Rodgers and Hammerstein Hits, Opera Round Out Madison Lyric Stage Season


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MADISON – The Madison Lyric Stage is wrapping up its 11th season with “Climb Every Mountain: An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein,” running this Friday through Sunday, and “Maidens, Witches, and Femme Fatales … The Women of Opera,” running Oct. 14 and 15.

Marc Deaton, artistic director of Madison Lyric Stage, said “Climb Every Mountain” won’t be a typical Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein revue, with several soloists singing the greatest hits of the duo’s songbook.

“We have 19 people singing, which is a lot of people,” he said. “I have seen and been in so many revues where you have five operatic singers, and they stand there with their music, and they sing the nine songs we all know and love. Not that it’s bad, but to me, the magic in addition to those ballads are those big numbers. We’ve gotten a reputation of having a stupendous ensemble. We’re doing pretty much all the big ensemble numbers.”

Many of the classic ballads will be included, Deaton said, and he’s making sure everybody in the large cast gets a moment to shine.

Meanwhile, “Maidens, Witches, and Femme Fatales” features Madison Lyric Stage’s company of female vocalists.

“It features all women’s roles,” Deaton said. “I’m very excited. I have seven women who have tremendous operatic voices.”

Unlike most companies in the state, Madison Lyric Stage doesn’t limit itself to just theater and musicals, expanding its repertoire to opera, which Deaton has a background in.

“We like to mix people up,” he said. “People who are operatic are also in musicals. I make them dance, I make them act. People are far more multifaceted than our industries allow them to be.”

Deaton said his primary skill set as a performer was opera, but he always wanted a more hybrid approach to the stage. He made Madison Lyric Stage fit that format by hiring professional performers but not being an equity house.

“We’re a professional non-equity company,” he said. I think that says clearly who we are. We have professional standards and professional quality. We have occasionally used equity people for a special appearance.”

“We do multigenres,” he said. “Because we’re a multi-genre company, we do straight plays, musicals, concerts, operas, and new works, there isn’t always sufficient need for equity performers.”

Deaton and his then partner, now husband of eight years, John Johmann, started Madison Lyric Stage 11 years ago in the barn in their Madison home.

“We bought our house in Madison in 2007,” said Johmann, who is also executive director. “We didn’t move until the end of 2008. We have a large barn on our property. At the time, it was an elderly barn.”

He said Deaton had the idea of inviting friends to the barn for a concert. Their first performance was a Stephen Sondheim revue.

“Once people know you’re a professional singer, people want to hear you,” Deaton said. “We got some antiques and a couple of rugs and torches.”

Popularity eventually grew until there were lines of people down their driveway.  

“That eventually led to a problem because the town wasn’t so happy with us,” he said.

In 2018, they moved to the Deacon John Graves House at 581 Boston Post Road, where Madison Lyric Stage has been ever since. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Madison Lyric Stage pivoted to outdoor-only performances and became one of the only theaters in the state to have a season in 2021. 

“We started a capital campaign in 2022 to buy a tent and to buy a lot of other stage equipment and excavate the ground underneath, which took time and money,” Deaton said.

They opened their new venue with a double bill opera of Benjamin Britten’s “Curlew River” and “Seven Deadly Sins” by Kurt Weil, Lynn Taylor-Corbett, and George Balanchine, followed by “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” “Pippin,” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

“It’s a hell of a lot of work,” Deaton said. “It’s not easy. Money is difficult. But we do OK because we stay small. And as long as we feel proud of the work, that’s what’s important to me.”