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Published: Thursday, 8/4/2005

Tiffin's Ritz has a full season of entertainment lined up


TIFFIN - From the Nobodies of Comedy to Joan Rivers, Plaza Suite to Noises Off, Mozart to ragtime, the Ritz Theatre is attempting to sate a wide variety of entertainment tastes.

Michael Strong, the new executive director of the historic Tiffin theater, says this season is the first in which he's had a hand in all the decisions, and he's pleased with the results.

"We have to sell an experience, something to appeal to all sensory levels," he said.

Among the well-known names scheduled to perform are singers Tanya Tucker, Christopher Cross, and Arlo Guthrie.

The Ritz season is also big on laughs, with the aforementioned Rivers to Fred Garbo's Inflatable Theatre to the Nobodies of Comedy and Four Stand-Up Dads.

"The Nobodies are interesting," Strong said. "A New York agency takes five 'unknown' comedians and puts them on tour."

Strong came to the Ritz 11 months ago from the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College in Purchase, N.Y.

"I have a 5-year-old son, and I wanted to raise him in a small-town atmosphere and spend more time with him. In New York, it took me about an hour and 15 minutes to get to my job; here it takes me about three minutes, so I've gained almost three hours of family life each day."

As for the Ritz, "this place is a fabulous facility. It was built by Alan Ritzler - that's why it's named the Ritz - in 1928 as a movie and vaudeville palace."

Strong is also pleased with the Ritz Players, the resident community theater company. "It's one of the Ritz's assets and is of extreme importance to the community.

On the Ritz Players' schedule this year are Plaza Suite, And the World Goes Round, featuring the music of Kander and Ebb, House for Sale, and Noises Off.

"House for Sale is locally written, by Ron Hill of Old Fort," Strong said. "It was premiered by the Fremont Players last year, I think, and it's getting a lot of buzz."

Professional theatrical performances include the Aquila Theatre Company's Hamlet, The Queen of Bingo, and Frank Ferrante as Groucho Marx in An Evening with Groucho.

New to the Ritz's season, and something that excites Strong, is First Friday in the National Theatre, the smaller of the Ritz's stages.

"The First Friday series got started with an e-mail," Strong said. "We had scheduled Blessid Union of Souls, and we got an e-mail from a kid in Indianapolis saying that Blessid Union was his favorite group and asking if he could open for them."

The young man, Justin Brannam, sent along some of his music, and he did indeed open for the group. He was one of the hits of the night, Strong said.

"It got [the Ritz's management] to thinking, how many kids are there like that, people with talent who don't necessarily want fame, just a place to perform," Strong said.

Thus, First Friday was born.

The monthly event will feature three acts, perhaps a pianist, a poetry reading, a comedian, or a group presenting a radio play. Audience members may not know what they're getting until they arrive.

It will take place in a cabaret setting, a small stage, about 20 tables of four seats each. Tickets will be $11, and you can sit with your friends, have a glass of wine or cup of coffee, and enjoy three half-hour acts in a smoke-free environment, Strong said.

Also on the Ritz's lengthy schedule are dance and big band performances, Starship featuring Mickey Thomas, and shows geared to children, including Tom Chapin and Friends and the Enchantment Theatre Company's Pinocchio.

Season subscriptions as well as tickets for individual events are now on sale. Information and ticket prices: www.ritztheatre.org or 419-448-8544.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.

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