Virginia Theatre Festival Brings Star Power for 50th Anniversary

June 11, 2024 By Alice Berry, Alice Berry,

The Virginia Theatre Festival is back – and celebrating its 50th anniversary by revisiting some of the best songs from its first half-century of performances.

“50 Years and Counting: A Musical Revue” kicks off the festival on June 27 in the University of Virginia’s Culbreth Theatre. It also brings back longtime artistic director and UVA emeritus professor Bob Chapel.

“I feel honored that I was asked to come back,” Chapel said.

The Virginia Theatre Festival began as the Heritage Repertory Company in 1974. The festival didn’t begin producing musicals until 13 years after it was founded, under Chapel’s leadership. In his 29 years with the festival, they performed “Sweeney Todd,” “The Sound of Music” and “Ragtime,” among others.

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The revue will feature 28 songs from 26 of the 60 musicals the festival has staged since 1988.

“We have a couple songs that are from more obscure musicals that we did, and I wanted to do some songs from what I considered our biggest hits,” Chapel said – shows like “Sweeney Todd,” for example.

“If we did all of the songs from all the musicals, we’d be here until 1 o’clock in the morning,” Chapel said.

The songs include numbers that are near and dear to Chapel’s heart, like one from “Sunday in the Park With George,” but also songs the returning cast members performed years ago in Charlottesville. 

Chapel chose the cast for the revue himself by inviting cast members from previous summers. Among those returning to the Culbreth stage are several UVA alumni: award-winning singer and songwriter Jack Donohue; Tony Gilbert, who appeared on Broadway in “Oliver!” and “Sweeney Todd”; and Emily Swallow, who starred in “The Mentalist” on CBS and currently plays The Armorer in “The Mandalorian.”

“We always had a great time working together,” Chapel said of the cast. “It was really, really difficult to choose, because there were so many talented actors.”

Other shows in the 50th anniversary season include “Little Shop of Horrors,” directed by Jeffrey Meanza, and “The 39 Steps,” directed by Nicolas Minas.

“50 Years and Counting: A Musical Revue” runs June 27-30 in UVA’s Culbreth Theatre. Tickets are on sale now.

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Alice Berry

University News Associate Office of University Communications