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Allan family, through triumph and tragedy, leads Gateway arts center

Paul Allan, executive artistic director of Gateway Playhouse,

Paul Allan, executive artistic director of Gateway Playhouse, has "Rent" as the first show of the summer season. Credit: Daniel Brennan

Paul Allan, “the last one standing” in a family enterprise that’s been a Long Island landmark since 1950, isn’t the only Allan associated with Gateway Playhouse, now the nonprofit Gateway Performing Arts Center of Suffolk County.

Scot Allan — no relation despite the uncommon last-name spelling — is in some respects the face of Gateway. He emcees the opening of the show each night, and he’ll be there Friday night, extolling the attractions of Gateway’s 67th season, starting with “Rent,” the story of struggling artists during the height of the AIDS epidemic. It’s the first Gateway season launched without another family member as partner. Although Allan’s sister, Robin Joy Allan, died in early 2016, the season’s shows had already been selected. Two years earlier, their mother, Ruth Allan, passed away. She was part of the second generation in the family business established by Paul’s grandfather Harry Pomeran, who turned a rural resort into a summer-stock barn theater, opening with Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.” Robert Duvall was an early Gateway headliner, though he was unknown until he played Boo Radley in “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1962.


Despite the loss of loved ones, Paul Allan doesn’t see “Rent” as tragic irony. “It’s a celebration of life,” he says of the musical that debuted in personal tragedy. (“Rent’s” creator, Adelphi alum Jonathan Larson, died on the day his show premiered Off-Broadway). “It’s about what a core group of people can accomplish with love. That’s what Gateway’s been about. It’s not for money. It’s for love of theater, the arts and each other.”

That feeling of family endures, Allan says, citing staff who’ve worked decades with the company. Even newcomers — actors who play one show — “feel it too,” Allan says. “We’re not a factory. No one goes home at night. They all stay here together in the casting house” where it all began with Ruth and Sally and brother David, directed by their father, Harry.


After “Rent,” it’s “Swing!,” the big-band dance musical, followed by “On the Town.” Here’s where Paul Allan sees “tragedy” in the family business, whose pillars are theater, acting school, Halloween haunted house and rentals of sets. “For 10 years, we stored our ‘On the Town’ set and no one rented it,” he says. “We trashed it in 2014. Now we’re doing that show.”

“Mamma Mia!” is Gateway’s big box-office selection for the Patchogue Theatre in August and the season concludes with a “Little Shop of Horrors” casting controversy. Seeking a role for Sally Struthers, who’s played Gateway the last few summers, Allan pitched the idea of her playing Mrs. Mushnik, owner of the shop, heretofore played by a Mr. Mushnik. When that was rejected by the licensing agency, Allan proposed having Struthers play Mr. Mushnik in drag. She agreed. No dice, the agency said.

“I’m not sure they can do that,” Allan says, regarding an actress who chooses to play a man.

Stay tuned.

WHAT “Rent”

WHEN | WHERE Through June 3. Upcoming: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Wednesday (Thursday online only), 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday

TICKETS $32.50-$95; 631-286-1133,

WHAT Dance like it’s 1977, or at least pretend to in your seats at Port Jeff’s Theater Three. “Saturday Night Fever” unleashes the energy of the Bee Gees in the dance musical that closes out the company’s 2016-17 season.

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through June 24, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson.

TICKETS $35; 631-928-9100,

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