Fort Salem is revived under Jay
Kerr & co.
|Article from The Chronicle -
December 20, 2007 - January 9, 2008
By Cathy DeDe
Chronicle Arts Editor
In my line of work, I meet a lot of people
who talk about what they are going to do – and
sometimes it works that way, but a plenty of
times it doesn’t.
A year ago, when Jay Kerr and his wife Lynne
purchased the struggling Fort Salem Theater
from Quentin Beaver, he had grand ideas for
the building. A New York City impresario and
jack-of-all-theatrical- trades, Mr. Kerr called
himself a collector of antiques, and this slightly
crumbling theater the largest of those. His
promise was to renovate, renovate, renovate,
and to use his New York City connections to
bring a new level of theater to Salem.
This, he has done, in spades – and last
Friday’s grand re-opening of the main
stage was nothing short of a little miracle,
especially for those of us who knew it “when,” as
the saying goes.
My understanding is that Mr. Kerr’s
hearty crew of helpers – paid and volunteer,
together -- were working right up to the moment
the doors actually opened, addressing some
last-minute trouble with a furnace and screwing
in the elegant new real theater seats purloined
from the old Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway
(in New York City) that replaced the former
seating – which was
mostly pews left over from the building’s
former life as a church.
Like the smaller theater space built into
a former cluttered storage room that Mr. Kerr
opened in June for his first cabaret-centric
summer season, the new Fort Salem main stage
boasts rich burgundy walls with elegant gold
trim. Where the cabaret room is something of
an intimate bauble, the main stage, with its
bright white high tin ceiling and wide open
seating space facing a broad expanse of rich
gold velvet curtain, seems infinitely large – and
entirely unrecognizable from its former look,
which I can now barely recall.
But the feeling I got as Mr. Kerr gave a brief
pre-show curtain talk on Friday night was not
that of a community simply here to celebrate
or support a newly renovated theater. They
were here to see a show. Frankly, in recent
years, the turnout wasn’t
so great, I don’t think, for Fort Salem,
and the theater had fallen out of the warp
and weft of regular Salem life.
Mr. Kerr’s winning demeanor seems to
me equal parts gentle and eager, with a large
dose of ready humor evidenced by a wide smile.
He has clearly won himself an active part in
the surprisingly thriving arts scene of little
Salem. His cast of 30ish for the grand opening
show – a new, original musical
based on Charles Dickens’seasonal classic
A Christmas Carol, co-written by himself – easily
blended professional actors from New York and
the greater Capital Region with amateurs from
town. Never mind the theater is renovated – more
to the point: It’s
alive again (not unlike the resuscitated Mr.
Scrooge, I’ll just note
in passing). People have a reason to go there.
This viewer predicts that they will.
Fort Salem’s new ‘Christmas
|Article from The Chronicle -
December 20, 2007 - January 9, 2008
by Cathy DeDe
Ultimately, it’s not for a pretty
new theater that anyone from outside town is
going to travel the windy roads of Washington
County to get to the Fort Salem Theater – it’s
not for a pretty new space that anyone in town
is going to plunk down their money to see a
show, either, for that matter.
Fort Salem Theater’s new owner Jay Kerr
opened the newly renovated main stage on Friday,
Dec. 14, with a new, original musical inspired
by the seasonal classic, Charles Dickens’ A
Christmas Carol. The show continues on Broadway
in Salem through this weekend. The short answer
is, yes, it’s worth the drive.
This Christmas Carol, directed by former Dorset
Theatre Festival artistic director Bill Aupperlee,
is a tight, 75-minute musical that emphasizes
the humor of the piece but finally has a lot
of heart. I’m a sucker for this stuff,
this time of year especially, and found myself
rather moved by the end.
The set-up in this case is a modern family
of meager means, whose mother tells the Dickens
story to remind them of what is good about
the season. One family is transported into
another, and the story unfolds.
Here is the formidable professional actor
and Washington County transplant Gordon Hazzard
as a portly Scrooge who relishes his miserly
ways – even
does a bit of a soft-shoe, most winningly,
to celebrate his bad old self. Mr. Hazzard’s
light-hearted bad spirit is all the more easily
turned to good, as this production has it.
Topical jokes are volleyed sparingly but with
abandon: The modern-day Crachit children spar
over sharing X-boxes and iPods they don’t
even own yet. There are jokes about health
care – even,
in the lyrics to a song about Tiny Tim – and
The Ghost of Christmas Futureis a particular
wise-cracker, once he gets talking.
Here, also, is a large cast of blended amateurs
and professionals whose every member contributes
Mr. Aupperlee knows what he’s doing
when he puts his ensemble of Cratchit family
singers front stage, center, for the opening
number – then follows with a beautifully
choreographed children’s chorus that
again blows the roof off the room.
Even a two-year old on stage, who is mostly
held but has an occasional little bit of business,
has serious stage presence and even some instinct
for the spotlight. She’s
the youngest member of the talented real-life
Gee LaMothe family, relatively recent artist
transplants to Hebron whose members make up
most of the Cratchit family.
Young Brendan Dailey as Tiny Tim has chops
to spare, as does an uncredited young female
singer in the children’s
chorus. Those kids can sing!
Guest Kerri Pedemonti as Belle sings beautifully
alongside homegrown actors such as local doctor
Dan Garfinkel, who’ve learned their craft
in the corps of Peter Carrolan’s
Footlighters community theater in Salem. Seasoned
amateurs like Hubbard Hall’s Ted DeBonis
or Salem Central drama teacher Mary Skelly
add equally to the production.
Simple lighting effects and a few furniture
pieces create the setting against which the
actors tell their story. I especially like
that it’s so consistent, cut from whole
cloth, especially given the range of experience
of company members. To that, credit must be
due especially to the director.
I’d also note that Mr. Kerr and his
collaborator -- Jeremy Blachman of California,
who worked together mostly by phone – have
created a winning book and score. Yes, I was
even humming a tune on the long drive home.
Much of the back-breaking work has been done,
creating this show. My hope is that it becomes
an annual event – it’s
certainly a version of the Dickens I’d
be eager to see back again next year.
Same goes for the back-breaking work of re-opening
Fort Salem. I suppose in that case it just
keeps being hard work to run a theater – but
already, much has been accomplished. As with
Scrooge’s prospects at the end of the
play, the future for Fort Salem looks bright.
Fort Salem Theater: New Owners, New Season
|Article from Main Street -
July 11-25, 2007
by Sharon Tefft Bozovsky
|The Old Greek Revival Church that has served
for so many years as the home of the Fort Salem
Theater will go dark this summer as renovations
by new owners Jay and Lynne Kerr are underway. But
that doesn’t mean nothing is going on. Even
though the main stage is still under construction,
the Kerrs plan a busy summer of one-man shows,
cabarets, and experimental small plays.
November, the Kerrs, who relocated from their
show-biz lives in the Big Apple, were scouting
the area for an “anchor” --something
that would allow them to settle in their part-time
home in Hebron instead of being part-time commuter
residents. A real estate agent, showing
them the property in the area, offered them
an old church cum theater. Not knowing
what the Kerrs did in New York, the agent said, “I
don’t know what you’d do with it.” “Why
produce theater!” Jay exclaimed.
The theater, previously owned by Quetin and
Kathy Beaver, was offered either with or without
all the props, costumes, sets, and so forth,
and the Kerrs opted for the complete package.
those doors open, though and before the curtain
goes up, there are going to be changes. “For one thing, we have
heat now,” Jay said. And he is
also pretty proud of the new seats, which will
replace the old church pews and academy seating. “They’re
sitting on the stage right now,” he explained,
referring to the hundred-plus seats he bought
form the renowned Helen Hayes Theater. Jay
also described renovations on the other parts
of the building that will provide space for
classes in all aspects of stage production,
acting, voice, direction, and more.
Busy as they are, the new owners are full
of enthusiasm and great ideas for their upcoming
tenure in the Old Greek Revival Church.
can’t wait to do a lot things,” Jay
said. “But we’ve been working
with blinders on—just focusing on getting
the cabaret ready. We’re thinking
classic, intimate musicals. One reason
the former owners had a hard time coming up
with the money for upkeep is because they loved
these bright, huge productions, which are costly. We
want to entertain people and be highly professional. We’d
love to do union shows, and to do that you
can’t do bigger shows,” he emphasized.
summer’s performances will take
place in the recently renovated costume area
that has been converted into a cabaret stage—or
as Jay describes it, a “completely gorgeous” intimate
space for entertainment.The main stage, still
in need of quite a bit of work, won’t be ready for productions
until December, when the Kerrs plan to stage
a debut production of a new musical based on
Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas
Fort Salem's big launch, July 6
|Article from The Chronicle -
July 12-18, 2007
by Cathy DeDe
Chronicle Arts Editor
|Jay Kerr, new owner (with his wife,
Lynne) of Fort Salem Theatre in Salem, launched
his opening season with the first in a series
of cabarets planned for this summer before a
full house of invited guests on Friday evening,
Mr. Kerr took the stage first, solo on a stool,
to tell the story, quite engagingly, of how just
about everyone in the room had contributed to
the rejuvenation of the former backstage storage/dressing
room space into a fully functional intimate theater
done up in deep red with rich gold trim.
star Neva Small – self-described
as “Not Quiet an Ingenue” -- was
quite charming as she sang her way through
an evening of songs that told her story of
hits (she was the third daughter in the movie
version of Fiddler on the Roof), and
misses (taking the lead in a musical based
on Member of the Wedding that closed
in six days, rather that a role in Godspell,
which had considerably more staying power).
up: Kerri Lynn Jennings, July 13-15. Details: 854-9200 -- C.
Jay Kerr of Hebron & NYC Takes a Plunge
|Article from The Chronicle -
Dec. 14, 2006
by Cathy DeDe
Chronicle Arts Editor
Showbiz jack-of-all-trades, Jay Kerr, age
60, has purchased the Fort Salem Theater
-- the building, its contents and the business,
kit and caboodle -- from longtime owner
and theater producer Quentin Beaver.
Mr. Beaver started Fort Salem Theater in
the converted Greek revival church on Broadway
in downtown Salem some 35 years ago. His
daughter, Kathy Beaver, took over the operations
five years ago.
"It's the stupidest thing anyone could
do," an effusive Mr. Kerr says, laughing. "All
my friends agree -- and they're very jealous."
Mr. Kerr and his wife, Lynne, divide their
time between their home in Manhattan, where
Mr. Kerr is a vocal instructor, musical theater
writer, freelance music director and producer,
among other gigs, and the farm house in Hebron
that they purchased in 2001.
He tells The Chronicle, "We were going
to buy a store in Vermont for our retirement
program, but that fell through. My realtor
lives in Hebron, where we live, and after
that, he showed me every business for sale
in Washington County. He said, "There's
this one building in Salem, but I don't know
what you'd do with it." I said, "I'll
run a theater!'"
Mr. Beaver was asking $125,000 for the business,
$85,000 empty, Mr. Kerr says. He said he
purchased it for "pretty much" the
asking price, noting also that he was told
Mr. Beaver had received at least one full-price
offer at the $85,000, but held out to find
a buyer for the whole theater and business.
Mr. Kerr said he and his wife were looking
for a way to move to Hebron permanently,
particularly after Mrs. Kerr was struck with
a sudden illness last year, from which she
is still recovering.
"You learn, "Mr. Kerr says, "you
have to do what you want in life, and not
wait, because the right time might not ever
"It's a big gamble," Mr. Kerr says. "Theaters
don't make money! Stores: they make money.
But it's a gorgeous building. We collect
antiques, and now we have a very big one."
Mr. Kerr said he'd never had any experience
with Fort Salem -- except to attend performances
there on occasion.
He said, "I've been telling people,
it's going to be just the same, only different." Both
Quentin and Kathy Beaver have offered their
guidance and advice.
For now, Mr. Kerr is working on clearing
and renovating the building.
"There aren't 35 years of sets in there,
but there are probably 10 years of sets,
and a lot of things we won't likely need." Mr.
Kerr plans to replace the theater's recycled
old classroom/auditorium seats and church
pews and put in new, recycled seats he's
just received that were recently removed
from the storied Helen Hayes Theater on 42nd
Street New York (notable shows there include
Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy in
1982). The seats are stacked on the stage
now: he expects to have a house of 199 seats,
which corresponds to an Equity stage actors'
union tier for salaries and benefits.
"Certainly, we'll do musicals," he
says. "We'll also do some straight
plays, and expand on the teaching [the Beavers]
did. Also, we'll look to import some programs
-- concerts, dance concerts, plays produced
in the city or plays that are looking to
work out before opening in the city. I have
a lot of friends who are just dying to come
up here and help us out."
Mr. Kerr also aims to run the theater year-round.
But first on the agenda is renovating the
place -- and adding a working heating system.
The coming Summer 2007 season will start
small: no full-scale musicals, but rather
a series of cabarets and musical revues,
hopefully featuring guest artists from New
York, among others, in the smaller brick
outbuilding attached to the main theater.
He's planning an opening event in June to
introduce the season.
"We've been very fortunate. People are
so eager to help us," he says. "We've
had all sorts of people from the community
and friends from New York helping us clear
Mr. Kerr says he got his start "holding
cue cards for Captain Kangaroo" in the
early 1960s. He served in the Army, first
at Fort McClellan and then in Vietnam. He
produced shows and original revues both at
Fort McClellan and in Vietnam, where his
musical revues toured the country, entertaining
the troops. ("It's a beautiful country," he
"I'm glad I got a chance to do that,
although, we actually were shot at, as well.
I was lucky.")
Now, he says, "I teach people to sing
for Broadway. I write some...[Recent works
he co-wrote include Pyrates, based
on the true historical story of two women
pirates, and War Bonds, about women
pilots in World War II]...I produce CDs.
Basically, I work in show-business and musical
Current projects include a CD by Neva Small,
the actress who is likely best known for
her role as Chava in the movie version of Fiddler
on the Roof. "Her new cabaret show
is called Not Quite an Ingenue," he
Mr. Kerr plans to maintain such connections,
and indicates that many of his colleagues
in New York are eager to participate in this
new venture. "We are enthusiastically
looking forward to doing this," he says.
Stephen Trombley: ‘In and Out’ in
Article from The Chronicle -
Nov. 8-14, 2007
by Jason Irwin
Stephen Trombley is famously
unpredictable. On Saturday evening, Oct. 27,
some 50-plus people sat down in the dimly lit
Fort Salem Theater’s cabaret room, located
in Salem’s NationalHistoric District,
for an evening of just what they expected...the
I was one of them. Fort Salem was
featuring a new cabaret show, a performance
by the man they billed as “Salem’s
Emmy Award-winning Renaissance Man.” What
a fitting nicknamethat is....
Mr. Trombley background
as an investigative journalist, filmmaker,
author and musician certainly is impressive.
You might have seen his blues rock band, Psychoneedles,
performingaround the area recently (see below
for their Glens Falls gig this weekend). And
the Emmy isreal, awarded in 1997 for his post-World
War II film, Nuremberg.
Mr. Trombley has several
films and books to his credit, and has lived
at various times inplaces ranging from Ballston
Spa to Paris and London. It would be safe to
expect that his one-hour monologue with songs
would produce a fair amount of uncertainly.
The show was called “In and Out”,
a reference to his own experience and observations
ofrepetitive behavior. Topics ranged from the
death penalty, quitting smoking, people withbeepers,
being in a band, having no barber shop in Salem – and
don’t forget “Uncle Paul.”
opened the dialogue by describing how his initial
excitement (when the was asked todo the performance)
waned shortly after the moment had passed. “It
kicked in,” he reminiscedjokingly, “that
this was going to be like work.”
the performance, Mr. Trombley made several
humorous “inside” referencesabout
Salem. I got the impression that most of the
attendees were local residents andacquaintances
of the star of the night (but I still got the
Accompanied on piano by the theater’s
artistic director, Jay Kerr, Stephen led theaudience
down a windy road of social and political satire,
delivered in baritone monologue, sewntogether
by the occasional acoustic guitar number.
one point, he stopped the show cold and proclaimed
a state of emergency: “Ladies andgentlemen,
we have a tuning situation. We are going to
be moving into some territory where it isactually
going to matter if the guitar is in tune. Some
I especially enjoyed
his own “start/stop” version of
the R&B standard “(Get Your Kickson)
Route 66”, Nat King Cole’s “Straighten
Up and Fly Right” and, the highlight
of the evening,an original song entitled “Because
It’s Time” written (over seven
years, he laughed) for his wife, Susi.
Salem Theater was the perfect backdrop for
a small performance, an intimatesetting with
great acoustics, and a potential for a wide
range of events. There’s a much larger
main stage in the building with even more capacity
and possibilities. Some interesting events
areposted on the theater’s web site,
including A Christmas Cabaret , coming later
this month, apreview of the main stage’s
December presentation of A Christmas Carol.
The staff was very friendly and hospitable....I
enjoyed the piece of complementary Chocolate
Silk Layer Cake,very, very much. Thanks!
I asked Mr. Trombley how he came to live in Salem,
given his extensive travelbackground, and what
he enjoys most about it (besides being the president
of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce). I kind
of expected a half-serious, half-not answer.
reached a point where I wanted to focus on being
in one place,” he said. “Salem is
justa magical community. I love the way it looks,
the whole sense of community here. And, for atiny
place, we’ve got a lot going on. With Jay
Kerr’s new Fort Salem Theater, and this
being the birthplace of Psychoneedles, I think
it’s safe to say that Salem is now the
entertainment capital ofthe world”.
the Fort Salem Theater at www.fortsalemtheater.com
The Chronicle (Glens Falls, NY), Nov 8-14, 2007.
Fort Salem Theater