Pictured Above: Louis Palena, Ginny Brennan, Jordan Brennan.  Photo Credit: Contributed.

Music to Her Ears at Music Mountain Theatre

By Anthony Stoeckert

In a feature story with writer Anthony Stoeckert, Ginny Brennen shares the personal joy of founding and growing a beloved local musical theatre.

Earlier this year, Ginny Brennan was sitting toward the back of Music Mountain Theatre, the venue she co-founded and where she is the producing director, watching the company’s production of Fun Home, the 2015 Tony-winning musical based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir. The story follows Bechdel’s realization that she is a lesbian and explores the life of her father, who was closeted.

“It’s a remarkable show, and I sat in the back, and I’m tearing up because of the subject matter, but I’m also overwhelmed that this place that we created has the talent that I saw on that stage,” Brennan says. “And I see it all the time. It really got to me. So I’m still in awe.”

It was a well-deserved moment for Brennan, who, along with her son, Jordan Brennan and Jordan’s husband, Louis Palena, established Music Mountain Theatre in Lambertville, NJ, in 2017 (Jordan Brennan and Palena are the theater’s co-artistic directors). Since then, the company has presented shows (mostly musicals, the first word in its name is “music” after all) year-round, as well as children’s performances and educational programs.

“There are still times when the three of us walk into that theater and go, ‘Wow, look what we have here,’” Brennan says.

Pictured Above:  House view of the stage at Music Mountain Theatre. Photo Credit: Contributed.

What they have is a theater that stages quality and entertaining productions at an affordable price, and which provides actors, singers, and dancers a place to share their talents. The word is out, and not only in Lambertville and nearby towns in Jersey and Pennsylvania. Music Mountain’s staff and performers have been part of the area’s performing arts scene for quite a while. Prior to opening Music Mountain, Ginny, Jordan, and Louis led summer seasons at the Open-Air Theatre at Washington Crossing State Park, and before that, at area high schools. Many of the Music Mountain’s regulars appeared on stage at the Bucks County Playhouse under its prior management. All of that has helped Music Mountain build an audience.

“Going from the park, we already had some people who followed us, and now people are coming down from North Jersey and from Pennsylvania and South Jersey because they’re finding out they can see a quality performance for 30 bucks,” Brennan says. “It’s working.”

A typical season at Music Mountain Theatre features a mix of classic musicals, new shows, plays, and holiday-themed presentations. Currently, the theater is following up Fun Home with Hello, Dolly!, the beloved 1964 musical, based on Thornton Wilder’s play, The MatchmakerHello, Dolly! originally opened on Broadway in 1964 and ran until 1970.  It tells the story of Dolly Gallagher, a widow who works various jobs, including as a matchmaker, and is determined to find a wife for the wealthy Horace Vandergelder. The movie version was released in 1969, stars Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau, and will be familiar to anyone who has seen WALL-E.

Pictured Above:  A production photo from Hello, Dolly! starring Anna Hentz as Dolly Gallagher Levi at Music Mountain Theatre. Photo Credit: John Posada.

“We have seniors and families coming, so that’s what Hello, Dolly! does,” Brennan says. “Not to mention that it’s a classic and we have the performers who can do a beautiful job with it.”

 

Hello, Dolly! runs until April 7. On April 12, the curtain will rise on Music Mountain Theatre’s production of Murder on the Orient Express, an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit, adapted by Ken Ludwig. Murder on the Orient Express is probably the most famous of Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels, and finds the legendary Belgian detective investigating the murder of the much-despised Mr. Ratchett as the title train is stopped because of snow.

“It’s a story that people know and they’re excited about seeing it on stage,” Brennan says. “We do between 15 and 16 shows a year, and we really try to vary them to the different audiences that we cater to.”

The variety offered by Music Mountain also creates an array of opportunities for performers.

“The same performers who are dancing in Dolly, won’t be in Murder on the Orient Express, but they’ll be back for Anything Goes,” Brennan says. “It gives everybody an opportunity to perform in something that they are comfortable doing.”

To find its performers, Music Mountain Theatre hosts three auditions a year, usually for a series of five shows.

“That’s been a lot of fun,” Brennan says. “And we’re starting to get some parents whose children are in our children’s theater program and are like ‘You know, I’d love to get back into this.’”

Pictured Above:  A Children’s Theatre production at Music Mountain Theatre. Photo Credit: Arts News Now

Music Mountain’s schedule is also accommodating to those people, since rehearsals are held nights and weekends, with performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“We find more people from different walks of life, and that is so much fun,” Brennan says.

The theater’s season will continue with Tuck Everlasting, May 3-19, Sweet Charity, May 24-June 9, Avenue Q, June 14-30, Anything Goes, July 5-21, The King and I, July 26-Aug. 18, The Scarlet Pimpernel, August 23-Sept. 8, Beauty and the Beast, Sept 13-Oct. 6, a to-be-announced mystery, Oct. 11-27, White Christmas, Nov. 1-17, A Christmas Carol, Nov. 22-Dec. 15, and a holiday concert, Dec. 20-22.

Nearly seven years after its opening, Brennan says that she often hears people leaving Music Mountain Theatre after a show, talking about how they had heard about it, even drove by it several times, but had no idea of the quality of its shows.

“It’s been wonderful to hear all that,” she says, “because we’ve worked really hard to get where we are today.”

Music Mountain Theatre is located at 1483 NJ-179, Lambertville, NJ 08530. For tickets and information, go to www.musicmountaintheatre.org or call 609-397-3337.

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