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Song a challenge for local TV anchor
By Phil Drew
The Troy Record
Published: Thursday, August 6, 2009
song"Summer's for fun. What's more fun than boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl?"

So says Benita Zahn, local television anchor and health reporter and familiar presence on area
stages from Albany Civic to SLOC to Park Playhouse.

For the last three summers, her fun has involved an hour long drive up Routes 40 and 29 to
Salem in Washington County, where she has become a regular at the refurbished
Fort Salem Theater, a converted church towering, fittingly, over East Broadway in this rural
county seat. It has been under new management since 2007.

Now under current owner-producer Jay Kerr, it's a year-round venue for cabaret, dance,
locally created musical fare (last year's revue, Adirondack Awakening, this July's Corn!
The Musical
) and small stage vehicles. This summer's fun includes Zahn co-starring with longtime Park Playhouse and Fort Salem summer sojourner Tim Nelson, now a Salem
homeowner, in They're Playing Our Song. It has the aforementioned boy-girl scenario by
Neil Simon, set to a Marvin Hamlisch score.

"It's a challenge," says Zahn. "It's just two people. You have to really connect with your fellow
performer. Much as I know Tim, I've never worked opposite him." But, she says, they click here.
"When that happens, you feel so safe onstage. It allows you to feel comfortable and explore. It's delightful."

In the late 70's, Hamlisch, fresh from his work on A Chorus Line, collaborated with longtime songwriting partner Carole Bayer Sager and play-wright Simon on a comic take, loosely based on the Hamlisch-Sager professional and personal relationship, about a songwrigting team "working it out" on the job and off. "It's all about getting comfortable with another person's quirks," Zahn says -- and the score is tuneful and, yes, fun. "It's a rare thing to find sweet, ya know?" says Zahn. "It's sweet. You smile. And it's all about a strong woman."

All the same might be said for Zahn, news anchor and health reporter for WNYT and producer/on camera host for WMHT's Health Link.

Local media personalities moonlighting on area stages is nothing new. The Record's late features editor Doug "On the Aisle" de Lisle was a frequent presence on local stages, and recently Jerry Gretzinger (Newschannel 6) starred in Spotlight Theatre's The Producers. [Fort Salem note: Gretzinger will be appearing at the Cabaret at Fort Salem Theater along with Phil Bailey, Jessica Leighton, and Benita on November 7.]

Zahn has been absent from the footlights for awhile, completing a master's degree in bioethics at Albany Medical Center College. She says that time was well-spent as it "will bring more value to my health reporting."

Zahn feels the traveling to Fort Salem is also time well-spent. "I love it," she says. "This is my third summer here. What Jay has done to this theater, revamping it, is stunning. He got seats out of the helen Hayes Theater, remodled the stage, a fresh coat of paint. If you knew it ten years ago, put that oicture out of your mind. It's totally new."
Fort Salem Theater
© 2007