SHOE BIZ? Show biz? What's the difference?
Not much, according to Benjamin Lovell, and he should know. By day, the 62-year-old York, England, native and current Wilmington, Del., resident is the founder of the five-store Benjamin Lovell Shoes chain. By night (and weekends), he is a veteran of local stages, including that of the Walnut Street Theatre, where his current five-year run as Ebenezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" has made him a yuletide tradition of sorts hereabouts.
There are "not a lot" of differences, offered Lovell (pronounced LOVE-ull), prior to a recent performance of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance," which runs through April 28 at the Bristol Riverside Theatre (Lovell portrays a pirate named Samuel).
"The similarities are that people don't have to buy shoes - they don't have to buy my shoes. And people don't have to go to the theater. It's a matter of presentation to make sure people want to go to the theater to see good things and they want to come to my stores to see good things."
While Lovell dismissed a suggestion equating salespeople with actors as "almost too trite," he did suggest that the two groups share the traits of being "seasoned" and "passionate" about what they do.
Lovell's story is not that of someone who, later in life, discovered a dormant aptitude for, and interest in, performing. To the contrary, theater has been a constant throughout his life.
"I was brought up in a musical family," he said. "My father was a conductor and a teacher and a professor of music, and he always did some [Gilbert & Sullivan production] every other year. So all the way through the '50s, into the early '60s, I was hearing 'Princess Ida' or 'Ruddigore' or whatever it was that he was doing. So I was brought up with G&S in my brain.
"And, the D'Oyly Carte Co., who owned the rights to G&S up until the mid-'60s, used to come to York every year. They played the theater for a week and we used to go see everything."
He began performing in operettas by the famed Victorian composers. "Then I started to do musical theater, because I wanted to do stuff that wasn't just Gilbert & Sullivan," he explained. "That was in my early 20s. So I went through the 'Oklahoma's and 'South Pacifics's. I've done them all."
But performing was always an avocation. In his early 20s, he was hired by the Clark Shoe Co., which, in 1978, sent him to its corporate headquarters that, at the time, was in Connecticut. The company moved to Kennett Square, Chester County, in 1981 and Lovell began performing locally, particularly in dinner theater productions.
Not that he didn't ever consider turning pro. Lovell twice applied to acting school, first at age 24, then 18 years later. He aborted his first go-round, thanks to a combination of financial considerations and parental disapproval. His parents, he reasoned, "would have approved of it had I been a teacher. But they wouldn't have approved of it if I had gone off and done it, or tried to do it, as [an actor]."
When he applied again at age 42, he was accepted to two schools, but, because his first shoe store, in Rehoboth Beach, Del., had just opened, he passed on academia. "At that time, [the shop] was just starting to take off," he said. "I thought, 'I really need to be here.' "
Lovell claimed no regrets (save for not studying dance as a child), but why should he? The lifelong bachelor has the best of both worlds: He is a successful businessman, and an in-demand actor (his next gig is at the Cortland Repertory Theatre, in New York state, in June. He'll portray the butler in Agatha Christie's, "The Unexpected Guest").
"I'm having a blast doing what I'm doing now," he proclaimed. "An absolute blast."
Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St., 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, $49, $44 and $41, 215-785-0100, brtstage.org.
Congrats to the Jenkintown Music Theatre folks, who on Friday celebrate their company's 68th anniversary with the premiere of "Annie." The evergreen musical, based on the Depression-era cartoon orphan with red hair and pupil-less eyes, runs through April 20. It is being directed by Dollie Kuykendall, who is in her 61st season with the troupe.
Kuykendall Auditorium at Jenkintown High School, 325 Highland Ave., 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and April 19, 3 p.m. Sunday, 2 and 8 p.m. April 20, $20, 215-478-6546, jenkintownmusictheatre.org.