In Haddonfield, the play's the thing

As director Ben DeFusco works at bottom right of photo, choreographer Renee Liciaga (2nd from right) teaches the waltz during a rehearsal of "The Kings Road" at the Haddon Fortnightly on Aug. 28, 2013. "The King's Road," with a cast of over 50 from all over South Jersey, returns to Haddonfield. The play recounts the storied history of the borough -- particularly the town's role in the state's abolition of slavery -- and will be performed in the Fortnightly, a building with its own colorful past. ( ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer )

The King's Road has it all: Song, dance, war, romance . . . and Haddonfield history.

Written a half-century ago by the late Harry Kaufmann, a public relations executive and civic leader dubbed "Mr. Haddonfield," the play has been staged only twice, in 1963 and 1976.

A new production is set to open Oct. 3 for a three-day run at the Haddon Fortnightly, where I meet producer David Stavetski, director Pat DeFusco, choreographer Renee Liciaga, music director Brian Bacon, and their 50-member cast and crew.

"When David told me about it, I said, 'Something that is real and historical? Count me in,' " says Liciaga, a Mount Laurel resident and New York stage veteran.

Opening night is nearly five weeks away, and the Fortnightly's majestic auditorium resounds with the happy chaos of a play getting on its feet - literally - as Liciaga guides a dozen couples through an onstage waltz.

"Tonight, we're hoping to stage our way through the opening [scene]," says DeFusco, 44, who lives in Merchantville and acts in and directs local theater productions when not working as a senior manager for a parking company.

The King's Road tells the Revolutionary War tale of Haddonfield Quakers struggling to reconcile their pacifism with their love for the newborn United States.

All but one of the main characters are based on historical figures, such as Sarah Lord Hopkins, "who's more or less the moral conscience of the show," says Cherry Hill actress Tami Brody, 49, who's in the role.

"She tries to instill in her children and grandchildren what it means to be a Quaker in a time of war," adds Brody, an administrative assistant at Rowan University in Glassboro.

The King's Road includes original Kaufmann tunes, including "The Jersey Militia" and "Wonderland." The production will include a 10-piece pit orchestra.

"This show is a celebration," says Stavetski, 49, a real estate professional who's executive vice president of Haddonfield Plays and Players.

He notes that the play is one of the borough's "Haddonfield 300" tricentennial events.

"I think Harry had hoped that schools would do it on a regular basis, [but] because it was written for an anniversary, it feels like an anniversary show. I can guarantee every 50 years we will do it," Stavetski says.

"It's really about bringing people together. Not only the cast, but the community."

Kaufmann, who died in 1988, served as president of the theater group. Before building its own home on East Atlantic Avenue, Plays and Players produced shows for more than 50 years at the Fortnightly.

The landmark structure is on Kings Highway - the "King's Road" of the title and the setting of the play.

Connections like these are everywhere in and around the production. Cast member Julie Frederick was an elementary school student when she saw her mother sing in the first King's Road chorus.

"When I heard they were doing this again, I jumped at it," says Frederick, a payroll clerk who lives in Lindenwold.

"My mother still has the [recording] of the [1963] show. I grew up with those songs!" At 93, her mother, Jean Schroeder, plans to watch her daughter sing in the new production.

Some of the songs Frederick will sing are newer, having been added to the 1976 production.

"The last time it was performed, I wasn't born yet," says Bacon, the music director, who's 30 and lives in Mount Laurel.

"This is a [labor of] love for all of us," he adds. "It's a community event in all respects."

At the end of the final performance, alumni of past productions will join cast members to sing "This is the Land Where Freedom Dwells," the show's anthem.

Predicts Stavetski: "There won't be a dry eye in the Fortnightly."

 


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.philly.com/blinq.

For more information, go to www.haddonfieldplayers.com.