Star City Playhouse opens with ‘Shakespeare in Love’


The Star City Playhouse in Vinton will open on February 10 with “Shakespeare in Love.” The cast includes (kneeling) Marlow Ferguson and Jane Gabrielle, and (standing, left to right) Vickie Haynie, Gene Marrano, Brandi Dawson, and Bob Toven, who will be reading Shakespeare’s sonnets and romantic scenes from several of his plays.
Brandi Dawson and Bob Toven perform a scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The Star City Playhouse opens in Vinton on February 10 with “Shakespeare in Love,” with readings from the donnets and romantic scenes from several of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays. Just the rehearsals have been mesmerizing.

Owners Marlow and Karon Semones Ferguson recently relocated their community playhouse to Pollard Street in Vinton. This is their first Vinton production.

“We want to introduce the resident company to the community and the people of Vinton to the resident company,” said Marlow Ferguson.

The cast for “Shakespeare in Love” including Gene Marrano, Jane Gabrielle, Brandi Dawson, Bob Toven, Vickie Haynie, and Marlow Ferguson, will be performing readings of Shakespeare’s sonnets and romantic scenes from “The Taming of the Shrew,” “As You Like It,” “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “Twelfth Night.” There will be some Shakespearean music as well.

Marrano, well known throughout the region as a prolific print and broadcast journalist and editor (including a stint at The Vinton Messenger), said he and Marlow Ferguson met over 10 years ago, and have kept in touch.

A couple of years ago, Marrano said, he experienced a “middle-age creative crisis” and became interested in acting. He was recruited, but also auditioned for “Shakespeare in Love.” He reads from Sonnet 130: “I love to hear her speak, but I know that music hath a far more pleasing sound.” He also performs as Orsino from Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night,” said to be “in love with the idea of love.”

Jane Gabrielle is making her third appearance with the Star City Playhouse. Previously, she appeared as Meg in “Crimes of the Heart” and as Linda in “Play it Again, Sam.” She is a visual artist/poet/singer songwriter.

Her work has been published in Artemis Journal, Valley Blend Magazine, Style Magazine-Richmond, and Handshake 2.0.  Gabrielle travels with a carnival as a face painter most of the year.  She says she is grateful to her husband Mac for the “wings to fly.”

She met Ferguson years ago; he told her, “I’m going to make you an actor.”

“I’m just very grateful to Marlow and Karon Sue for the opportunity to perform in theatre,” said Gabrielle.  “It’s something I’ve always wanted to try. I enjoy hanging out with Marlow and painting sets, just to hear his stories. He is so well known in the business that industry people call him for old sets, to see if he wants them. These include the Today Show, The Met, and The Muppet Show. Somewhere in his pile of treasures is the staircase from “Home Alone.”

Gabrielle will be performing Sonnet 109: “For nothing this wide universe I call,  save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all,” and as the fiery Kate from the comedy “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Brandi Dawson will perform Sonnet 40 and the role of Titania, queen of the fairies, from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

She has been with Star City Playhouse since it opened in Roanoke.

“I had never done theatre, but had always been interested,” said Dawson. “I randomly decided to audition when I was 25 years old, in 2007, and I was terrified. I’m not sure how good I was, but Marlow gave me a part as the maid in their first show. I had one line, but I was thrilled. I’ve been with them ever since. This will be my 12th show with them. I’ve had a lot of great roles, but I don’t think anything will ever top Shelby in ‘Steel Magnolias.’ That show was just magical.”

Bob Toven will read Sonnet 138 and perform with Dawson in the role of weaver Nick Bottom, magically given the head of a donkey in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Toven is a speech and language graduate of James Madison University, formerly Madison College. A long-time resident of the Roanoke Valley, he stays busy as a substitute teacher and as a member of the board of directors at Showtimers Community Theatre. He has performed in most areas of entertainment including radio, television, movies, and theatre.

Having worked on several area stages, Toven says some of his most memorable roles include Judge Gaffney in “Harvey,” which incidentally marked his first time on Star City’s stage. He is not new to Shakespeare, having performed the role of Antonio in “Much Ado About Nothing.” His most recent roles include Maude in the musical “Bye, Bye, Birdie,” and the BFG in the Roanoke Children’s Theatre production of “The BFG.”

“Marlow said he was going to knock my acting rust off, and he did,” said Toven.

“I have done so many shows over the years and each performance has been memorable in its own way,” he adds.

Vickie Haynie has been active in local community theatre in the Roanoke Valley for 20 years. Her Star City Playhouse credits include playing Aunt Penniman in “The Heiress,” Bessie in “Awake and Sing,” Juliane in “Hedda Gabler,” Regina in “The Little Foxes” and Olivia in “Mr. Pim Passes By.”  She said she “is thrilled to see Marlow and Karon Sue open their theatre doors in their new Vinton home.”

She will be reading Sonnet 63 and performing the monologue of snobby shepherdess Phoebe from the pastoral comedy, “As You Like It.”

Marlow Ferguson will be reading Sonnet 18 and appearing as Jaques, the discontented lord from “As You Like It,” who bemoans the emptiness of life from birth to death.

The Star City Playhouse has been in existence under its current name since 2005, although it got its start in 1994 when the group opened in Elizabeth, N.J. It operated as the Elizabeth Playhouse before relocating the theater to be closer to family in Roanoke. The Fergusons have over 50 years of combined experience working in and around theater on Broadway in New York, and they have been responsible for 105 productions in over 25 years.

Marlow Ferguson acts occasionally as in “Shakespeare in Love,” although he serves primarily as the artistic director, while Karon serves as the producer. The Fergusons have access to an active pool of about 45 actors, although they hold open casting calls for each production.

Karon Ferguson lived in Vinton in the mid-n90s and said she has fond memories of the town.

The full 2017 season gets underway on March 24 with “Belle of Amherst,” by William Luce, with four other productions to follow. Local talents are urged to audition for each production, with casting calls found on the Facebook page.

This Friday’s performance begins at 7 p.m. February 11 and 12 performances (Saturday and Sunday) begin at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the door.


Parking may be found at the Farmers’ Market, on the streets of Vinton, in the Municipal Parking lots, and at Vinton Baptist.


Look for more photos from the Star City Playhouse production of “Shakespeare in Love” on the Vinton Messenger Facebook page.




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