Bryan and College Station exist because of the Houston & Texas Central Railroad. In 1859, William Joel Bryan looked at the map of the proposed railroad route and donated land for what became today's downtown area of Bryan.
The Civil War halted construction of the tracks at Millican, but once hostilities ceased, the rail line continued its northward trek.
Passenger trains used to stop in Downtown Bryan, but ended their route through Bryan decades ago. The last scheduled passenger service through the community was an Amtrak boarding platform in College Station, but that quickly disappeared. There still are plenty of freight trains traveling through the community and over the years there have been unsuccessful efforts to move the tracks away from the Downtown area, and now, to create a "quiet zone" for the trains that travel through Downtown Bryan.
For now, though, the trains continue to rumble through the area, horns announcing their arrival at intersections with roads and streets. Patrons of StageCenter in Downtown Bryan are used to the sound of trains occasionally drowning out actors on stage. The trains are not a welcome intrusion to StageCenter patrons, but such is life.
Starting this week, though, for three weeks, those train sounds will fit right in as StageCenter presents Twentieth Century, a 1932 by the incomparable writing team of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur -- who was married to Helen Hayes and was the adoptive father of James MacArthur of Hawaii Five-O fame. MacArthur and Hecht collaborated on The Front Page and Jumbo, among others.
Two years after its Broadway premiere, Twentieth Century was turned into a movie starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard.
Twentieth Century's multi-talented director, Jennifer Hargis, said, "Twentieth Century ... is one of my favorite movies. After I watched it 10 or 20 times, I noticed that it was based on a play written by the same people who scripted the movie and I knew I absolutely had to do it!"
Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 25. Work is progressing well at StageCenter's new ground-level home, but Twentieth Century will be the final production in the current location at 201-B W. 26th St. in Downtown Bryan, above Mr. G's Pizza. This will be one last chance to experience the steep stairs, the thrill ride of the elevator and the columns in the middle of the stage and in the audience. Such good memories.
Hargis said, "I don't have any regrets about moving. I do like the space but there are so many drawbacks that "kitschy" just doesn't make up for.
"I will not miss the stairs or the elevator. I will not miss the columns in the audience or on the stage. I will not miss the roof that leaks on the stage.
"I will miss the smell. It smells like a theatre to me. However, after being in the new location with This Is Water Theatre as one of the venues in its final production, it felt like home and as a StageCenter board member, I cannot wait to share the new space with the public.
"We have big plans and they're going to be so conducive to bringing great theatre to Downtown Bryan and the Brazos Valley in general. And it's on the first floor!" Hargis said.
Tickets for Twentieth Century are $12 to $15, except on Thursdays, when all tickets are $10. They are available online at www.stagecenter.net.
Hecht and MacArthur set their story on New York Central System's luxury 20th Century Limited, which ran from New York City to Chicago from 1902 to 1967. The story takes place on the return trip to New York City. Among the passengers are Oscar Jaffe, an egomaniacal theater producer badly in need of a hit. Also on the train is temperamental actress Lily Garland, Jaffe's former lover and left him for movie stardom. Jaffe tries his best to woo Garland to return to him and, more importantly, to star in a new Jaffe Broadway show. But Garland is determined to reject Jaffe's advances, both personal and professional.
Hargis said, "This show is absolutely hilarious. There is both verbal and physical humor throughout.
"Not a serious bone in this play's figurative body."
Hargis said, "I would consider this show a PG-13. There are a few choice words (some in Russian) and some references that aren't for young ears, and I really feel like the subject matter would be less interesting to younger children as well."
Starring in Twentieth Century are Mark Bendiksen, Irina Shatruk, Gary Thomas, Harold Presley, Stacey Maines, David Lowe, Chaz Pitman, Garrison Trichel, Lucas Ybarra, Fashun Smith, as well as a handful of unscripted passengers. The incomparable Robin Sutton serves as assistant director, with Evelyn Callaway as stage manager, Mandy Mershon running sound, and Cameron Thomas running lights. Be sure to thank them when you thank the cast after the show.
Turning silver into gold
For the past 25 years, Brazos Valley TROUPE has been an integral part of the area cultural scene, but it has been a part of my life for so long that I can't believe it is only 25 years.
I have to be honest that I absolutely love the work that TROUPE does, helping young people find their way in an often-difficult world, working to end bullying, all while putting on entertaining shows that resonate far beyond the years of the young TROUPErs.
Congratulations to Brazos Valley TROUPE for the past 25 years and best wishes for another 25 and beyond.
Thursday actually is TROUPE's anniversary date, and a giant celebration of the milestone takes place on Saturday when TROUPE presents At the Hop, described as "a rockin', rollin' & rollickin' romp through the '50s & '60s -- the music of my youth. Saturday evening will be an old-fashioned sock hop, complete with a dance floor, original and live music, a Hula Hoop contest, a best-dressed contest, a twist-Off, a Hand-Jive and even an unveiling presentation of the Royal Court with the announcement of the King and Queen of the Hop, including Becky Lane, longtime TROUPE supporter. What a distinct honor!
Other members of the court will include Princes and Princesses: Jimbo Ewing, Nikki Pederson, Don and Donna Adam and, posthumously, TROUPE founder Wanda Daisa and huge supporter Ronnie Jackson.
Past presidents and founders will be presented as Dukes and Duchesses, including Larry Adams, Mary Finch, Wendi Lamphear, Ben Liles, Don Mundine, Judy Reynolds, Will Greer, Nicole Rincones, Mark Smith, Judy Warren, Nancy Woods, Brian Wright and Shanna Wright.
There will be a silent auction and a special sealed bid auction in which three lucky couples will bid to win a five-night stay in New York City, complete with tickets to six Broadway shows -- including orchestra seats to the mega-hit Hamilton.
As good as it is, TROUPE's 29th Street Studio isn't big enough to contain all the fun of Saturday's At the Hop. The special event -- and it will be special -- will take place in the Great Hall in the Christian Life Center of A&M United Methodist Church, 417 University Drive E. in College Station.
Doors will open at 6 p.m., with the fun beginning at 6:30 p.m. To honor TROUPE's first 25 years, tickets will be $25. But, if you order by today, tickets are only $20. They are available at www.eventbrite.com.
M.A. Sterling, the incredible managing/artist director of TROUPE, said, "Decades ago, TROUPE was born when a little show called Jumpin' Jukebox came along. That show was the impetus that gave TROUPE it's start and we have been rockin' ever since!"
Sterling will be joined by current TROUPErs to perform some of his favorite songs from that era. If you've never heard Sterling sing, you are in for a treat. They will be joined by TROUPE alums from over the years, including Sonya Cooke, Michelle Green, Laura Hugill and Tara Moran.
As great as all this his, the highlight of the evening, no doubt, will be the announcement of TROUPE's 2018-2019 season.
People my age fondly remember sock hops and how much fun they were. The younger set may have called these dances by another name, but the idea still is the same. Make plans to celebrate Brazos Valley TROUPE, its first quarter century and the promise of many great years to come.
Cabaret is one of the greatest musicals to come out of the 1960s and has been performed countless times around the world. This Thursday through Saturday, Cabaret comes to the beautifully restored Simon Theatre in downtown Brenham, presented by the Gibbous Moon Productions, a non-profit theater company in Brenham.
John Kander and Fred Ebb set their story in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are coming to power. It opened on Broadway in 1966, winning Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Featured Actor for Joel Grey, Best Featured Actress for Peg Murray, Best Direction of a Musical for Harold Prince, as well as Best Choreography, Best Set Design and Best Costume Design.
Cabaret became a 1972 film, winning eight Oscars, including Best Director for Bob Fosse, Best Actress for Liza Minelli and Best Supporting Actor for Joel Grey.
Cabaret is the first musical to be performed in the restore theater and will be performed at 7 p.m. all three nights. There also will be a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday.
The Simon Theatre is located at 111 W. Main St. in Brenham.
Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students and seniors, available at the door.
Members of the Cabaret cast in Brenham include Andrew Mueller, Olivia Roberts, Dylan Strickland, Ánh-Mai Kearney, Jason Gonzalez Larsen, Jonathan Acosta, Allison Stewart, Landon Rivas, Vincent Michel, Lauren Jones, Carmen Maynard, Keaton Korthauer and Edin Inestroza.
The upcoming MSC OPAS season has attracted a lot of attention and sold scads of season tickets -- which will be mailed out this month. One show on the OPAS Intimate Gatherings season has been moved to accommodate the great demand or tickets.
The March 19 performance of the Red Hot Chili Pipers has been moved from the intimate Rudder Theatre into the much larger Rudder Auditorium.
Obviously that will create some ticket issues, but the incredible OPAS staff has planned for that. Seating will be based on support level. Tickets for the new venue will be mailed out at a later date, so purchasers don't have to do anything -- except anticipate this performance.
The Red Hot Chili Pipers don't present the familiar Amazing Grace, but instead will focus on what the groups calls its "Bagrock" sound with such music as Queen's We Will Rock You.
If you want to join the larger audience for the Red Hot Chili Pipers, call the MSC Box Office at 979-845-1234.
• Today -- Dreamworks: Shrek the Musical, Milam Community Theater, performances in the Performing Arts Center at C.H. Yoe High School in Cameron, 2 p.m. $20 and $12. (www.milamcommunitytheater.com)
• Thursday -- Sleeping Beauty, classic storytelling with projected illustrations, 10 a.m., Dr. W.W. O'Donnell Performing Arts Center on the Blinn-Brenham campus, $5 to $20, www.blinn.edu/boxoffice.
• Through Sept. 8 -- Response: Paired works by TAMU College of Architecture artists and their professors, the Reynolds Gallery on the second floor of the Memorial Student Center at Texas A&M, open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Free.
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline is noon Tuesday before the weekend you want it to run.