Three acts, three tales, three decades of music


Shortly before the Chesapeake Arts Center opened in Brooklyn Park in late 2000, a group of Baltimore professionals formed Musical Artists Theatre to develop original musicals, showcase contemporary American works and mount innovative productions of classics at this new facility.

Having produced its original Christmas Carol at Chesapeake Arts Center's Main Theatre in December and an original show Rags to Riches set to the music of Scott Joplin at the center's Studio Theatre in May, Musical Artists Theatre now opens its third show: Dreamland.

Playwright Michael Hulett conceived the idea of building three one-act plays around particular songs of the 1920s, 1930 and 1940s, with the title coming from a mythical New York dance hall based on the famous Roseland Ballroom.

The first act focuses on the 1920s, creating what Hulett describes as a Roaring Twenties speak-easy, with a couple - Harry and Daisy - stopping by for champagne as they are about to elope to Niagara Falls.

In the second act, set during the Depression, Dreamland becomes a seedy dance hall where Al, who is down on his luck, invests his last dime on a dance with a pretty girl named Violet, a dance hall hostess.

The third act is set during World War II, with Dreamland converted into a USO canteen. Elmer, a sailor on a 24-hour leave in New York City, meets and falls in love with Rose (as in Rosie the Riveter).

Dreamland offers an opportunity to present dances that typify each period - the Charleston of the 1920s, ballroom dancing of the 1930s, and the 1940s jitterbug.

"There are over 30 popular songs in this show, with just a little bit of dialogue. It's more a musical cavalcade with only two characters in each piece," Hulett said.

The show even names its characters after names in some of the songs. For example, Harry, in the 1920s segment, is represented by the upbeat song "I'm Just Wild About Harry." Al's character gets his name from the Depression-era "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

In each of the segments, Ruth and Michael Hulett - a talented couple who can sing, dance and act - portray the couples.

When I saw Ruth Hulett in Rags to Riches, I was struck by her lovely voice, her acting and comedic skills, and her commanding stage presence. In Dreamland, she and her husband also will be called upon to display great versatility.

This show promises to be a nostalgic musical journey to three distinct decades that each produced classic American songs, now part of our national heritage.

Dreamland plays on weekends from tomorrow through Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays in the Studio Theatre at Chesapeake Arts Center, on Hammonds Lane. Tickets are $8 for arts center members, $12 for nonmembers, and $10 for students and seniors. Call the box office at 410-636-6597 to order tickets.

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