Fort Lauderdale playwright Tony Finstrom’s eyes light up when he talks about Jan McArt.
But, Finstrom, is not easily star struck. Early in his career he worked for After Dark magazine and at the Circle Repertory Theatre Company in New York City and Long Island’s Bay Street Theatre.
“I was surrounded by everyone from Julie Andrews to Julie Wilson, but I’ve never met anyone as genuinely glamorous as Jan McArt,” he said.
Known as the “First Lady of Florida Theater,” the Carbonell Award-winning McArt ran several popular theaters in South Florida, including the popular Royal Palm Dinner Theatre in Boca Raton. She often took to the stage in many of the shows she produced.
More recently, McArt has produced a popular series of new play readings at Lynn University’s Wold Performing Arts Center.
On Monday, McArt’s own story will be presented in a staged reading of a new musical written by Finstrom, Glamour Girl! The Jan McArt Story.
Finstrom began the task of tracing McArt’s distinguished career last summer after Wayne Rudisell, resident director of the series, asked Finstrom to contribute a new play for the 2014 series.
“I suggested a play about the life of Jan. I knew her as a producer and a star of the regional theater stage, but little else about her. Well, the play soon turned into a musical, as I quickly learned you can't write about Jan without including a lot of music,” recalled Finstrom.
The playwright conducted a series of interview with McArt and soon learned about her colorful career.
“Jan is a pretty private person….she was a very good sport about being open with me regarding her early life,” Finstrom said. “I was amazed at what a big career she had in New York, San Francisco, L.A., and literally all around the world— England, Germany, Japan—first in musical theatre, then in opera, then in cabaret, then back to musical theatre, then....fate led her to Florida.”
While many of the new works in the Lynn series are simple readings, Glamour Girl! is going to receive a nearly staged performance, including stage direction by Rudisell and choreography by Shari Upbin. Jon Randy is providing musical direction and wardrobe supervision is from Peter Lovello.
Finstrom explained, “It's really more than just a reading. It's a fully stage reading, which is to say we have bits and pieces of costumes and scenery and lighting. But the actors do carry their scripts. And this program was designed to help Florida playwrights develop new works, so that's why we rehearse for six days, allowing for many rewrites over the course of that time.”
The cast includes McArt, portraying her contemporary self, along with Amy Miller Brennan as the young Jan, Dan Kelley, Michael McKeever, Angie Radosh and Shane R. Turner.
Finstrom is excited about the all-star cast, including several regional Carbonell Award winners, but is also confident the audience will enjoy the experience (and learn a little bit about McArt, too).
“I suspect most people don’t know anything about her life, prior to her arrival in South Florida,” he said, a twinkle in his eye. “Jan has a wonderful story.”
The Jan McArt New Play Reading Series continues at the Wold Performing Arts Center with Desperation, a new comedy by Marj O’Neill-Butler on Feb. 3; Shooting Star: The Musical, with music and lyrics by Mildred Kayden and book by Ed Bullins on March 10; and an as yet unnamed new play about parenthood by Chris Demos-Brown on April 28.
If You Go
Glamour Girl! The Jan McArt Story
By Tony Finstrom
Monday, Jan. 13, 7:30 p.m.
Wold Performing Arts Center, Lynn University, Boca Raton
Tickets $10 at Events.Lynn.edu