The Strand lands Fiddlehead as new ‘resident’ company

The city of Boston has formed a partnership with the Fiddlehead Theatre Company, which will be officially named the “resident theatre company” at the Strand Theatre during a public event scheduled for today. The designation will boost year-round activity at the landmark, city-owned theatre and guarantee that a minimum of two, high-caliber musicals will hit the stage for multi-week runs in the coming year.

The first Fiddlehead production— a Boston debut of the musical adaptation of “A Little Princess”— will be staged from Nov. 21- Dec. 8. A larger, more elaborate staging of the Elton John-infused musical “Aida” will come to Dorchester next April.

In addition to staging professional-grade shows, Fiddlehead has also committed to program the Strand with year-round arts events geared towards children and teens.

“The reason they are a good fit is they are committed to spectacle musicals that have a connection to themes that will culturally resonate with the Dorchester community,” said Christopher Cook, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Travel and Tourism.

Cook said that Mayor Menino was particularly impressed by Fiddlehead’s commitment to running arts programs for young people.

“It’s hugely important, because there’s an audience development perspective, building a base for the Strand. More importantly, Dorchester and Uphams Corner is one of our youngest neighborhoods, and if we’re not doing youth art education there, we’re really missing the boat on the Strand’s whole potential.”

Meg Fofonoff, the founder and executive producer of Fiddlehead, said that the 20 year-old company had long hoped to find a permanent home in the city. They became intimately involved with the Strand last year when they produced a revival of the musical “Ragtime” in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The Strand just spoke to me, not only for that show- but beyond,” said Fofonoff. “The beautiful hall of mirrors, the history. It has a lot of heart and soul. It needs to be brought to the forefront. I have to give much thanks to Chris Cook, who was instrumental in helping us make this all happen, and of course, Mayor Menino, who has been so committed to this.”

Fofonoff thinks that having a resident company will help prove that the Strand is ready for a star turn on Boston’s bustling arts scene.

“I think that one of the keys in keeping the Strand alive and vibrant is consistency and having the constant of us as a company- not just doing one or two shows- but having seasons where we program dates well in advance, that is the key,” said Fofonoff. “How often do we get the opportunity to do the theatre that we love and give back to our city? The Strand is a piece of Boston history and the preservation of it and bringing it into the main view of our arts community and tourists is a wonderful opportunity.”

The timing is good for another reason: The city of Boston — which has done extensive renovations to the Strand inside and out over the last decade— is ready to install a $1.2 million lighting and sound system this winter. The investment— already paid for in an earlier capital budget outlay— will give the Strand the capacity to stage larger musical productions, such as “Aida”— which will arrive in late April for a three-week run. Currently, companies would often have to rent and truck in equipment for larger shows— a cost that will now be built into space rentals at the Strand.

“’Aida’ is pure spectacle and it’s huge. We’re going to use every inch of the theatre for it, but it will be a great first run for the system,” said Cook.

Fiddlehead is already trumpeting its new home and has forged ahead with local partnerships. It will produce a unique dinner theatre production of the musical “Fame, Junior” this fall in partnership with Uphams Corner Main Streets and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI). The dinner shows will actually be held at Restaurant Laura, a popular Cape Verdean eatery on Columbia Road.

“I envision year-round and absolutely a summer arts program for the community,” said Fofonoff. “We’re diving right in, actually.”

Fiddlehead has extensive experience in arts education, which was an essential part of their mission since its foundation in Dedham two decades ago.

“Like many companies, we’ve roamed around a bit, in Dedham and Norwood- in and out of city doing different projects, somewhat gypsy-like. I’m always a believer that it’s nice to hang your hat when you find the place that’s just like, but it’s exciting ti use different venues too.”

Of taking on residency at the Strand, she adds: “It’s huge and it’s kind of daunting. But as someone said to me recently, ‘It’s your destiny.’ And I think that after 20 years of doing theatre, it is our destiny.”

“A Little Princess”, which will be Fiddlehead’s first major production at the Strand during its residency, will run from Nov. 21 through Dec. 8. The musical is based on the 1905 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett and features music by Andrew Lippa, an acclaimed songwriter who will be on hand for the Strand opener, which will also be the Boston premeire of the musical.

The Fiddlehead residency will not preclude any other outside companies or organizations from booking the theatre, according to Cook. However, the Strand— which was once considered one of the city’s sleepier venues— is becoming more and more sought after be producers. The theatre is presently booked solid on weekends between September 2013 and June 2014— with several weeks in January set aside for the installation of the new lights and sound system.

“Currently we are still able to accommodate everyone who is a frequent user, groups like Boston Children’s Chorus and Boston Ballet and others,” said Cook.

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