Curtain Call: Warner Theatre adapts to pandemic with live drive-in musical

The Warner Theatre adapts to pandemic closures by hosting a drive-in musical.

The Warner Theatre adapts to pandemic closures by hosting a drive-in musical.

Metro Creative Connection

Thanks to some creative brainstorming, a unique, live production of “Assassins: The Musical” will be presented live by the Warner Theatre at a drive-in movie location on Sept. 23. The Warner Theatre will celebrate its 89th birthday live. In spite of all the concerns about doing a show with all the COVID-19 restrictions, director Katherine Ray of Norwalk and producing artistic director Sharon W. Houk came up with an idea.

They realized that a live musical couldn’t be done at the 1,700-seat famous Warner Theatre in Torrington. Then Houk recalled a show she had seen at a drive-in theater that worked pretty well. She contacted that theater, the Pleasant Valley Drive-In in Barkhamsted. They were happy to allow the live show to be produced on their property. Only 175 cars will be allowed in, but this is a special event and the two women wanted to do it for the benefit of the theater. Everything is volunteer.

Since masks and/or distance requirements will be the norm, the performers will perform in the most imaginative ways. Think pickup trucks, old-fashioned carriages, period cars and even a jeep. As for the audience, no matter how far back your car is in the lot, you won’t miss a thing because while they’re performing live, cameras will be focused on the actors and projected on the large screen. Technology is also at its best here with radio frequency in cars.

According to the director, it all started in a dream that she had. “I dreamt that we did ‘Ragtime’ in a large parking lot. When I awoke, I called Sharon [Houk] and she said that it’s too big a show with too many people. Then just as I thought ‘Assassins,’” she said, “How about ‘Assassins?’” Ray also said that everyone in theater is trying to stay alive and she realizes that this is “wild, crazy, and bound to be fun.”

Houk presented the idea to the powers that be, and they loved it. This will be a fundraising one-night only event and it’s very affordable. Both Houk and Ray describe the upcoming event as being “out of the box,” and it certainly sounds like this will be way, way out of the box.

Once they got the green light, they started calling the actors who were in the original Warner production. Most of them were excited about doing the show again. Only a few of the actors moved away, but one actor who moved to Maine is coming back to do the show. Ray said it is so much easier having actors already knowing their parts. Meanwhile rehearsals have been virtual.

Ray said that safe distancing and masks will be observed. “I don’t want to take any chances with my cast and crew. I want to make sure that I’m safe as well. If I work taking all precautions, then I know we will all be safe.” In light of this, all the actors will arrive in their own makeup and in their own costumes.

“The theater is thrilled and excited about all this. We’re doing this to help the theater and it is all-volunteer. Technically, we’re allowed 175 cars including 20 VIP cars. However, each ticket is per vehicle and includes up to five people.” Houk pointed out that VIP tickets are $250 per car. Along with parking in the first few rows VIPs will get some kind of gift bag. The other $100 cars are still a good deal. Essentially, these cars are paying like $20 a person.

Those attending will not be able to get out of their cars except for necessary services. Those who arrive in pickup trucks will be allowed to park backwards and sit in the open part of their truck. Tailgating picnics and parties will not be allowed.

This is a one performance only on a Wednesday night. Tickets went on sale Wednesday at the Warner website. The performance will be on Sept. 23. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. and performance starts at 7:30. For more information, visit

Joanne Greco Rochman is a founder and former member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and a current and active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: