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Chester County Press

The hottest ticket in town

10/21/2015 11:22AM ● By J. Chambless

Matt Corr and Nikki Van Casselle.

The Resident Theatre Company's new home at The Armory Theatre on High Street won't be ready until 2016, but the organization is already delighting audiences this year with its Broadway in the Borough series and a lineup of special events. Founding artistic director Kristin McLaughlin Mitchell talked to West Chester & Chadds Ford Life about bringing professionals from New York City and Philadelphia to West Chester audiences and the busy year ahead...

By Steven Hoffman
Staff Writer

After more than two decades of professional theatre experience, including a Broadway background as an actress and director, Kristin McLaughlin Mitchell knows to expect the unexpected.

So when the Resident Theatre Company launched Broadway in the Borough earlier this year to bring a cabaret with professional singers to West Chester once a month, Mitchell expected only small crowds in the beginning. After all, the main purpose of Broadway in the Borough was simply to build the Resident Theatre Company’s audience until the renovation project on its new home is complete in 2016.

The first Broadway in the Borough in June was an instant smash with audiences, selling out and earning rave reviews. Tickets went on sale for the next show in July, and that was a quick sell-out, too. The Resident Theatre Company’s shows were suddenly the hottest ticket in town.

“We were really excited to find out just how much West Chester wants to see professional theatre,” explained Mitchell, the founding artistic director of the Resident Theatre Company. “It’s been unbelievable. Everybody is so enthusiastic about theater and the theatre company.”

During an interview in September, Mitchell talked about the schedule of events that the Resident Theatre Company has planned for this fall. The lineup includes more Broadway in the Borough shows, a Mischief Night Party, as well as a a murder mystery, “And Then There Was One,” at the gorgeous Greystone Hall.

“We’re really excited that they agreed to partner with us on that,” Mitchell explained. “We are having a lot of fun coming up with new events.”

When the holidays approach, Christmas shows are planned for Dec. 5 and 6. It's a full schedule for a new company to take on, but the artistic director's enthusiasm for each show is evident.

Mitchell’s arrival in West Chester more than two years ago was almost perfect timing, as if she were destined to be the person who would have the duty—and the opportunity—to bring professional theatre to West Chester.

Mitchell was almost immediately enlisted to serve on the Uptown Entertainment Alliance’s programming committee. The group was making progress toward bringing a theatre to West Chester, a prospect that thrilled Mitchell.

Before long, the leaders of the Uptown Entertainment Alliance were asking Mitchell to help create the Resident Theatre Company that would stage performances in The Armory Theatre. She agreed, knowing that her background and professional experiences would serve her well as she worked to bring professional actors and designers from New York City and Philadelphia to produce full seasons of musicals and plays in downtown West Chester.

Before a full season with larger productions, Mitchell wanted to start to build a following for the Resident Theatre Company, so she developed the popular Broadway in the Borough series. The performers who were featured in the first few Broadway in the Borough shows are indicative of the kind of talent that Mitchell wants to bring to West Chester on a regular basis. Jenny Lee Stern, from Broadway’s “Rocky” and “A Christmas Story,” and Janine Merolla, Luke Brahdt, and Rajeer Alford from the Philadelphia theater scene delighted the West Chester audiences during these shows.

Performers then started rehearsals for the upcoming Mischief Night live show at the Boxcar Brewpub on Oct. 30, so the Broadway in the Borough shows were put on hiatus until later in the fall. The Mischief Night show features Maria Eberline, an accomplished New York City actress who has been seen as Elphaba on the national tour of “Wicked,” and Mark Woodard, who played the Major General in “Pirates of Penzance” and Stewpot in “South Pacific.”

Mitchell has spent most of her adult life working with top musical theatre professionals. She earned a degree in musical theatre from Emerson College, and studied conservation biology with a fellowship at Columbia University’s CREC graduate school.

During her time as an actress, she performed in shows in 20 different countries around the world. Some of her favorite roles include Shelia in “A Chorus Line,” Lola in “Damn Yankees,” Cathy in “The Last 5 Years.” She played Leila in “Sessions,” Laurette in “What Makes Sammy Run,” and over 25 characters in “The World According to Ruth Wallis.”

Mitchell has worked with many inspiring actors, including Justin Bartha, Tony Shalhoub, Anthony LaPaglia, Paul Rudd, Spiro Malas, Jan Maxwell and Nicole Kidman.

When she transitioned into directing, she had many more great experiences. Mitchell was an assistant director of the Broadway revival of “Lend Me a Tenor,” a Tony-nominated play that was directed by Stanley Tucci and earned much critical acclaim. She also directed “The Incredibly Deaf Musical” at The Duke Theatre in New York as part of NYMTF, Ave. Q at The Geva Theatre, “Spamalot” and “Next to Normal” at The Cape Rep Theatre, “Lydia” for the world premiere in New York City, and “The Last 5 Years” for The Heritage Theatre Company. Mitchell’s resume also includes serving as an assistant director on dozens of productions, including the European tour of “A Chorus Line” and “The Music Man” national tour, where she worked with such directors as Chet Walker, Troy Garza and Phil Soltanoff.

According to Mitchell, there is excitement building as the renovations to the future home in the historic Armory Building on High Street continue. The Uptown! Entertainment Alliance’s renovation project on the building will result in a sparkling new 350-seat theater that could be ready to open as early as the fall of 2016.

Everyone involved with the project wants the Resident Theatre Company to be a part of the West Chester cultural community, and Mitchell wants everyone to feel like they are a part of what's taking place with the Resident Theatre Company. The popularity of the Broadway in the Borough shows suggests that the fun is only beginning for the West Chester audiences and for the actors and directors involved with the Resident Theatre Company.

“I’m really excited to bring professional theatre to West Chester,” Mitchell explained.

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email [email protected]