Hit musicals are coming to a brand-new theater in Sanford.
For the past few years, Derek Critzer has been a theatrical gypsy in search of a venue to call his own. Finally, the director/producer/actor has found just the spot – in the heart of downtown Sanford.
Derek – along with his business partner, Quinn Roberts – has launched Theater West End at 115 West First Street.
The theater kicks off its inaugural season of shows in September with the Tony Award-winning musical The Color Purple.
Quinn and Derek, who met on the set of a show, have been talking about starting their own professional theater company for quite some time. So, when the historic First Street building became available, they jumped at the opportunity to lease it.
Quinn, 37, is the theater’s executive director while Derek is its managing artistic director.
“I love acting, but my focus is more on the overall vision of things,” says Derek, 27, a former theme-park actor. “I like the focus to be on the people and on the energy and the story. I feel like it packs a punch if you do it right.”
For the theater’s debut season, Derek chose six musicals for which he has a passion.
“It just feels so right for The Color Purple to be our first show in this space,” says Derek, who assembled a talented cast of 19 African-American actors for the production. “It’s a really powerful statement to be opening a theater with that show.”
The musical is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker and on the classic 1985 film.
“This show is a cultural touchstone,” says Derek, who is co-directing the musical with cast member Felichia Chivaughn. “It’s beautiful. My heart beats for it.”
Theater West End’s mainstage season will also include The Bridges of Madison County, based on the best-selling novel; West Side Story; Ghost the Musical, based on the movie starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore; and two lesser-known shows, If/Then and The Wild Party.
“I love to do big musicals and strip them down to their rawest emotional form,” Derek says. “I like the focus to be on the people and on the energy and the story. I feel like it packs a punch if you do it right.”
In addition to its mainstage shows, Theater West End will frequently produce special events, including monthly jazz music nights. And, the theater is offering educational programs for kids in second through eighth grades and teens in ninth through 12th grades. The tuition-based classes will culminate in fully-staged productions.
The youth programs will be taught at Studio at Theater West End, a building located directly behind the main theater. Derek and Quinn are renting that building to have plenty of space for classes and rehearsals, their offices, and a green room for performers.
Quinn and Derek, who have both been involved in theater since they were kids, want to nurture the next generation of performers. And, they want to give adult performers – especially local theme-park actors – the chance to spread their wings artistically.
“I really want this theater to be a cultural hub for the community and also for performers,” Quinn says. “It should foster performers, whether they’re young or adults.”
Theater West End’s inaugural show, The Color Purple, runs September 7 to 23. Individual tickets are $22 each. The theater is in downtown Sanford. To purchase tickets or for more details, visit TheaterWestEnd.com or call 407-548-6285.
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