Vergennes duo teams up for 10th benefit show

VERGENNES — Visitors entering the Emerson Guest House bed and breakfast on Main Street in Vergennes shouldn’t be surprised if they are greeted with a rousing rendition the “Major-General’s Song” from Pirates of Penzance, or “Prima Donna” from The Phantom of the Opera. And many walk in impressed with the vocal prowess of the singer, Bill Walsh, a professional actor who along with his wife — dancer and choreographer Sue Burk Walsh — are livening up the theater scene in the Little City.
The couple and daughter Caitlin migrated north to Vermont from the Great White Way of Broadway soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. They brought with them a wealth of artistic talent and Broadway contacts whom they regularly invite to share the stage at the Vergennes Opera House.
Bill Walsh uses the stage name “Bill Carmichael.” His latest offering, under the banner Broadway Direct Vermont, will be “Songs Made Famous.” Set for this Saturday, May 2, at 7 p.m., the event will feature an evening of signature songs made famous by such artists as The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Fleetwood Mac and Elvis Presley. Carmichael will be joined by his older daughter Chesley Walsh, a contestant on the Canadian version of “The Voice” TV show and a songwriter and performer making a name for herself in Montreal with the band “Bent by Elephants.” Renowned pianist Jay Kerr, who is artistic director at the Fort Salem Theater in Salem, N.Y., will accompany the duo.
This is the Walshes’ 10th year of bringing Broadway Direct Vermont shows to Vergennes. All have featured accomplished Broadway performers and some whom Carmichael called “Broadway ready.” The performers, of course, stay at the Walshes’ bed and breakfast.
“It’s been something that has nourished my passion for what I love,” Carmichael said.
While living in New York, it was not unusual for Carmichael to perform in eight shows per week, week in and week out. His credits include choice roles in Broadway productions of Mama Mia!, Cats, Les Miserables and Peter Pan. He has performed on the West Coast in productions of Ragtime, Forbidden Broadway and Oklahoma. And he has lent his talents to regional productions of Arsenic and Old Lace, Young Frankenstein, Blithe Spirit and Pirates of Penzance at the St. Mike’s Playhouse.
“I still love what I am doing,” Carmichael said.
And it’s not all glamour.
Carmichael sometimes rehearses while cleaning the bathrooms and vacuuming at the Emerson Guest House. The occasional dramatic roles help pay the bills during the slower months of operating a bed and breakfast.
Meanwhile, Sue Burk Walsh is getting back into the dance/choreography field after having devoted much time to daughter Caitlin, who is now 13. She has also taught pilates and worked for DR Power Equipment. She will choreograph a performance of White Christmas with Spotlight Vermont Director Jen Barden at The Lyric at the Flynn Theater this coming November.
She and her husband have to pick their dramatic assignments very carefully.
“It’s a very amoebic environment here,” she said. “You have to go with the flow.”
Their stated priorities include the Emerson Guest, Carmichael’s performances and Caitlin’s education.
“It is hard to know what we can or can’t do until Bill has his shows lined up,” Sue Burk Walsh said. Carmichael’s upcoming agenda includes roles in Spamalot and Wait Until Dark at the St. Michael’s Playhouse.
If that’s not enough, the Walshes this summer for the first time will offer the Broadway Direct Musical Theatre Camp for youths ages 13-18. The day camp, based at the Vergennes Opera House, will run Aug. 3-7 and is limited to 20 students.
When they aren’t performing or running their bed and breakfast, the couple is shuttling Caitlin to dance and theater rehearsals throughout the state. Caitlin most recently performed in a 1930s-style cabaret show at Bill Reed Studios in South Burlington. She is a performer with the Vermont Ballet Theater School in Essex, which involves after-school commitments on  Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Caitlin also dances jazz, tap and modern at Spotlight Vermont and she performed in Fiddler on the Roof at St. Michael’s Playhouse. She is also a performer with St. Mike’s Playhouse Junior.
“She’s got her dad’s set of pipes for singing,” Burk Walsh said.
“… and her mom’s legs,” Carmichael said of his daughter’s dancing ability.
All three have been involved with plays at Vergennes Union High School, with Sue doing choreography and Bill helping providing direction. They most recently helped the school stage the Little Mermaid, last November.
The couple has high hopes for the Vergennes Opera House, and gave a lot of the credit to VOH board President Gerianne Smart.
“She is giving it all of her heart and soul,” Sue Burk Walsh said. “We are thrilled with how much energy she has.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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