious enough to work around her crazy schedule so that she can be in the show.

The show is about being in your 40s and life changes, something the four say is easy to relate to. Matthews and Surmacz have two daughters ages 18 and 14 who study theater, and a 2 year old adopted son. They said the show touches on relationships and the choices we make, with a running theme of doors.

“The doors of life,” said Hillgrove, who is a single mom.

“Everyday is another door,” Surmacz added. “The people who don’t open doors sometimes miss out.”

The show is not for children, but Matthews has worked with the youth, helping in recent years to produce a Quaker Valley Middle School play. She said the goal is for the theater to become a permanent fixture in the community, and also offer an outlet for adult and youth productions, mentoring opportunities and even dinner-theater events.

“I feel that if we owned this space, we could make it completely fabulous,” Matthews said.

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Admission is a suggested donation of $15, though higher donations are welcome.

For advanced tickets, call 412-259-8625 or email   wellplayed2012@gmail.com. Tickets are also available at the door. 

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