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Footlight Players at home in Tri-Boro towns

The troupe's first show was a performance of 'Tovarich' in 1939

Courtesy of the Burlington County Footlight Players
The Footlight Players performed “Annie” in December. The Cinnaminson troupe will stage “The Producers” beginning later this month.

Like medieval troubadours traveling from town to town, the Footlight Players of Palmyra and Riverton put on shows wherever they could for 45 years – Palmyra High School, Riverton Elementary School, a barn in Delran and a theater on Main Street in Moorestown.

Founded in 1938 by Ruth Strahan, the troupe’s first show was “Tovarich” in 1939, the same year that World War II began with the invasion of Poland. They performed eight more shows until going dark from 1942 to 1946 due to the conflict.

But there was excitement in the air in 1947, as the actors and actresses got ready to present three shows, including “Dear Ruth,” and “Blithe Spirit.” The November production of “Ladies In Retirement” at Riverton School featured Strahan in the leading female role of Lenora Fiske, a retired actress living in the English countryside.

Yet, in the announcement of the upcoming play in the Camden Courier Post – in the venacular of the time – she was referred to as Mrs. Robert Strahan.

“Eileen Bertrand played Ellen and Mrs. William Mathews appeared as Lucy,” the newspaper continued. “Miss Lois Mayes acted the part of Louisa and Miss Virginia Miles portrayed Emily. Mrs. Edwin Moore and Mrs. Robert Brade took care of makeup and costuming, respectively.”

The Footlight Players closed out the 1940s with “Claudia,” “Guest in the House” and “Parlor Story,” and in the 1950s, the troupe changed its name to the Burlington County Footlighters. It continued performing plays each year wherever there was a suitable place, until they got a break in 1983, when Footlighters Ruth Iversen and Sam Fogel noticed the former Eleanor Phillips Elementary School in Cinnaminson was vacant.

Originally opened to educate African American students in the 1890s, the grammer school was eventually converted for use by special needs students, then served as the headquarters for the Cinnaminson board of education until it closed. The troupe was able to lease the building for $1 a year from the board and has performed every show there since.

The Footlighters officially purchased the brick building adjacent to Wood Park on May 9, 2000, and celebrated with a big party.

As the once-traveling troupe of actors and actresses begins its 85th year, it will present “The Producers: A Mel Brooks Musical,” from Friday, Jan. 19, through Saturday, Feb. 3. Directed by the Footlighters’ Liz Baldwin, “this classic mix of show-stopping numbers, quirky characters, and comedic genius promises a night of pure entertainment,” notes the plot on the Footlighters’ website.

“Fading Broadway producer Max Bialystock is desperate to get to the top of his profession again, and he finds an unlikely ally in mousy accountant Leo Bloom, who hypothesizes that one could make far more money with a flop of a show than with a hit,” the website. “Together, the two set out to produce the worst musical ever to hit Broadway, with the worst script, the worst director, and the worst cast they can find. The catch is that they will raise $2 million to finance the show, and they plan to take the money and head to Rio when the show inevitably closes after just one performance. Too bad for Bialystock & Bloom that, against all odds, the show is a total hit!”

The cast for the show is as follows: Al Krier as Bialystock, Matt Backer as Bloom, Mark Rebilas as Franz Liebkind, Tim Herman as Roger de Bris, Nikolas Francesconi as Carmen Ghia, Sarah Blake as Ulla, Michael Aquilino as the Stormtrooper, Yeshua Irizarry as Scott, Zach Martin as Bryan, Jamie Lynne Hill as Shirley, Dan Evans as Mr. Marks, Alex Keith and Gianna Leonen as the Usherettes and Lisa Croce as Hold-Me-Touch-Me.

The ensemble also includes Dwayne Bailey, Andrew Bank, Krissy Gannotta, John-Paul Helk, Lisa Krier, Maria Leonen, Jaden Murray, Kevin Pavon and Ashlan Petrillo.

For information, go to www.bcfootlighters.com.

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