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Theater Guild ready to light up the stage in fourth year

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

HAMPDEN Western Massachusetts is full of talented people, but those people don't always have the resources or outlets to let their talents shine. The people of Hampden, for example, had been after Mark Giza for a while to start up a theater company and finally, one morning after he woke up, he decided to do it.

That morning revelation came to Giza, a film critic for Channel 3 and a director with 20 years of experience (among other things), four years ago. The Theater Guild of Hampden's first production was a youth version of the classic musical "Guys and Dolls." The guild puts on a youth performance every year.

The adult half of the guild alternates between plays and musicals. In that first year, the older troupe acted out Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" and followed that up with performances of "The Full Monty" and "Brighton Beach Memoirs."

Giza is especially excited about this year's theatrical offerings, however. The children of the guild will be putting on a youth version of "Damn Yankees," a modern retelling of the Faust legend set during the 1950s in Washington, D.C., during a time when the New York Yankees dominated baseball.

"It's special for me because my son is playing Applegate [one of the lead roles]," Giza said. However, the adult performance may be even more special than that because the Theater Guild of Hampden will be the first non-equity company in the area to be offering performances of the Mel Brooks' hit, "The Producers."

"That is the biggest thrill for me," Giza stated. "It's an amazing show."

"The Producers" is a comedic musical adapted from Brooks' 1968 film of the same name. As in the film, the story concerns two theatrical producers who scheme to get rich by overselling interests in a Broadway flop. Complications arise when the show unexpectedly turns out to be a success. The musical gained a lot of interest recently when Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane brought their stage version to the screen for an updated remake of the original.

"We're seeking out a 6'2" blonde bombshell who can sing and dance. If you know one, call me," Giza said. That woman would be playing the female lead in "The Producers," the Swedish temptress Ulla.

Auditions for "The Producers" will be taking place on Nov. 16 and 17, with performances scheduled for March and April 2009 at the Hampden Country Club. The youth production of "Damn Yankees" will be taking place Sept. 26 through 28 and Oct. 3 through 5 at the Town Hall. Call Deb Reardon at 566-2427 for tickets.

"These kids and adults are so talented," Giza commented.

In addition to the upcoming auditions and performances, the theater guild will be hosting a "Light Up for the Theater Guild of Hampden" benefit at the Hampden Country Club on Nov. 1. Funds raised will go toward the purchase of stage lighting for the guild.

The Theater Guild of Hampden is open to everyone. Giza said anyone who is interested in being a part of a production can audition, regardless of past experience. "You can sing, or dance, or act or help out backstage," the director said. "There's something for everyone."

To learn more about the guild, the upcoming fundraiser or auditions, contact Giza at 543-4203.