Arts & Leisure

Broadway Direct taps a dozen years in Vergennes

There’s nothing quite like a Broadway show. They are simply magical.
If you’ve never been, picture this: As the sun sets, Broadway lights up. The strip is radiant with lights bounce off the theater signs, reflecting on buildings and damp city streets. People bustle down the sidewalks, others hop out of double-parked cabs, scurrying out of the chilly city air and into ornate theaters. Once seats are taken, the actors are ready, the orchestra is tuned and sets are in place, the velvet curtains go up on show after show.
No matter how many times a performance is played, the audience is treated to an otherworldly experience. Each show feels fresh; every scene feels real.
How does Broadway pull this off?
No idea. But one guess might be that it has to do with the exquisite caliber of each show’s cast and crew.
Lucky for us, we don’t have to travel to New York City to get a taste of Broadway’s magic. Vergennes resident and owner of the Emerson Guest House on Main Street Bill Carmichael is a Broadway veteran, and he’s been bringing a show he calls “Broadway Direct” to the Vergennes Opera House stage for the past 11 years. Carmichael and several of his Broadway friends are once again going to bring the sounds of Broadway to Vergennes for one spectacular evening on Friday, Dec. 8.
“Hands down Broadway Direct is our most anticipated show of our season,” said Gerianne Smart, president of the Friends of the Vergennes Opera House. “Every year, Bill and his friends transport us to the lively theaters of Broadway with their big voices and exceptional theatrical talents. How they do this so exceptionally well, with such little rehearsal, is a testament to their professionalism and their commitment to their art and desire to entertain.”
The show this year will focus on the music and lyrics of two well-known Broadway talents: Cole Porter and Frank Loesser. These two composers are behind the music of “Anything Goes,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Begin the Beguine” and many others.
Carmichael will be joined by fellow Broadway professionals Kathryn Markey, Amanda Ryan Paige and Jeffrey Todd Parrott. As in years past, area high school students will join the pros. This year, Carmichael hand-picked his daughter Caitlin Walsh, Sydney Tart and Maddy Smith (all from Vergennes), and Colchester residents Jonny Barden and Sam Dickin.
The cast will once again, be expertly accompanied on the Vergennes Opera House grand piano by Scott Nicholas, a long-time friend of Carmichael’s who resides and teaches in Boston.
“This year the students will perform a medley of ‘Anything Goes,’” said Carmichael, who has been working with the students. “They’ll be tapping, too!”
Yes, that’s right, the students, along with Markey and Paige, will be tap dancing!
“The students help bring a bigger sound to the show,” Carmichael explained. “Plus it’s always great to showcase local talent.”
Though Carmichael is an ol’ pro at it these days, producing “Broadway Direct” is unlike anything he did during his professional acting career.
A native of New York City, Carmichael got his start with music as a choirboy at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It was a rigorous program with two rehearsals a day and an evening sing.
“I couldn’t wait for my voice to change,” he half-joked.
As a teenager he moved to New Canaan, Conn., and took a lead role in his high school play “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
“I got to play Jonathan Brewster — it’s a pretty evil part — and thought, ‘Wow! This is fun.’”
He followed the standard path to college at Hiram in Ohio, where he studies history, but that didn’t stick. After bouncing to Italy and England for semesters abroad, Carmichael decided to head back to home sweet home in NYC.
For about a year, he peddled around the city as a bike messenger while taking classes at The Herbert Berghof Studio, better known as HB Studios — a non-profit that offers professional training in the performing arts.
He continued his theater studies at the University of Connecticut, but came up short of graduating. Instead, at age 21, he moved back to the city (and in with his folks) and got his first part with Light Opera of Manhattan, or LOOM — an off-Broadway repertory theater.
“I did 13 shows in a little over a year,” said Carmichael. “In 1979, I got into ‘Peter Pan’ with Sandy Duncan and George Rose.”
“Peter Pan” was his ticket. Carmichael was able to move out of his parents’ house, get his own place and get on with his professional acting career.
After playing a pirate in “Peter Pan” for about two years, Carmichael moved on. He played in “Forbidden Broadway,” “Cats,” “Les Miserables,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Ragtime” and “Mama Mia,” to name a few. He’s also performed at many regional Equity theaters including Vermont Stage, Northern Stage, The Depot Theater and St. Michael’s Playhouse.
Yup, you can safely say, Carmichael “made it” as an actor on Broadway.
But one day, about 13 summers ago, when he and his wife, Susan Burke Walsh, were attending a family wedding in Vermont, they passed through Vergennes.
“It was a picture-perfect spring day,” Carmichael remembered. “I swear there was even a rainbow over the city.”
Bill and Sue were looking for a second home outside New York City, and Vergennes was the winner.
“I was at a burnout phase with the Broadway theater life,” said the 63-year-old, who was working “Mama Mia” at the time.
So what did he do?
Bought a bed and breakfast in Vergennes and moved.
“We live full-time on the third floor of the guest house,” Carmichael said. “I’m not crazy about all the cleaning but meeting people has been awesome. It’s been very fulfilling.”
But Carmichael couldn’t quite leave Broadway behind. The first year he was in Vergennes, he called on his friends in “Mama Mia” to come put on a show in Vermont. The rest is history.
“How wonderful it is to do something like this for the community,” Carmichael reflected. “Vergennes gives so much back — it makes me realize what a great community we live in.”
This year’s show takes the Vergennes Opera House stage on Friday, Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors (65+), and $5 for students 18 and younger. They are available online at vergennesoperahouse.org or at Classic Stitching in Vergennes and at the door. For more info call the Opera House at (802) 877-6737.
The next day, Carmichael and crew will take “Broadway Direct” up to the St. Michael’s Playhouse in Colchester for a Saturday performance on an Equity stage. Catch it here, or catch it there, but you won’t want to miss this show.

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