The Drunkard returns to Golden Chain

Mrs. Gates (Terry Anderson) passes on some words of wisdom to the newlyweds, Edward and Mary (Cristien Dunkle and Katherine Morphew) in a scene from The Drunkard opening Friday night at the Golden Chain Theatre.
Mrs. Gates (Terry Anderson) passes on some words of wisdom to the newlyweds, Edward and Mary (Cristien Dunkle and Katherine Morphew) in a scene from The Drunkard opening Friday night at the Golden Chain Theatre. Special to Sierra Star

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Oakhurst’s beloved Golden Chain Theatre - and what better way to honor the GCT milestone than to bring back the classic melodrama that started it all in June of 1968 - The Drunkard.

Some of the cast members in 1968 were Muriel Carlson, Vivian Sherrell, Glenn Baker, Mitchel Neufeld, Doris Welton, Hugh Delany and Jack Sherrell.

When the Golden Chain’s Artistic Director Jennifer Janine started brainstorming shows for the 2017 season, she knew she wanted to bring The Drunkard back - with a little twist.

The original temperance-based melodrama, written by W.H. Smith, had its grand opening at P.T. Barnum’s mini ‘world’s fair’ in New York in 1844. Barnum, of Barnum and Bailey Circus fame, produced the show that first appeared as “a moral domestic drama of American life in five acts.”

“The show had all the elements of classic melodrama, with characters and sensibilities that Victorian audiences had come to expect back then,” Janine explained. “This beginning of how The Drunkard came to being has inspired us to create a circus-like atmosphere, with broad vaudevillian humor for our own melodrama presentation. From the time you get out of your car, you will be entertained with a colorful array of characters and barkers, similar to a sideshow midway of circuses in the 1800s.”

James Mierkey, with impressive GCT credits (Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspell, The Music Man), will transform into a ringmaster for the evening as none other than P.T. Barnum, a role he is more than comfortable with. The first GCT show Mierkey was part of was I Can’t Believe it Didn’t Win a Tony, and one of the roles he played in the musical review was Barnum singing There is a Sucker Born Every Minute.

“It’s a very fond memory for me, not only because it was such a fun, over the top role, but also because it was my introduction to the GCT family,” Mierkey said. “Here I am five years later and it’s because of this ‘family’ that I dedicate so much of myself to the GCT. I can’t wait to step out into the lights again portraying such a huge historical figure who helped shape entertainment well over 100 years ago. The Drunkard is going to be an absolute spectacle from the moment you walk in the doors.”

Director Cynthia McFann

Cynthia McFann, who had minor roles in The Music Man and Little Women this past year, is the show’s director. A seasoned director of plays and musicals for many decades, this is her first time directing a show for GCT.

“Cynthia brings an energized, new vision for a colorful and enjoyable performance of this Victorian drama,” Janine said.

“P.T. Barnum was an energetic temperance lecturer and presented the first production of The Drunkard with all the pomp and circus flair for which he is known,” McFann said. Much of the play has been re-written, trimmed down, but in spite of all the alterations, the intention has always been to provide a melodrama with the same flavor and appeal as the original.”

“Our production has a wonderful cast of individuals that bring their hearts and souls to tell this story on the GCT stage that will encourage audiences to laugh, and possibly cry,” McFann said. ““Our production tries to capture the original Victorian flavor in morals and vaudevillian humor along with a modern, stylistic take on an alternate reality known as Steam Punk.”

Erik Sotelo and Robert Britt are splitting stage duties, playing the evil and cold-hearted villain Squire Cribbs, an older gentleman of exquisite taste - or so he thinks. Cribbs spends the majority of his time deceiving the play’s hero, Edward Middleton, played by Cristien Dunkle.

Sotelo, who has been on the GCT stage as Steve, a mechanic in the musical SHAKE - a middle-aged man in Mail Order Bride, and in Picnic with the Princesses as his favorite villain of all time, Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.

“To play a character in a show that took the town by storm 50 years ago is an honor and a privilege ... I am more than excited for everyone to see this show,” Sotelo said. “if you’re looking for a good time and want to enjoy great music with awesome dance numbers and an over the top theatrical show, you don’t want to miss The Drunkard.”

Lyric Gianna has been working as costume designer for the show for weeks, first sketching and then creating each whimsical Victorian costume. The end result fulfills the director’s vision of a true Victorian melodrama that has had a bit of a Tim Burtonesque overhaul.

Teena Hagerman is the coach and instructor of the GCT’s Dance Fusion group who will be featured in the show.

“The dance troupe will bring sound and movement to delight circus attendees of all ages,” Janine said. “And audiences will still have a chance to get in all the “boos” for the villain and “cheers” for the hero and the heroine

Donna Cavaretto will be at the piano during the show.

“As always, free popcorn will be on hand for the melodrama and don’t bother bringing your seat cushion - the GCT has recently purchased new chairs thanks to the Oakhurst Sunrise Rotary Club,” Janine said.

Details: The Drunkard, Rated G. Golden Chain Theatre, 42130 Highway 41, Oakhurst. Friday and Saturday 7 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m., June 2 - 18. general admission, $15 - seniors, $12 - active military and students, $10. www.goldenchaintheatre.org - (559) 683-7112.