Hannah Oldham, Maddison Novak and Alexander Grinnell take the stage in the Spring Hill Broadway Review production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” earlier this year. Southwest Johnson County is a hotbed of theatrical activity of late with three organizations – Broadway Review, TallGrass Theatre Company and Gardner Community Theatre showcasing local talent regularly. Submitted photo courtesy of Jenny Oberheide

Danedri Thompson
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There’s always another opening of another show in southwest Johnson County these days. With three theatre groups off the ground and running, there are plenty of opportunities for thespians at all levels to get involved.
Sarah Ackerman-Hale, a founder of Spring Hill’s Broadway Review group and a former director and actress with Gardner Community Theatre productions, traces the rise in interest in theater to popular movie musicals.
“At the time we started Broadway Review, that was the year ‘Mama Mia!’ came out. ‘High School the Musical’ was out. Glee wasn’t out, but everybody was talking about theater,” Ackerman-Hale said. “It just seemed like you couldn’t get away from it.”
Broadway Review started as an outgrowth of the Spring Hill Recreation Commission, but Ackerman-Hale and other organizers recently signed the papers to make Broadway Review part of a a non-profit organization.
They signed papers for a group called Madison Avenue Performing Arts, and Broadway Review will continue to be the children’s part of the group.
Broadway Review started three-and-a-half years ago. Production participants won’t notice much difference, but the move to a non-profit will allow the group to have a little more control over its own destiny.
“We’re a little nervous about starting a non-profit, but so far we’ve got a lot of community support,” she said.
Spring Hill City Council just adopted an arts council, and Ackerman-Hale said it really shows the community’s interest in continuing quality arts programming.
“It’s a reassuring feeling to know our arts are being supported here in Spring Hill,” Ackerman-Hale said.
She’s also involved with Gardner Community Theatre and said all of the local groups offer something a bit different.
Broadway Review, she explained, is recreational, grassroots theater.
“We’re all volunteers. We don’t have any highly paid hot shots coming in to run it,” she said.
As Madison Avenue Performing Arts grows, Ackerman-Hale said it will also add some opportunities for its groups to do some digital media – just anything that allows performers to practice and improve their craft.
With summer casts occasionally numbering in the hundreds, Gardner Community Theatre’s (GCT) summer musical productions are large-scale. However, that’s not the only thing the group does.
Dan Naden, president of GCT, said the organization tries to do at least four shows each year. In addition to the summer musical, the group does a holiday show and tries to have a smaller dramatic show in the winter.
“Of course, our summer musical, we like that one to be the big glamorous one,” Naden said.
The glamour is what brought Ackerman-Hale to Gardner to try her hand at acting in a GCT production. She and her daughter attended a GCT production of “Bye Bye Birdie.”
“We thought, ‘this is just as good as things we’ve seen at Starlight Theatre,’” she said. “We saw that, and we said, ‘we’re definitely coming back.’”
GCT’s summer musical is geared to families, with a goal of getting many community members and families involved. Last year, however, the group also produced a musical with a cast entirely made up of children.
“We tried that kind of as an experiment,” Naden said. “It was really popular for all the kids, but it was stretching it a little bit.”
Gardner Edgerton High School vocal music teacher Todd Burd created GCT in 2006 and it’s grown from there. Burd turned the group over to community members the following year and it’s continued to grow and expand.
Right now, the group is hoping to find a permanent space of some kind, but that will require monetary donations or someone donating a space.
“We are limited, because we don’t have our own space,” Naden said.
Meanwhile, Tallgrass Theatre Company in Gardner, is just getting started. The young group was created in 2011 in order to produce classical theater, Sandy Miller said.
“We’ve got a lot of theaters throughout the Kansas City area that do musicals,” Miller said. “The Tallgrass was conceived out of a need to do more classic theater.”
The organization’s first production was “Little House on the Prairie,” last year. The shows aren’t as big, no orchestras and limited dancing, but many of the productions the group hopes to do are long-loved classics.
This summer, the group is gearing up to do “Anne of Green Gables,” during the Festival on the Trails.
The local theatre boom gives people an outlet, she said.
“When the economy is going awry, people just want to be creative,” she said. “theatre and the arts are a great constructive way to let it out.”

Madison Avenue Productions and
Broadway Review
Upcoming show: “Hobbits, Wizards & Jedi”
Auditions: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., June 4 at Spring Hill Community Center
Auditions are open to children, but all participants must be registered through the Spring Hill Recreation Commission by May 30. Cost to participate is $50.
For more information, visit Broadway Review on Facebook.
Gardner Community Theatre
Upcoming Show: “Seussical”
Auditions: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., April 28; and 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. April 29 at Gardner Presbyterian Church
An informational meeting will be held at 3 p.m. on April 22 at Fellowship Bible Church in Gardner. Auditioners should prepare 16 bars of music with sheet music in the correct key. A capella and CD accompaniment is not allowed. Performers will be asked to dance and tumble.
Performances dates: July 13-15 and July 21-22
For more information, visit www.gardnercommunitytheatre.org/ or visit the group on Facebook.
Tallgrass Theatre Company
Upcoming show: “Anne of Green Gables”
The show has already been cast.
Performance dates: 7 p.m. on June 8 and June 9; 2 p.m. on June 10
For more information, visit www.thetallgrasstheatrecompany.com