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Three Wishes for Davey

High hopes and warm wishes for the new Belding Theatre at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford and for the center's new executive director.

By New York City

The Belding Theatre
The Belding Theatre
The Roman Catholic religion has a nice tradition: When you visit a new church for the first time, you get to make three wishes. I apply that to new theaters, too...and I certainly made three wishes when, on my drive back from Boston to New York, I caught a performance of Hartford Stage's A Christmas Carol that the Tony-winning company brought to the brand-spanking new Belding Theatre in Hartford, CT. Some people love that "new car" smell, but I much prefer that "new theater" aroma.

Wish #1: I hope that Hartford audiences appreciate what they have here and support it. It's the "second stage" for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, a 2,800-seat house that began life almost 72 years ago and recently installed David R. Fay as its new executive director and CEO. Back in the day, it had more than 3,000 seats, and played host to the various Broadway touring companies that stopped by between stints in New Haven and Boston. Of course, seeing shows like The Man Who Came to Dinner and Our Town in such a vast space must have made balcony dwellers feel as if they were watching trained fleas. But that won't be the fate for Hartford now that they have a handsome, Broadway-style, 907-seat proscenium house that's officially named The Maxwell M. and Ruth R. Belding Theatre after a couple of local real-estate magnates.

David R. Fay
David R. Fay
Wish #2: I hope that David R. Fay stays with the Bushnell for quite some time. It took the Bushnell over a year to find him, but I suspect that he was well worth the wait. "Actually," he says, "a friend who interviewed for the job felt that he wouldn't get it but saw from the job qualifications that it seemed to fit my resume." Indeed, given that the theater wants to go from being a quiet presenter to an aggressive promoter, Fay seems to be their guy. He had been president of the Canadian producing division of SFX Theatrical Group and executive director of the Pantages Theatre in Toronto after spending 15 years as president and CEO of the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. He brought to Chicago productions of Jekyll & Hyde, Death of a Salesman, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and Three Tall Women, not to mention a worthy new musical called Theda Bara and the Frontier Rabbi that has a fabulous score and deserved a cast album.

"I also did five years at Joliet," he says with a mournful look, before he smiles at his joke and clarifies that he wasn't an inmate at the famous correctional facility but executive director of the 1,900-seat Will County Exposition and Auditorium Authority. Fay's a nifty, good-natured guy who looks a bit like Shaw and is just as funny. ("One of the best things about coming to Hartford is that I could go to New York without going through LaGuardia," he quips.) He also has a smashing wife named Susan, whom he met while they both were doing a production of Fiddler on the Roof more than a quarter-century ago. So, when they recently saw a tour of the show and heard Tevye and Golde admit that they loved each other--and that, "after 25 years, it's nice to know"--it was nice for the Fays to know they felt the same way after the same time-span.

The Belding auditorium
The Belding auditorium
Wish #3: I hope I can return to the Belding to see something other than A Christmas Carol. Not that Hartford Stage didn't do a good job, but I have now seen 21--count 'em, 21!--different versions of the Dickens classic, including a stage musical of the Scrooge film and yet another musical called Ebenezer. Maybe I'll return to the Belding for Forbidden Broadway (January 11-12), Our Sinatra (March 28), Sing-a-Long Sound of Music (April 2-7), Stones in His Pockets (May 7-19), or I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change (June 18-23). Better still, Fay is planning to produce some original shows, including Ellis Island: The Dream of America with music by the up-and-coming composer Peter Boyer. He's also in discussions with a Tony-winning lyricist on a new project. So, who knows? The Belding may just wind up rich and Fay-mous.

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@aol.com]


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