Gay couple converts century-old EaDo building into community theater.
By Don Maines
In the Broadway musical Sweet Charity, a New York City sex worker hits pay-dirt with a famous Italian film star and sings about how her friends “would never believe it” if they could see her “eating fancy chow and drinking fancy wine.”
Likewise (and a little closer to home), was there ever any doubt in Friendswood that favorite son Luke Hamilton would enjoy a successful stage career? “I’ve always liked pleasing the audience,” says Hamilton, recalling how, at age five, he took a bow after scoring a goal in soccer.
Just 20 years later, New York City might have the musical Hamilton, but Houston has Luke Hamilton, a 2011 graduate of Clear Brook High School who is the executive director of a new theater, EaDo Playhouse, where he’s choreographing their August 11–20 production of Sweet Charity.
His other half, Colton Berry, is directing the show, which will follow EaDo’s production of Reefer Madness that plays through July 16.
EaDo Playhouse is at 2619 McKinney St. in a century-old building that has housed a scrap-metal firm, catering company, car shop, and other businesses. Last fall, Hamilton and Berry transformed the space into a theater with a thrust stage that places the audience on three sides of the playing area. “We repainted, repurposed, and renovated it,” says Hamilton.
They debuted the space in December with a production of the 1998 off-Broadway musical A New Brain, which was followed by Spring Awakening, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Little Shop of Horrors, as well as the drama A Few Good Men.
“All we did was unlock the doors for a group to come in and do A Few Good Men,” explains Hamilton, “and we helped create a design of the space to transition it from a proscenium staging.”
The Few Good Men production, which donated some ticket sales to a military veterans’ group, caught the attention of Mayor Sylvester Turner and won the playhouse a proclamation from the City of Houston.
The accolade followed some backlash from last year’s sudden dissolution of a nonprofit theater group run by Berry, who cited deep financial troubles. In its last season, the group performed a number of shows at The Kaleidoscope in downtown Houston.
Hamilton shakes off that dustup. “I was still in college at Texas State University when [Berry’s] theater formed, and I came into it through many changes in the staff and management,” he says. “It was a very sticky situation, but I have been very transparent and clear with everyone that this is a volunteer, nonprofit organization. We are attracting a lot of college students and others who want to create art because of their love for the theater.
“Colton and I work very well together,” he adds. “We are loving getting to work on Sweet Charity, which was originally directed and choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse. It starred his muse, Gwen Verdon, and was crafted by such a powerhouse team of creators—composer Cy Coleman, lyricist Dorothy Fields, and book writer Neil Simon.”
That 1966 stage show was based on Federico Fellini’s 1957 film Nights of Cabiria, and became the basis of a 1969 movie musical that starred Shirley MacLaine. Its score features the songs “Big Spender,” “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” “The Rhythm of Life,” and “I’m a Brass Band.”
Hamilton grew up in Friendswood, where he won two Tommy Tune Award nominations for choreographing his high-school productions of Into the Woods and The Music Man, along with a nod for best leading actor as Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. He also won best-actor trophies as Otto Frank, Anne’s father, in The Diary of Anne Frank in the University Interscholastic League’s one-act play competition.
Most recently, he portrayed Tom Sawyer in a reading at the Alley Theatre of Kenneth Lin’s new adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He also assisted director Gregory Boyd with A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Alley, and helped renowned choreographer Dana Lewis with a Theatre Under the Stars production of Oliver! in which Berry played Noah Claypole.
This article appears in the July 2017 edition of OutSmart Magazine.