by Mark G. Auerbach
Spotlight: Michael Wartella
When you’re heading down to Goodspeed to catch the new musical Chasing Rainbows: The Road To Oz, make note of the young actor playing Mickey Rooney to Ruby Rakos as Judy Garland. He’s Berkshires native Michael Wartella.
Son of Kathy Jo Grover, choreographer at The Berkshire Theatre Group, and stepson of famed musician David Grover of the acclaimed PBS series Grover’s Corner; Wartella got his early arts experiences on the stages of the Berkshires.
“I grew up sort of all over Berkshire County”, said Wartella. “ I was raised from an early age in Pittsfield in the company housing of what was once the Berkshire Public Theater, now home of Barrington Stage, by my parents who were both company members. I moved around a lot, and went to school in Lanesboro, Williamstown, and eventually Great Barrington. I attended Mt. Greylock Regional High School until the end of my sophomore year and then I transferred to Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington”.
“I had my first job as Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol at the Berkshire Public theater, alongside my dad, Glenn Barrett, who played Scrooge and my mom, Kathy Jo Grover, who played the ghost of Christmas past” recalls Wartella.. “ It was my “big break” Growing up in the Berkshires really shaped my young theatrical upbringing. I was spoiled in that there are so many reputable companies that surround you living in the Berkshires, and I was lucky to be able to work with a lot of them. Shakespeare and Company would come into the schools with their Fall Festival so I did many productions with them through that growing up. I also worked with Barrington Stage in their youth theater program doing many shows. As well as some of the smaller companies like Mixed Company and Thespis Theater company. It was a great way to grown up”.
Wartella is familiar with those who walk the Yellow Brick Road. He played Mickey Rooney in earlier workshops of Chasing Rainbows, a musical that tells the life of Judy Garland before she makes it in The Wizard of Oz. Wartella played Boq in the 10th Anniversary Broadway production of Wicked.
“I love Chasing Rainbows and I adore this role. I’ve always felt a kinship with Mickey Rooney and still feel like he and I are incredibly similar in our upbringings and artistic sensibility. I have done a lot of research. It is an honor to portray him on stage and that means that I take very seriously that fact that I need to capture as much of his true personality as possible – to strive for authenticity. That said what’s great about this production is that we are not necessarily doing “impressions” of these people, but rather capturing there genuine “off camera” truth. It’s been a joy and a challenge”.
Wartella’s credits include the Off-Broadway productions of Rent, The Kid, and regional productions of Seussical, Oliver Twist, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He was part of the cast of Tuck Everlasting, when it tried out in Atlanta. He moved with the production to Broadway last spring.
Travis Daly, Associate Artist of Education at Berkshire Theatre Group, has rave reviews for Wartella. “I have never directed Mike in a play, but he did play drums for me on a production of Annie in 2010. I have known him for years though! Personally, I think Mike is a role model for our entire community. His talent, hard work and passion inspire all of us.”
Berkshire Theatre Group and WAM Present American Premiere of The Bakelight Masterpiece
Berkshire Theatre Group and WAM Theatre present the American Premiere of The Bakelite Masterpiece, by Canadian playwright Kate Cayley and directed by WAM Artistic Director Kristen van Ginhoven. The play stars two well known Berkshire Theatre Group artists, David Adkins and Corinna May. The Bakelite Masterpiece runs at the Berkshire Theatre Group’s Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge, MA, through October 23.
It’s the end of World War II, and Holland is in chaos. The artist Van Meegeren is arrested. His crime? Selling a long-lost painting by the Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer to the Nazi Leader, Hermann Goering. His defense? It was a perfect forgery painted by him. His proof? In front of his prosecutor Geert Piller, art historian and resistance fighter, he must paint another flawless Vermeer to save his life. The Bakelite Masterpiece is a play that debates beauty, faith, memory and the reconstruction of a country.
“As the daughter of Dutch parents who lived through WWII, I feel compelled to tell this story,” said Kristen van Ginhoven. “The play came to me via a close colleague in Canada who acted in the original production and I immediately envisioned it at The Unicorn Theatre”.
Keep in Mind…
King Lear, Shakespeare’s classic, opens the Connecticut Repertory Connecticut Repertory Theatre season, with performances through October 16 in Storrs, CT. A.J. Rose directs, and Graeme Malcom stars in the title role. He’s been seen on Broadway in Equus, Translations, and The King and I. For details: 860-486-2113 or crt.uconn.edu
Contra-Tiempo dishes up its dazzling, original dance Agua Furiosa on October 6, at the UMASS Fine Arts Center Concert Hall in Amherst. It’s inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Oya, the Afro-Cuban god of wind and storms. For details: 413-545-2511, 800-999-UMAS, or www.fineartscenter.com.
The 42nd Annual Multiband Pops Concert is one of the best UMass Music events of the year. The Minuteman Marching Band and other wind, brass, orchestral, jazz, and percussion and dance groups take the Fine Arts Center stage on September 30. For details: 413-545-2511, 800-999-UMAS, or www.fineartscenter.com.
Love Letters, A.R. Gurney’s story of a 50-year old correspondence between two childhood friends whose relationship weathers time and distance. Julianne Boyd stages the hit with Debra Jo Rupp and Mark H. Dold co-starring, through October 2 at Pittsfield’s Barrington Stage. For details: 413-236-8888 or www.barringtonstageco.org.
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio.