Red Branch Theatre

Red Branch reprised its stage adaptation of "Bunnicula" in October 2012. From left, Stephanie Lynn Williams as Chester, Melody Easton as Bunnicula, and Dustin Merrell as Harold. (Submitted photo / March 14, 2013)

An anniversary qualifies as a good time to throw yourself a party. That's what the Red Branch Theatre Company is doing to mark its fifth season. Its two-night cabaret program on Saturday and Sunday, March 15 and 16, is a chance for the Columbia-based company to musically look back on past shows and also look forward to the shows ahead.

"I think we were always a small company with lofty goals," said Managing Director Tiffany Underwood Holmes. "We've done a lot of really good theater in the past five years and brought things that were new and exciting to the area."

Although this relatively young company has staged plays, it's best-known for doing musical theater. As Holmes put it: "We really feel that musicals are how we butter our bread."

Other than for some company history-related anecdotes, the upcoming cabaret is all about song and dance. The title of this cabaret program, "Last Five Years," should not be confused with a similarly titled musical by Jason Robert Brown. Instead, Red Branch Theatre will be surveying its own five-year life.

Starting with the first show it did, "The Secret Garden," Red Branch will give a medley-style presentation of songs from previously staged musicals including "Next to Normal," "Avenue Q," "Urinetown" and "Once on This Island."

Looking to the season ahead, the performers also will do selections from "Three Little Tales," which runs from March 22 through 24; "(title of show)," running April 5 through 23; "Tick Tick Boom," running Sept. 27 through Oct. 13; and "Dear Edwina," running Oct. 18 through 27.

One reason why Red Branch musically has made a name for itself is that many of its actors faithfully return to its stage. Performing at the cabaret are Red Branch veterans Karice Parada, Janelle Broderick, Kevin Cleaver, Stephanie Lynn Williams, Beth Cohen, Jack Powers, Peter Crews, Dean Davis, Brady Stevens, Melody Easton, Wendy Baird, Tiffany Underwood Holmes, Sara Cobb and Josh Kemper. Musical accompaniment will be provided by Dustin Merrell on the piano.

Food and drink also will help put the audience in a cabaret frame of mind.

And a silent auction whose proceeds support the theater's operating budget will allow audience members to come away with more than just memories of the evening. Auction items include tickets for theater and other cultural events in the area; photography and other fine art; cruises; and food and drink baskets, including what Holmes called "a really rocking Irish beer basket."

The fundraising aspect of this cabaret is a reminder that a theater company needs more than good intentions to survive. Red Branch's performers have gotten far with their volunteer spirit, but it's nice to be rewarded in a fiscal way too. Holmes said that as of last year its actors and production designers have started to receive an honorarium for working on the shows.

She marvels at these performers' and designers' ability to make Broadway shows fit onto Red Branch's compact stage.

"The space does not look like a Broadway stage, so it actually makes it possible to go out of the box. Our directors put their own fresh take on it," Holmes said of their out-of-the-box creativity.

As for this theater's previously announced intention to move into a new theater space, Holmes said the plans are "in flux ... We're kind of in a nebulous timeline right now."

Holmes emphasized that the theater still plans to move to new quarters that will be nearby on Red Branch Road.

So this theater company's name seems like it will be here for the next five years.

Red Branch Theatre Company performs a cabaret program on Friday, March 15, and Saturday, March 16, at 8:30 p.m., at the Drama Learning Center, 9130-I Red Branch Road, in Columbia. Tickets, which include food and beverages, are $35; $25 for students under 21. Call 410-997-9352 or go to http://www.redbranchtheatrecompany.com.