The Pembroke Pines Theater of the Performing Arts (PPTOPA) was created Twenty years ago when a family, with its roots in Hialeah, moved to Pembroke Pines to raise their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Florence Andrews, the matriarch of the family, was the daughter of a Broadway producer who passed his love of theater down through her generations. Having been an instrumental part of what is now the Main Street Players of Miami Lakes, Florence Andrews, her daughter Stacy Cichewicz, and her grandson James Cichewicz formed the “Pines Players” with their friends Paul and Irene Mendelsohn and created this theater company which is going strong to this date.
James Cichewicz was elected the first president of the group and he proceeded to forge an alliance with Target stores and Polly Willkie to raise the initial funding to put on a production at the Walter C. Young Community Center. Anthony Paigo, still a member of our honorary board, was enlisted from Main Street and joined the fledging troupe. “The King and I” was the first show presented and it was a great success, starring Terry Stewart, the then Assistant City Manager of Pembroke Pines. The goal of the company then, as now, was to present quality entertainment at an affordable price to our community as well as afford anyone who wants to assist in the creation of theater. One year later, reconstituted as The Pembroke Pines Theater of the Performing Arts, its second production “Oliver” was presented. In that cast were as Fagin’s ragamuffins, Lauren Maxwell, Edmund and Gary Entin, and Sarah Steinfield, whose parents were to later play a large part in PPTOPA’s future growth.
Florence Andrews and James Cichewicz knew that for PPTOPA to succeed it would need to grow beyond their family. They began the expansion with their next production of “Fiddler on the Roof” from which they recruited as board members, Alvin Entin, a local attorney, Jay Maxwell, a City of Miami Beach Executive, Sue Steinfield, a civilian employee of DEA, Keith Kramer, an Executive with a large Telecom corporation, and Joe Ferrel, an analyst with Florida Power and Light. Mr. Entin and Mr. Maxwell came to PPTOPA through their children’s participation in “Oliver”, while Kramer and Ferrel were recruited from their Church choir. Along with Cichewicz, Entin, Kramer, and Ferrel were to constitute the Executive Board of the Theater Company for the next ten years and provided leadership to the company as it grew.
The troupe began to expand its horizons as well as developing into a Southwest Broward County institution. Dedicating itself to providing quality theater, PPTOPA and its leadership, dedicated itself to using only live music for its musical productions at a time when other community theater groups were relying in its pre-recorded tracks. The list of shows in the early years included “Camelot”, “Guys and Dolls”, “Lil Abner”, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, “Anything Goes”, and “The Sound of Music”. Eventually the Board determined that PPTOPA needed a musical director, and Michael Day, who is now into his second decade of playing the keyboard for each PPTOPA production, as conducting the PPTOPA orchestra which accompanies him on every show.
Until the late 90’s, PPTOPA while quite successful in Pembroke Pines, was basically unknown in much of the region. As a community theater, it was not reviewed or attended by critics for the local media, and as a result, sat as an undiscovered jewel in the local theater world. While its audiences were increasing, it was for the most part, unnoticed, until two major events in its history occurred back to back.
Upon the urging of Keith Kramer and Alvin Entin, the Board agreed to allow the company to produce a drama, “Inherit the Wind”, as its summer show, instead of another comedy. The show brought a large number of local theater performers, including well known professionals willing to perform for no pay, just to put on this exceptional production. The largest summer attendance in PPTOPA’s history was achieved in this show, a record which stood for more than 7 years.
The second event stemmed from James Cichewicz’ passion for Frank Wildhorns “Jekyll and Hyde”. No local professional company had even attempted to do this show at that time due both to its complexity and vocal demands. James not only believed PPTOPA was up to the task, he assumed the responsibility and with his wife and grandmother, brought the show to life. A special cast was brought together which included Deanna Peden, a professional opera singer, Wendy wood, a well known local actress, and great voices like Linda Roberts, Michelle Perkins, Bianca Raborg, and Terry Stewart. Joe Ferrell, who at that time had become a master set builder, conceived a set with many moving parts utilizing numerous devices to make walls and rooms disappear seemingly at will. The production opened and within a week, performances were selling out. Crowds well in excess of 500 were jamming Walter C. Young for performances and for the first time in PPTOPA history, patrons had to be turned away at the door. The word of mouth was so prevalent in the community, that the late Jack Zink, then theater critic of the Sun Sentinel and the dean of South Florida’s theater critics, came to see what all the talk was about. The rest, as they say, is history.
Jack Zink loved the show, loved PPTOPA, and loved the dedicated people who were guiding PPTOPA. He wrote a lengthy review of the production and clearly placed PPTOPA on the South Florida Theater map. We were finally being given credit for our accomplishments which Zink compared favorably to many local professional companies.
“Jekyll and Hyde” was followed by “My Fair Lady” which was another sellout and a string of success began in which PPTOPA produced numerous big budget musicals which have still not been attempted by any other South Florida company, community or professional. Those shows included “The Scarlett Pimpernel”, “Ragtime”, and Sondheim’s masterwork “Sweeny Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”. During this same time frame, we moved our home from Walter C. Young to the River of Grass Arts Park, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Pembroke Pines late Mayor Sue Katz. Sue, who was a member of PPTOPA’s Honorary Board, died shortly after her election as Mayor, but her love for our troupe is still paying dividends today.
Disaster struck PPTOPA in 2005. Having expanded by opening a small black box theater in Cooper City, for intimate plays and musicals, PPTOPA was using the profits generated by its large productions to remain solvent. At that time, PPTOPA existed only on ticket sales and had little or nothing in the way of corporate or individual sponsorships. A large production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” was presented for the fall which cost PPTOPA tens of thousands of dollars. Then two days prior to the opening, Broward County was clobbered by Hurricane Wilma. The first two weeks of the show were totally lost and the final weeks sparsely attended as people were, rightfully so, more concerned with roofs and electric than singing teapots and dancing candelabras. An attempt to recoup with a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” guest starring Avi Hoffman and Laura Turnbull did well, but not well enough to offset the losses of “Beauty and the Beast”, and the closing our black box in Cooper City.
Much of the original family that started PPTOPA had by then moved to North Palm Beach, and the talented James Cichewicz received his equity card and was now performing professionally, both in South Florida and New York. It appeared that PPTOPA was about to close its doors. However, Keith Kramer assumed the role of President, and with Board Chairman Alvin Entin’s assistance, were able to bring two new stars into the PPTOPA firmament.
Kristi Krueger, anchorwoman for WPLG-10, took on the thankless role of drumming up tangible support for PPTOPA in the community. Kristi worked tirelessly and brought on board, with checkbooks in hand, the new Mayor of Pembroke Pines, Frank Ortis, Commissioners Ben Fiordino, Carl Schecter and Angelo Castillo. Suddenly there was hope. Kristi then was able to enlist support from Bergeron Construction and other local business and through their generosity, PPTOPA was solvent once again and back in business.
The second new start was the brilliant and talented Kim Christensen of Cisco systems. Kim assumed the role of our Administrative Vice President and brought PPTOPA into the 21st century. Kim created our current on line ticketing system and completely reconstructed the company to make it more efficient. Economies of scale have been effectuated on PPTOPA which now has an effective business plan going forward.
Critically new blood has also emerged. Peter Librach and Beverly Riches have directed many of our most recent shows, all artistic and commercial successes including “My Fair Lady”, “Brigadoon”, “Oliver”, “The Mikado”, and the “Gondoliers”, each show better than its predecessor.
So, there you have it. As PPTOPA prepares to start it third decade of providing quality theater, it is doing so with renewed energy under the leadership of its current Board, which includes new blood, as well as individuals who hearken back to the very beginning like Kim Abo, Bernie Lawrence, Linda Roberts and Kathy Kramer.
We have had some of the finest actors and actresses in South Florida perform in PPTOPA productions over the past 20 years. To give you an idea of the quality of the performances brought to our patrons, the following list of our performers who have professional credits is quite illustrative.
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