Deborah Grace Winer grew up in both Westport and New York. But it was here — not the big city — that she fell in love with the magic of theater.
From a young age, she was enchanted by the Westport Country Playhouse. Everything about it — the shows, the cast, even the red benches — thrilled her.
She saw Betsy Palmer, June Havoc and Luci Arnaz. She particularly enjoyed watching her godmother — Myrna Loy — in “Barefoot in the Park.”
Deborah Grace Winer
“It’s not just ‘summer theater,'” Deborah says. “It’s Grade A, right before New York. It’s big theater, for everyone.”
At 15, she apprenticed at Lucille Lortel’s White Barn Theater. She rode her bike to the magical spot off Newtown Turnpike every day.
“It was almost like a private social club,” Deborah remembers. “There were only 150 seats, for great stars who wanted to try out new work.”
The next year, at the Playhouse, she became Estelle Parsons’ dresser. Deborah has gone on to a life in theater — she’s a playwright whose work was developed at Lincoln Center, produced Off-Broadway and read at the Playhouse — but whenever she sees Parsons, now in her 80s, they laugh about that summer.
Now she’s headed back to the Playhouse. On June 3, the curtain rises on “Sing for Your Shakespeare.” It’s a world premiere — there’s that Playhouse magic again — musical revue, exploring through song, dance and verse how the popular American songbook has been inspired for decades by Shakespeare’s works.
Deborah co-conceived the show, with Playhouse artistic director Mark Lamos. It originated at the 92nd Street Y, where she’s the artistic director of the Lyrics & Lyricists concert series.
Despite moving full-time to New York, Deborah has retained her ties to the Playhouse. She was inspired by the theater’s renovation, particularly little touches like keeping wood from the old stage in the new wings. “Those are the same boards Helen Hayes walked!” she says.
She’s tremendously excited to return. She praises Lamos’ “creativity, scholarship and stature,” while describing the unlikely pairing of show tunes and the Bard.
“If he were alive now, Shakespeare would have hung out at Lindy’s, eating cheesecake,” Deborah insists. “This sort of follows up on that kind of Shakespeare. There are lots of funny and fun songs, and some surprising discoveries. Plus, the cast is fantastic.”
Recalling so many wonderful memories from her past — cookouts and beach parties with Playhouse actors and crews; taking the last train to Westport from Grand Central, filled with Broadway stars heading home — Deborah says, “I am so thrilled to come back! My whole childhood and history are there. It’s like someone gave me the keys to the candy store.”
Or, as Shakespeare said — in an entirely different context — “sweets to my sweet.”
(Click for tickets and more information for “Sing for Your Shakespeare.”)
The “Sing for Your Shakespeare” team.