By Michael Rizzo
BELLEROSE, Queens — On Aug. 8, the St. Gregory the Great’s Theatre Group (SGTG) didn’t just stage its opening night performance of “Shrek The Musical.” The production also marked 40 years that the Bellerose parish has been presenting Broadway plays.
SGTG began as an extension of St. Gregory’s youth program that was seeking to do something before its summer break ended in 1979. The result has been performances of plays like “Godspell,” “The Odd Couple,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Mary Poppins.”
The performers are all volunteers with just the live musicians and some technical staff paid for their services. Ticket proceeds go to fund the next production. Some SGTG actors have even graduated to Broadway, like Andrew Barth Feldman who is the current lead in “Dear Evan Hansen.”
This year’s production is being staged in the basement of the church just off the Cross Island Parkway in eastern Queens. Performances are usually in the parish’s Gregorian Hall, but that space is under renovation.
“People are so impressed,” Deacon Mickey Cutter, SGTG’s moderator, said of the decades of plays produced by SGTG. “For a lot less money than Broadway, they get to see a Broadway-quality show,” he said.
More than 100 attended opening night Aug. 8, a larger-than-normal crowd for a Thursday opening, according to one SGTG member. Longtime director and original SGTG participant, Kathy Rollo Ferrara, was all smiles when the 2½ hour production came to an end.
“I am so proud,” she said. “For 40 years, we have done incredible theater. We’ve brought joy, happiness and even tears, but we’ve consistently done our best. Folks always tell me I wish I found out about you sooner.”
“Shrek The Musical” tells the story of a green ogre, with a wisecracking donkey as a sidekick, who finds love. The musical adds songs and dance numbers to tell the tale. The SGTG production sports actors from 9-year-olds to 50-plus, a Scottish-accented main character and a smoke-spewing, glowing-eyed dragon.
Kelly Ann Connors is a St. Gregory’s parishioner whose performed in a number of SGTG musicals. The 28-year-old has several roles in this play, including the voice of Gingy, a talking gingerbread puppet.
“This is incredible,” she said about the 40th-anniversary production. “This is special. I don’t know of any other local theater like this. Come and see it and have a lot of fun.”