For 65 years, Gateway Playhouse -- lately rebranded The Gateway -- has been synonymous with Long Island summer theater. Although the field has grown more competitive over the decades -- from Shakespeare-in-the-park to Hamptons premieres starring A-list celebrities -- Gateway's first-of-the-season musical is still anticipated like opening day in baseball.
Except it's a night game.
This summer's lineup leads off with a coup for The Gateway. The hit Broadway show "Rock of Ages," featuring music by '80s rockers -- including Pat Benatar and Twisted Sister, both with Long Island roots -- closed in January. Barely five months later, it's opening in Bellport (previews begin Wednesday) with a cast led by Genson Blimline of Miller Place, reprising his Broadway role as narrator Lonny.
"We've really had to ramp it up to get ready for our season opener," says Gateway producer Paul Allan. "Usually, when a show closes on Broadway, it's still out on national tour. But the second 'Rock of Ages' tour closed about the same time as the Broadway show. So rights were released much sooner than usual," Allan says, adding: "We got the touring set, too."
Blimline made his Broadway debut in the acclaimed 2008 Lincoln Center revival of "South Pacific."
WELCOME BACK He's joined this season by a name familiar to Gateway subscribers and fans of the TV classic "All in the Family." Sally Struthers, who played Archie Bunker's daughter, Gloria, was Roz in "9 to 5" at Gateway in 2012. She's returning in a partnership production of the Gershwin musical "Nice Work If You Can Get It" with Maine's Ogunquit Playhouse. Struthers plays Duchess Estonis Dulworth, a comic role that won Judy Kaye a 2008 Tony.
"Nice Work" is the second show of Gateway's season, opening June 10, followed on July 1 by another Gateway-Ogunquit coproduction, "Sister Act," starring Rashidra Scott of the Broadway musical.
DANCING SHOES Allan says he's most excited about the season's second Long Island premiere. "Billy Elliot the Musical" comes to Gateway three years after the winner of 10 Tonys closed on Broadway. ("We're still waiting for rights to 'Les Mis,' " Allan notes wryly.) The lead role -- a boy who trades boxing gloves for ballet slippers -- was shared on Broadway by Trent Kowalik of Wantagh, who aged out of the role. "It's important to get a boy who looks 10 years old," say Allan. "We're lucky to get the youngest kid from the end of the tour." Mitchell Tobin will split the part with Brandon Renalli, who appeared in "Newsies" on tour. Major dance numbers aside, "Billy Elliot" includes a flying sequence. "I've been warned it's a challenge," says Allan, who hopes to sell out the 1,200-seat Patchogue Theatre for much of the July 22-Aug. 8 run.
The disco classic "Saturday Night Fever" concludes Gateway's summer season Aug. 26-Sept. 12, "Stayin' Alive" back in Bellport.
WHAT "Rock of Ages"
WHEN | WHERE 8 Wednesday, May 20, 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday, May 21, official opening May 22, through June 6, The Gateway, 215 South Country Rd., Bellport
TICKETS $54-$89; 631-286-0555, gatewayplayhouse.com (also for season plans)