For 29 seasons now, The Theatre Company in Bryan -- and 'Magination Station, its forerunner -- have been bringing great theater to the Brazos Valley. The vast majority of those years saw Randy Wilson starring in some of those productions and directing all of them. He was admired, he was respected and, most of all, he was loved. Boy was he loved.

Wilson died last November, just as one of his favorite musicals, Sweeney Todd, by his favorite Broadway composer -- Stephen Sondheim -- was completing its run at the theatre behind JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts in Bryan's Tejas Center.

Everyone wondered -- and feared -- what would happen to The Theatre Company in Wilson's absence. Fortunately, Adrienne Dobson already was appearing in Sweeney Todd when Wilson took sick and she stepped up to direct the amazing production.

Since then, the incredibly talented Dobson has helmed The Theatre Company's productions of Fiddler on the Roof, Big River and, most recently, Sondheim's two challenging one-act musicals Passion and Assassins, the first time the two have been presented on the same bill.

Now, for the first time in decades, The Theatre Company will have someone else directing a production, and a better choice couldn't have been made. Last Sunday, Rob Gretta held auditions for Hello, Dolly!, set to run three weekends starting Aug. 4.

Gretta is well-acquainted with Dolly!, having acted in it twice and directing it once before.

"I really love the music -- it always makes me smile broadly and fills me with joy," Gretta said.

"And, the story! Every character is at a turning point in their lives and because of someone 'putting their hand in,' their fates change dramatically.

Gretta said, "Same with me -- every time I work on this piece, I, too, am at a turning point in my life. I am going up for tenure in the fall, and I never thought 'that' would happen."

That tenure would be at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where he is an assistant professor and director of musical theater.

Musical theater is in Gretta's blood.

"I grew up in a small town in New Jersey called Phillipsburg. I was very involved in theater in both community and high school. Before that, my sister and I would put on shows -- well, mostly me dragging her into my productions -- for birthdays, funeral receptions, picnics, etc.," Gretta said.

"When I was 10 or 11 years old, I was in the audience of a community theater summer cabaret. One after the other, I started seeing kids my own age -- some younger, some older -- sing and dance in song after song.

"During one number, I leaned over to mother in the dark and whispered 'I want to do that (pointing to the stage) for the rest of my life.' And I have been doing 'that' ever since. And everything I have learned in my life has been from plays and musicals."

At first, Gretta didn't dream of becoming a director. "I was an actor only -- plays, musicals, Shakespeare -- or so I thought.

"When I turned 24, I was offered to direct Amahl and the Night Visitors. Up until that point, when I was in a musical or play I was able to foresee what the director would do with the characters in the story. But I never thought I would actually grow up to be one."

Among the shows he has directed are Boeing, Boeing, How I Learned to Drive, Othello, Avenue Q, Into the Woods, A Year with Frog and Toad, Pippin, Annie Get Your Gun and The Sound of Music.

Gretta dropped out of college to move to New York to become a professional actor and dancer in shows such as Evita, South Pacific and Guys and Dolls -- all of which have been performed at The Theatre Company in recent years.

Among the productions in which Gretta had appeared are Cabaret, The Drowsy Chaperone, Little Shop of Horrors, The Tempest, Love's Labour's Lost, Romeo and Juliet and Henry IV, part I.

After a while, Gretta faced challenges to being cast. "I went from the 'young leading man' to character actor," he said on the Indiana University of Pennsylvania website.. "It made me realize that I needed to go back to school."

So, Gretta began studying at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. From there, he transferred to Indiana University of Pennsylvania and was graduated in 1997 with a bachelor's degree in theater. He went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in directing from Florida State University before moving to Chicago, where he worked in theater for five years. He was invited back to his alma mater to fill in for an ailing professor. There, Gretta developed the university's musical theater degree program.

After a brief time teaching at the University of Arizona, Gretta returned to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he continues to teach budding thespians. "As a student, the faculty did everything in their power to help me succeed and achieve my goals and dreams. As a faculty member, I'm committed to returning that experience to the students that I teach," Gretta said in his online bio.

So, how did Gretta and The Theater Company hook up? "Every fall, I do a mass emailing for summer directing gigs," he said. And that's when I saw The Theatre Company's ad for directors and so I applied.

"This is not my first time in Texas," Gretta said. "Years ago, I used to be a German dancer at Busch Garden in Virginia. Every fall, Anheuser Busch would fly us down to Dallas-Fort Worth to dance in their Oktoberfest celebrations.

"This is my first time in Bryan-College Station, but because of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, I knew of the Aggies."

Gretta arrived in Bryan-College Station about 10 days ago. "I have been trying to experience as much of the town as possible during the day. And restaurants and nightlife in the evening.

"The theater is absolutely a wonderful place to be -- a home away from home. Everyone I have met so far has been lovely, warm, generous and so accommodating."

Auditions for Hello, Dolly! were a bit different from the past. Choreographer Ellen Wilcox taught the actors some of the dance moves they will need in the production. Then, the theater proper was closed to spectators and other auditioners and the actors were admitted five at a time to sing their musical selection.

Gretta cast Adrienne Rowell as Dolly Levi, J. Paul Teel as Horace Vandergelder, Armineh Davis as Irene Molloy, Paul Early as Cornelius Hackl, Hannah Ferguson as Minnie Fay and Dominick Oliver as Barnaby Tucker.

Hello, Dolly! will run Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., beginning April 4. Tickets are $7 to $20, available online at www.theatrecompany.com. Hello, Dolly! likely will sell out, so don't wait too long to purchase your tickets.

Don't forget, The Theatre Company will host its Preview Party for the upcoming season at 7 p.m. on July 23. Be among the first to learn what shows will appear, purchase season tickets and help sponsor all or part of one of the productions.

Overtures

• July 24 and 25 -- Auditions for Steel Magnolias at Navasota Theatre Alliance, six woman actors and a stage crew are needed, 6:45 p.m. Performances will be Sept. 15 through Oct. 1. (navasotatheatre.org)

• July 27 through July 29 -- Disney's The Lion King jr., directed by Broadway veteran Stanley Wayne Mathis, Brazos Valley TROUPE. Location to be announced. (bvtroupe.com)

• Every Sunday -- Open mics and poetry slams sponsored by Mic Check Poetry, 8:30 p.m. Revolution Café in Downtown Bryan, (miccheckpoetry.com)

Items for Arts Watch should be emailed to robert.borden@theeagle.com. Deadline is noon Tuesday before the weekend you want it to run.

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