Jennerstown's Mountain Playhouse marks 75th season

By Deborah A. Brehun
Staff Writer, Trib Total Media

June 25, 2014

See the full article at www.triblive.com

The Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown marked its 75th season Tuesday with a ceremony to commemorate its first live production at the historic landmark on June 24, 1939.

"The Mountain Playhouse's diamond anniversary is a true accomplishment in the theater world," said Teresa Stoughton Marafino, the theater's producer. "It is also a commitment to the arts made by the founding Stoughton family and the Mountain Playhouse board of directors."

Members of the founding family and longtime volunteers, production crew and employees were recognized for the part they played in the success of the oldest resident summer stock theater in Pennsylvania.

"My cousin, Jimmy Maust, was just 4 years old when the theater started. He has grown up at the theater," said Marafino. "Currently, and for decades, he has been the master carpenter. He builds the sets, repairs the building. From making an elevator to creating a plane crash, he's the guy to figure how to do that. He has been an integral part of the theater."

The former 1805 gristmill was discovered by the theater's founder James Stoughton in Somerset County and moved to Jennerstown in 1939. It was moved log-by-log through the snow to its present site.

"My father was a Renaissance guy. He had ideas. There was something about James Stoughton that created all this stuff," Marfino said. "I guess his connections to art and culture came from his father, who was from Philadelphia."

Marafino grew up at the playhouse. She became a producer in 1987 along with her sister, Mary Louise, and mother, Terry. She oversaw the conversion of the theater company to a nonprofit corporation in 1997.

"I certainly feel I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, carrying on what my family started," Marafino said.

She was in her first show at age 12, the musical "Plain and Fancy."

"At one point in the show I was put on stool and had to sing, from A to Z, everything that grows in Pennsylvania. I still remember that song. It starts with asparagus and ends with zucchini," she said.

The theater is open six days a week from June through October. Actors audition in New York City and Pittsburgh and live in Jennerstown during the production, sometimes performing all summer long.

"It is a concept people may not realize. When people are cast in several shows in a row out here, they will get parts they would never get in a theater in New York. Because of the nature of business, where people need to go from show, to show, to show, they get a chance to expand their horizon in terms of opportunities," she said.

Marafino said the performers can get away from the industry and be free to be creative and away from the critics.

"We call it 'On Walden's Pond.' They can come to the country and concentrate on their art," she said.

Annually, tens of thousands of visitors travel along the old Lincoln Highway to enjoy live performances of comedies, musicals and dramas in the historic gristmill. It is one of only eight resident summer stock theaters left in the country.

"There is nothing like a live performance. To be able to make it happen many weeks a year in an idyllic setting up on this mountain top is amazing," Marafino said. "It is so beautiful up here. We need to keep moving along on it."

Marafino credits the theater's success to its ability to adapt and evolve with the times.

"We only did evening performances when it first started. As the population began aging, we began to add matinees," Marafino said. "This season the start time was moved up to 7 p.m. to accommodate the needs of patrons."

With the support of patrons, corporate sponsors and foundation grants, the Mountain Playhouse continues to survive and thrive despite economic challenges.

"Nonprofits should never be taken for granted," she said. "It is the communities pulling together that keeps it growing. And, we are so grateful for them."

This season, the playhouse will produce six shows beginning with "The Marvelous Wonderettes," a musical comedy running through Sunday.

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" will take the stage July 8 to July 20.

Other summer shows on the schedule include: "Funny Money" — July 22 to Aug. 3; and "Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie" — Aug. 5 to Aug. 17. The fall season includes "Driving Miss Daisy" — Sept. 16 to Sept. 28 and "Midlife! The Crisis Musical" — Sept. 30 to Oct. 12.

For online ticket information go to www.MountainPlayhouse.org or call 814-629-9201.

Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..