Sunday, January 23, 2000

Gardner local theater legend


Avant-garde works were landmarks at CCM, Playhouse

BY JACKIE DEMALINE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The producer of Rent, the composer of Ragtime and a sitcom star are among his former students.

        He co-founded Hot Summer Nights, envisioning it in part as a workshop for new authors and work.

        His six-year stint as Playhouse in the Park artistic director was marked by landmark musical theater, a steady decline in subscribers, a hefty deficit and a resignation.

        Worth Gardner is the closest thing to a legend Cincinnati theater has seen in contemporary times.

       

       

        He joined the faculty of College-Conservatory of Music at 23, barely more than a student himself, and proceeded to set the town on its ear with shows including a punk Mikado and a dizzying Wizard of Oz.

        “His years at CCM were landmark, a vanguard of experimentation,” says Scot Woolley, CCM grad and longtime Gardner collaborator. Last year he was musical director for a production of Tommy that toured the Northeast. He will also be music director of Pirates of Penzance at Downtown Theatre Classics.

        Mr. Gardner's always original vision, Mr. Woolley judges, “mani fested itself popularly in musicals.”

        His 12 years at CCM (1973-85) delivered a lot of big names to the national theater scene, including Kevin McCollum, producer of Rent; Stephen Flaherty, composer of Ragtime and the upcoming Suessical; and actress Vicki Lewis.

        “He turned children into men and women with points of view and a sense of style,” Mr. Woolley says.

        Mr. Gardner was tapped as artistic director of Playhouse in the Park in 1985 and stayed for six rambunctious seasons before resigning and moving to New York.

        His freelance projects include a re-mounting of The Wizard of Oz for Mr. McCollum. The Broadway hopeful didn't make it to New York.

       



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- Gardner local theater legend
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