By George Basler
Kate Murray has fond memories of the Cider Mill Playhouse in Endicott. She acted there, worked on productions and was an audience member for other shows.
“The building meant a lot to me. It meant the same thing to a lot of people,” she said.
Now the local woman and her partners are working to write a new chapter for the venerable theater at 2 Nanticoke Ave.
Murray is the executive director of BLAST (Bold Local Artists of the Southern Tier), which signed a lease in July to rent and manage the theater. Her associates are Rob Egan, BLAST’s artistic director, and Bill Murray, operations director. They will produce shows as well as renting the venue to other performing arts companies.
The Cider Mill Playhouse has a rich history. It opened in 1976 and, for 41 years, drew audiences to its 225-seat theater located in the same building as the Cider Mill, a popular location for buying cider, doughnuts and baked goods.
But the theater’s recent history has been a checkered one. A previous management group lost its lease in 2017 and quietly dissolved as a non-profit entity.
Another company, Regeas Theatre Management, took over and renamed the space the Cider Mill Stage. The company then rented the space to the Clocktower and Fab Arts theater companies, which staged plays there in 2018 and 2019. But the space has been dark since late 2019.
BLAST has signed a two-year lease with the Cider Mill, LLC., which owns the building, and will retain the name Cider Mill Stage, Murray said. The partners are promoting the venture as “Your Hometown Theater” and plan to produce plays that will hopefully appeal to a broad range of community residents.
“Coming off COVID, we don’t want anything too down and dark. We want things that are comedic, where people can come and escape,” Egan said.
The fall season will open Sept. 17-26 with It’s Only a Play by Terrence McNally. The play, which was a major off-Broadway hit, is a comedic send-up of the often painful process of producing a play. The BLAST cast is a roster of well- known local actors including Jan DeAngelo, Shannon DeAngelo, Jessica Pullis and Chris Nickerson.
This production will be followed Oct. 29-Nov. 7 with the thriller Deathtrap by Ira Levin. The play holds the record for the longest running comedy thriller on Broadway.
The next offering (Nov. 19-28) is Plaid Tidings, a special holiday edition of Forever Plaid, a revue that features the close harmony of male voices that was popular in the 1950s.
The fall season will conclude with the theater’s 41st anniversary production of A Christmas Carol in December. This adaptation of the famous Christmas story is by John Bielenberg with original music by Susan Peters and Ken Martinak.
“We see this (the theater) as a community service, and we have to pick shows for the community we live in,” Egan emphasized.
BLAST formed two years ago and has previously staged shows at various venues in the community. But scheduling and pricing were always issues, and the company wanted a permanent home, Murray said. The Cider Mill fit the bill.
The partners plan extensive advertising efforts. Some will be as old-fashioned as placing posters in local stores. Others will be postings on various social media platforms. They plan to do television and radio interviews and hope to capitalize on people’s fond memories of Cider Mill productions over the years.
“We don’t expect to get rich. It’s about being able to do what we love to do,” Egan said.
Since moving into the building, the partners have been working to clean, paint, update the dressing rooms and generally spruce up the space, which had been unused for close to two years. Teams of volunteers, organized by Technical Director Mary Donnelly, helped in the effort, Murray said.
The venture is both a labor of love and an investment, she added, noting: “We’re not doing it just for us. The audience is important for us.”
Tickets and season ticket packages are now available at www.cidermillstage.com. The theater’s telephone number is 607-321-9630.
Before the fall season begins, BLAST is opening the Cider Mill Stage space for two events in August.
This Saturday (Aug. 14), DIVAS of the Stage and Screen will features Divas After Dark, the longest running drag show in the Binghamton area. The show is sold out. Sunday on the Stage with Jan, featuring Jan DeAngelo and friends, will be at 7 p.m. Aug. 22 and will feature standards from the 1930s through the 1980s.
For tickets, go to www.cidermillstage.com.