Past and present meet during special 150th-anniversary shows at the Dalton Little Theatre

Todd Callaway, who will portray Dalton poet Robert Loveman during this weekend's shows, practices a reading on Tuesday at the Dalton Little Theatre. 

DALTON, Ga. — The Dalton Little Theatre will celebrate its 150th anniversary this weekend in grand fashion, with a recounting of the theater’s history, performances of pieces from past shows, and a staged reading of “The Green Mountain Boy,” the DLT’s first documented production.

The reading of “The Green Mountain Boy” will be the second act Friday and Saturday, said Jennifer Jones, who is directing these performances. The first act will consist of numerous DLT veterans — including William Brooks, Todd Callaway, Jim Kirk, Dot McCrory, Lori McDaniel, Randel Ovbey, Joey Parrott and Susan Ridley — performing pieces of prior DLT shows, from Shakespearean monologues to songs from musicals.

“The Green Mountain Boy” was performed on Oct. 4, 1869, by the Dalton Amateurs, the theater group that would eventually come to be known as the Dalton Little Theatre, Jones said. The play, which premiered in New York City in 1833, is full of humor and memorable characters, a blend of Shakespeare and American farce. 

“It’s hysterical,” said Parrott, who plays Squire Tomkins in the show. “It all falls together in the end.”

In the first half of the 150th-anniversary show, Parrott will sing “Try to Remember” from “The Fantasticks.” Parrott portrayed Mortimer in DLT’s 1975 production of “The Fantasticks,” then played El Gallo in DLT’s 1985 staging.

That 1975 show was his first for DLT, and he’s remained tethered to this stage ever since, he said. “This is like my second home.”

Some of his favorite shows include “Irma la Douce,” “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” which was “crazy,” “City of Angels,” which he “loved,” and “My Fair Lady,” which he directed in 2000, but “Sordid Lives” was “one of the best shows we’ve ever done,” he said. “We sold out every night.”

In addition to the pieces he’s involved with this weekend, Parrott is looking forward to listening to McDaniel sing “I Just Want to Be a Star,” from “Nunsense,” which DLT produced in 1993, and “Crazy,” from “Always ... Patsy Cline,” a 2002 DLT production, he said. “I love ‘Nunsense,’ and everybody loves ‘Always ... Patsy Cline.’” 

He’s also impressed by the slide show of historical pictures Jeff Adair has compiled, he said. In fact, viewing those photos earlier this week with fellow DLT stalwarts was a a stroll down memory lane.

Indeed, “as the slides were going, people were remembering,” said Adair, who has been involved with DLT since doing his first show in 1985 and has twice served as president of the board, a role now filled by Parrott. “It’s like a family reunion.” 

The historical slideshow was a tag-team effort by Adair and Jones, said the former. The latter did the historical research and wrote the narrative, while Adair compiled the visuals and will serve as master of ceremonies Friday and Saturday.

While the name has evolved over 150 years, the spirit of the DLT has remained consistent, Adair said. “What gives the shows here a special vibe is the intimacy.”

Seating is capped at roughly 90, so audience members feel up close and personal with actors on stage, he said. And many directors have leaned into that, including Adair.

When he directed “The Rocky Horror Show” in 2003, he encouraged audience participation — including dressing in costume — for a midnight production, he recalled. “When the lights came on for that, I remember thinking, ‘This is community theater.’” 

Perhaps his favorite photo in the slideshow is one Jones unearthed of the Dalton Amateurs from the 1890s.

“Finding that picture was pretty cool,” Jones said. “We didn’t have anything like that.” 

She’s also excited George Davies and Steve Farrow, who were members of the DLT’s 100th anniversary show, “Peck’s Bad Boy,” in 1969, will be back on stage performing a scene — along with Ron King — from that play this weekend. Furthermore, Callaway will perform a Robert Loveman monologue.

Loveman, a poet who spent much of his life in Dalton, wrote “Rain Song,” also known as “April Rain,” which was anthologized in numerous books, and Al Jolson used the words in his song, “April Showers.” Loveman’s song “Georgia,” with music by Lollie Belle Wylie, was the state’s official song until being replaced in 1979 by “Georgia on My Mind.” 

Friday’s and Saturday’s shows both start at 7 p.m., with doors opening at 6:30, and while the performances are free, reservations are encouraged. Reservations can be made online at daltonlittletheatre.com, by calling (706) 226-6618 or emailing dlt@optilink.us.

Jones has a special place in her heart for the DLT, so compiling its history and organizing this special anniversary show has been a labor of love. 

A one-act play she wrote, “The White Rose,” had its premiere on the DLT stage during a one-act festival, and she’s only one of myriad writers and artists who have been given “a chance to present their work here and develop” over the decades, she said. “I love Dalton Little Theatre because it reaches out to the community and tries to bring the community in.” 

Adair moved to Dalton at age 19, following his freshman year of college, and he’d been involved with theater throughout high school and his first year of college, so joining DLT seemed like a natural choice — and one he remains glad he made all those years ago. 

“Outside of my job, most of my friends and relationships started with people I met through Dalton Little Theatre,” he said. “I still maintain those friendships 35 years later.”

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