By day, Lynn Moebus teaches math and science to fifth graders at Tolland Intermediate School in Tolland. By night she travels back in time to Andover, circa 1778, to The Viking Tavern where she sings to crowds loosely borrowed from the pages of American history.
The tavern and its patrons will come to life tonight when the locally written play “The Legend of Simon Smith” opens for a two-night run at Andover Elementary School in Andover.
The play, a comedic murder mystery set in the fictitious tavern, marks the return after a 45-year hiatus of community-theater to Andover. The Andover Community Theatre, which is producing the play, owes its rebirth to Jay Linddy, chairman of Andover’s Board of Education.
Linddy with long time friend Stephen Baran of Willimantic and their friend Stephen Kaminski, a musical director, arranger and vocal coach who has written original scores for many motion pictures and television shows including Desperate Housewives, have combined their talents to bring the tale of the real Capt. Simon Smith’s death to life.
Smith, whose body is buried along with that of his horse, in a marked grave along Boston Hill Road, is said to have stopped at a local tavern here in 1760 as he was falling ill with smallpox. Smith died and was quickly buried. Linddy said it’s been a mystery why his horse, which was not susceptible to the disease, ended up buried beside him. Was it a disease or something else that killed them both, Linddy has wondered.
Trying to answer the unknowns about Smith’s demise helped Linddy and Baran to write the script and Kaminski to fashion the music of the play.
Thursday night, the cast and crew were putting the finishing touches on the performance during the final dress rehearsal before the curtain rises tonight at 7:30 p.m.
Baran, the play’s director whose son Avery plays the part of French General Jean Rochambeau as a boy, began the evening with lessons in proper bowing during the curtain call.
“Say to yourself: ‘Did I tie my shoes today? Yes, I tied my shoes today,” Baran said, adding that the time it takes to say it is roughly the correct length of time for the bow. His son was the first up and performed it well except that he recited the shoe lines like they were part of the script.
“Oh, don’t say that out loud,” Baran told his son.
As the bowing lesson was finishing up, Baran launched himself to the rear of the gymnasium where Joseph Brady of Andover, the technical director, was working the light board.
“Joe we’re going to take it from the dream sequence,” Baran said has he helped Bradley find that scene in the script. “Avery, do you know when to come out?... Wait until you hear the xylophone.”
And so the evening went, first in fits and starts and some confusion that melted away as the actors and actresses in full costume settled into their roles.
While most members of the cast are local, the play has drawn amateur actors from out of state, mostly by word of mouth. Lynne and Scott Seney who play two British spies, and their daughter, Maddie, who is also in the play, are from Piermont, N.Y., which is just a little northwest of New York City.
“My dad knows Jim from high school,” said Maddie, who plays the young French maiden Desdemona, when asked how she and her family found their way to a stage in an elementary school in Andover.
Like Moebus, who lives Manchester and teaches, acting is not the day job for most members of the cast. Barbara Schreier of Willimantic who plays the wife of the tavern’s owner, is a disc jockey at WHUS 91.7-FM in Storrs. Jeffrey Beadle of Old Lyme, who plays Thomas Jefferson, is executive director of Windham Regional Community Council Inc. a social services agency. Lisa Turgeon of Andover, better known as Barmaid Betty on this stage, teaches in fourth graders at Andover Elementary School by day.
As the rehearsal finished up Thursday, Baran, who is cast as Simon Smith, thanked everyone involved in the play and shared a few tips that will help them through.
“Let’s be professional,” Baran told the cast. “We’ve got to be prepared.”
Baran urged everyone to help out if someone get’s confused.
“It’s all right if you don’t know a line,” Baran said, “Just stay in character.”
That’s hard to do, however, when the unexpected – like the dimmer pack for lighting system overheats sending forth the smell of burning wires – happens.
That event forced a brief halt in the rehearsal as the source of the smell was found and determined to be harmless.
“Better tonight than tomorrow,” Beadle said, grinning.
Tickets are: adults, $8 and seniors and children, $6 on Friday and $2 more for each on Saturday. Proceeds will benefit Andover’s senior lunch program and the Saving Performing Arts by Reaching Kids an arts outreach program started by Baran and Kaminski for children in Willimantic.