Arts & Theater

New Helvetia Theatre Company ‘Opening Doors’ as another one closes

Michael Hunsaker and Melinda Parrett, a New Helvetia Theatre regular, appear in “Next to Normal,” a 2010 Pulitzer-winning rock musical, shortly after NHT moved to its R Street location.
Michael Hunsaker and Melinda Parrett, a New Helvetia Theatre regular, appear in “Next to Normal,” a 2010 Pulitzer-winning rock musical, shortly after NHT moved to its R Street location.

Connor Mickiewicz calls his last show at the New Helvetia Theatre on R Street “Opening Doors.” That surely references the Alexander Graham Bell quotation: “When one door closes, another door opens; but we so often look so long and regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”

The company has always run on a shoestring budget and Mickiewicz felt its financial structure could not hold. He re-evaluated the company’s direction.

Cordano Co., which owns the property at 1028 R St., allowed the theater company to break its lease, which ran through July.

“Cordano was sympathetic and allowed us to move out and save money,” Mickiewicz said.

New Helvetia, having sold props and equipment it stored at the theater, will vacate the space at the end of April after producing one last cabaret concert Sunday. Cordano could not be reached for comment on its plans for the property.

Mickiewicz will try to not “look long and regretfully” back as he considers how to move his little professional theater company toward an open door. New Helvetia, which Mickiewicz founded and runs as essentially the producing artistic director, has an extraordinary record of achievement since coming on the scene in 2009.

Its bold debut was a semi-staged fundraising production of “Celebration,” the musical by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. Then Mickiewicz, a recent graduate from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, had the idea of starting a theater company with a mission to present “obscure and lesser-produced musicals.”

Though “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” was neither, that show became the company’s first fully staged production at the Artisan Theater on Del Paso Boulevard and helped make the company known. Its real métier became creative, small-scale shows such as “Tick, Tick … BOOM!” by the late Jonathon Larson (“Rent”) and “[title of show],” which introduced actress Melinda Parrett to Sacramento audiences.

Finding a home at the Artisan, New Helvetia produced six shows there and one at Sierra Two before settling in in August 2012 at the vacant theater on R Street.

While there are a few Stephen Sondheim works one sees regularly – “West Side Story,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sweeney Todd” and, more recently, “Into the Woods” – the majority of the great composer’s work goes ignored here. New Helvetia single-handedly changed that with smart, well-crafted productions of Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” “Passion” and “Marry Me a Little.” The productions “Next to Normal” and “Ordinary Days” were truly first rate and some of the finest theater presented regionally.

“I am proud that we introduced musical theater works to Sacramento that this community hasn’t seen before,” Mickiewicz said.

The company’s loyal following suggests there is an audience for the intimate material New Helvetia presented. A production of the moody Neil Simon drama “The Gingerbread Lady” featured a sparkling cast of Jamie Jones, Matt K. Miller, Shannon Mahoney, Andrew Perez and Ryan Snyder.

Company regulars such as Nanci Zoppi, Jerry Lee, Maggie Hollinbeck, Parrett and pianist and musical director Graham Sobelman have formed the backbone of Sacramento theater in recent years.

“I’m also proud of the talent we’ve been able to bring to Sacramento,” Mickiewicz said.

Mickiewicz knows he needs to strengthen NHT’s financial base and find the right infrastructure that keeps the company’s artistic consistency and sense of place in the professional theater community while only doing three or four full-scale shows a year, as it has been.

“It has to be a part of how we go forward. Otherwise I will dabble in insanity,” Mickiewicz said. “One of the many mistakes I’ve made over the last few years is not figuring out how to find the right group of people with the right sets of skills to help grow the company.”

Mickiewicz cited the need for a managing director who can write grants and do community outreach.

Without a permanent home for the moment, Mickiewicz hopes “to take a break and really take a close look at the company and how we can grow from what we’ve learned over the past six years.”

He finds the idea of having a pop-up theater appealing.

“Not having a permanent home could be exciting if we found spaces that aren’t traditional theaters where we could put up productions,” Mickiewicz said.

Mickiewicz and friends say goodbye to the theater’s R Street era with a cabaret show Sunday. A 7 p.m. performance has sold out, but a 9 p.m. show has been added.

Confirmed performers for the farewell cabaret, along with Mickiewicz, include Kiera Anderson (“Ordinary Days” and “Marry Me a Little”), Zoppi (soon starring in “Fifth of July” at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley), Hollinbeck (on a break from the national touring company of “Once”), Tristan Rumery and Mike Yee.

The material – works by Sondheim, Adam Guettel, Jacques Brel and Stew – won’t be the company’s greatest hits, though. “It’s mostly from shows I always assumed we’d do on that stage that we’ll never get to,” Mickiewicz said.

Mickiewicz expects to close with the last line of Sondheim’s “Sunday In the Park With George”: “White: a blank page or canvas. His favorite – so many possibilities.”

Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.


What: Cabaret show featuring Connor Mickiewicz and friends with music director David Taylor-Gomes

When: 9 p.m. Sunday. A 7 p.m. show is sold out.

Where: New Helvetia Theatre, 1028 R St., Sacramento

Cost: $20 advance, $25 at the door