The Inaugural Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival Takes Center Stage

42nd Street - Julian Peggy Ensemble

When the 2011 production of “Cooking with the Calamari Sisters” nearly sold out its entire six-week, 49-show run, organizers of the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse in Auburn realized they were on to something.

“Over the past few years we have seen a real passion for professional musical theater in the Finger Lakes,” said Ed Sayles, producing director. “In 2012, the inaugural Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival will be produced by the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, allowing us to share professional musical theater with an even larger audience from across the Northeast.”

The first of its kind in the nation, the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival will offer nine full musical productions, beginning May 30, that will range from classics to originals, with styles and storylines to suit the tastes of every theatergoer.

The Festival will present 250 performances across three Auburn venues: the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, the Main Stage at Auburn Public Theater and Theater Mack at the Cayuga Museum, and is expected to eventually attract 150,000 visitors annually, contribute $30 million to the local economy and create 400 local jobs, say festival organizers.

The festival promises to bring Central New Yorkers an affordable Broadway experience, offering them every bit of the excellence and class without the hassle of big city travel.
“The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival will significantly add to all that the Finger Lakes has to offer,” said Sayles, who also serves as producing artistic director for the festival. “With the expected economic impact, quantity of performances and caliber of actors that the festival will bring to the area, it helps further strengthen the Finger Lakes Region as a great tourist destination.”

Last year, nearly one-third of the 8,500 people who attended “Cooking with the Calamari Sisters” came from outside Central New York, an indication of the region’s untapped arts tourism potential. Hoping to capitalize on that success, the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival will feature more than 100 professional performers from across the country to create a theater experience unlike anything else in the region.

By using three separate venues, organizers have guaranteed visitors a weekend worth the trip. The nine productions overlap, assuring a fulfilling and entertaining experience at venues just minutes away from each other. Further, the Finger Lakes offers fine dining, celebrated wineries and outdoor activities once the curtains close.

The 501-seat Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, located on the shores of Owasco Lake, will host six productions, including the Tony Award-winning “Kiss Me, Kate” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” along with “9 to 5: The Musical,” “My Fair Lady,” “Cabaret” and “Nunsense.”

Founded in 1958, the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, formerly the Auburn Civic Theatre, originally offered weekend drama classes to local youth and eventually grew into a statewide touring children’s theater. Merry-Go-Round has evolved and now offers professional musical theater and youth theatre productions, serving more than 150,000 students in 60 school districts across the state.

After a series of changes and improvements, the professional musical theater saw its first full season in 1972. It wasn’t until 1985, however, under the direction of Producing Director Ed Sayles, that the organization’s name officially changed to the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse.

A $2.5 million renovation in 2004 allowed the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse to solidify its reputation and earn the nickname, “Broadway in the Finger Lakes.” The festival kicks off at the Playhouse with “Kiss Me Kate” opening May 30 and running through June 20.
The Main Stage at Auburn Public Theater will present three regional premieres on its main stage: “Altar Boyz,” “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding” and “Fingers & Toes.”

The smaller, more intimate Theater Mack at the Cayuga Museum will play host to “THE PITCH,” the Festival’s play-development series showcasing 20 new musicals. Every week starting June 14, two teams of three will each be given 45 minutes to present their newest ideas to a live audience. Each musical will be critiqued by the audience and will provide show attendees a chance to share their feedback and play a role in shaping upcoming productions.

Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival will offer the best that contemporary musical theater has to offer: “On, Off & Beyond Broadway.” Merry-Go-Round Playhouse season passes and single tickets for all Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival productions are on sale now. For more information or tickets, visit or call 1-800-457-8897.

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