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A brief history of Crystal Theatre's 35-year legacy


Crystal Theatre began under the auspices of the Norwalk Parks & Recreation Department in 1987 by founders Cheryl and Alexandrea Kemeny, David Jackins and Mariner Pezza. The founders pooled their experience as professional performers, teachers and artists to create a space open to all students who wished to participate, without special audition requirements. Thirty-five years and 35,000 students later, Crystal Theatre remains Norwalk’s “hidden gem” as it expands its offerings into community theatre with its newly formed subsidiary, Crystal Community Theatre. 

Many Crystal alumni have achieved professional music careers. They include Tony-award nominee Robin de Jesús (Camp, Rent, In The Heights, La Cage aux Folles, Wicked, The Boys in the Band, Tick Tick Boom), super musician Kyle Brenn (West Side Story, Sweeney Todd), the Labbadia Sisters (recording artists and songwriters), Brittany Uomoleale (Baron, Steppenwolf Theatre, Glow), Brennyn Lark (Les Miserables, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Kyle Wrentz (The Lion King), Remy Zaken (Spring Awakening), Alexander Quiroga (Wicked), Dave Vogel (Chicago), and Tony-award-winning producer, Ben Simpson (Fun Home, The Band’s Visit, Hello, Dolly!).

Crystal Theater has produced more than 54 world premieres of original works by its staff and students. The diverse subject matter ranges from historical dramas (Revolution Norwalk, 1777, Living the American Dream and Whistleville) to serious social issues (Without Passion or Prejudice, Coming Of Age and Pulaski Park Rules) to light-hearted comedies (Twelve Dancing Princesses, Goose Alley Gang) to holiday favorites (Save Santa’s Workshop, The Red Shoes) as well as student-written shows such as Kyle Brenn’s The Pirate Chamber and Silent Knight. Hungarian Nights received its world premiere in 2010 and toured Hungary in 2017 and 2019 including 3 performances at A.R.T. Theaters in NYC and exchange tour performances at the Duna Palota in Budapest and the Kultkikötő Outdoor Theater in Balatonfoldvar. Cheryl Kemeny’s musical, Mother Jones and the Children’s Crusade, was a Next Link selection at the New York Musical Festival in 2014 and performed to sold-out houses and wide acclaim. Through its subsidiary, Crystal Theatre Publishing, these musicals have been made available to other theater groups. Crystal shows have been performed everywhere from Harare, Zimbabwe to Hong Kong to Calgary, Canada.

In addition to the Cheryl and Alexandrea Kemeny - the singing “Kemeny Sisters”, Crystal’s founders include, David L. Jackins, who teaches acting and the technical aspects of theatre, and resident artist Mariner Pezza, who serves as a writer and technical director. Laszlo Balazs serves as associate artistic director and Jack Singewald serves as associate technical director. The current teaching staff also includes director/choreographer Sally Szabo-Lombardo, directors Margaret Jackins and Ginny Ruggeiri, choreographer Char Fromentin of Dance Dimensions, and voice instructors Felicia Varvaras, Matthew Surapine, and Daniel Hague.

Crystal Theatre has experienced many “firsts” during the past 35 years. Among them are:

  • 1987 – Crystal Theatre founded by Alexandrea Kemeny, David Jackins, Cheryl Kemeny and Mariner Pezza, under the auspices of the Norwalk Recreation & Parks Department, supervised by Mike Mocciae

  • 1992 – Crystal Theatre files as a CT non-profit

  • 1993 - Crystal Opera founded, with Puccini’s “Suor Angelica,” directed by Arden Anderson Broecking, as the first production

  • 1993 – Crystal Theatre, Inc becomes an official United States 501C-3 not-for-profit performing arts school;

  • 1995 - Humperdinck’s “Hansel & Gretel,” first combined student-professional adult opera performed -- tours in public schools

  • 1996 - first major award, the Moss Hart Award, Youth Division, received for Ellis Island

  • 1996 - first student-written opera, The Isle of Puck, with a libretto by Don Febbraio and music by Darren Ford, who won 4th place in the Young Composers National Competition for Darren Ford

  • 1997 - “Crystal Theatre Presents,” a Public Access television program featuring news of and excerpts from Crystal Theatre productions begins airing on Cablevision of Connecticut

  • 1997 - first Connecticut Commission on the Arts Playwright Fellowship awarded to Cheryl Kemeny for the writing of Mother Jones and the March of the Mill Children

  • 1998 – first two Crystal Theatre summer camps established – one at the Wallace Performing Arts Center in Greenwich and the other at Dance Dimensions in Norwalk

  • 1999 - first Crystal student rock music CD released -- Coming Of Age performed by Krystal

  • 1999 - Crystal web site goes on-line --, designed by Jack O’Melia

  • 1999 – “Arts in the Park,” two multi-arts camps, begins at Cranbury Park in conjunction with Norwalk Recreation & Parks Department

  • 2000 - first Crystal student-written musical theatre production, Time And Time Again, by Jessica Denes and Samantha Kulish – performed at the New England Theatre Convention

  • 2002 - Crystal Theatre Publishing, which enables Crystal shows to be performed all over the world, launched with help from Jack O’Melia --

  • 2003 -- after years working in temporary facilities, Crystal Theatre opens its own theater at Ben Franklin Center in South Norwalk with the World Premiere of Cheryl Kemeny’s Whistleville – and the support from the City of Norwalk, designs by Mariner Pezza and the invaluable aid of many volunteer local contractors

  • 2004 – Mariner Pezza becomes Crystal Theatre’s artist-in-residence and unveils his series of theatrical oil paintings based on Crystal performances throughout the years -- these currently hang in the Crystal Theatre gallery

  • 2005 – Matthew Chiappetta Memorial Scholarship established to honor the memory of a beloved 14-year-old Crystal Theatre student, who died suddenly in March 2004

  • 2005 – first combined professional-community theatre summer historical musical production of the world premiere of The Burning of Norwalk, 1779, by Mariner Pezza and Cheryl Kemeny

  • 2006 – World premiere of Revolution, Norwalk, 1777 by Mariner Pezza and Cheryl Kemeny

  • 2007 – 20th Anniversary – Cheryl and Alexandrea Kemeny perform together for the first time in a Crystal Theatre production as Mother Jones and Adele Smith respectively

  • 2007 – Crystal Theatre produces Cleopatra-a Life Unparalleled at the Midtown international Theatre Festival in NYC and wins the Producer’s Award as well as Best Costumes and Best Actress in a musical for Cidalia Alves portrayal of Mardian.

  • 2007 – Samantha Kulish initiates our first pre-school classes

  • 2007 – Crystal Theatre partners with the Norwalk Historical Society in the presentation of our first Colonial Harvest Festival at the Mill Hill Museum

  • 2008 – New auditorium seats are installed at the Ben Franklin Theater, completing our new seat campaign spearheaded by Fred Bondi and completed by Alicia Brenn

  • 2009 – Crystal Theatre students complete a 12 school tour of The Burning of Norwalk, 1779

  • 2009 – Cleopatra-a Life Unparalleled performed at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity in NYC winning Best Actress in a musical for star, Melissa Labbadia and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer van Buskirk

  • 2010 – World premiere of Coming of Age, Samantha Kulish-Fargione’s new musical for high school students

  • 2010 – First staff/volunteer production at the SONO Arts Festival—Cheryl Kemeny’s Sleeping Beauty

  • 2010 – World premiere of Hungarian Nights written by Mariner Pezza & Cheryl Kemeny with special guest artist from Budapest, Hungary—violin prodigy, Jenő Varga

  • 2011 - Alumni and recent Boston Conservatory graduate Joseph Santaniello creates pre-professional classes focusing audition techniques, acting & improvisation class work

  • 2012 – Hungarian Nights receives professional Actors’ Equity Staged Reading at the New York Musical Festival featuring Broadway stars Josefina Scaglione (West Side Story), Sean McDermott (Miss Saigon, Jekyll & Hyde, Jesus Christ Superstar), Ben Davis (A Little Night Music, Les Miserables, La Boheme) as well as our own Cidalia Alves, Elizabeth Markow and Ben Simpson

  • 2012 – Chrestomathy, a 25 year retrospective of Crystal Theatre featuring resident artist Mariner Pezza opens at The Mayor’s Gallery at City Hall

  • 2012 – Crystal Theatre inaugurates its new web-site designed by Jack O’Melia and daughter Katherine O’Melia with informational input by Doug Streat, Gabrielle Pantalena and Cheryl Kemeny. The new web-site allows online payment and up-to-date class information as well as video links and a detailed historical account.

  • 2013 – World premiere of Prohibition, Norwalk, 1925 by Samantha Kulish with music and lyrics by Cheryl Kemeny, making this the 4th installment of the Ellis Island tetralogy.

  • 2014 – World premiere production of Mariner Pezza’s new play with music, The Declaration of Independence-the real story—with a prologue by John Markow and music and lyrics by Cheryl Kemeny.

  • 2014 – Cheryl Kemeny’s Mother Jones & the Children’s Crusade (based on her Mother Jones & the March of the Mill Children) is performed at the New York Musical Festival to sold-out houses and wide acclaim. Directed by Michelle Tattenbaum, produced by alumni Ben Simpson and starring 2-time Tony award nominated alumni Robin DeJesus (Wicked, In The Heights, La Cage Aux Folles) and Lynne Winterstellar (Closer Than Ever) as Mary Harris “Mother” Jones.

  • 2014 – Crystal Theatre hosts the Komárom Equestrian Theatre Group’s production of János Vitéz [John the Valiant] --in Hungarian -- performing and touring with them to New York & Boston. Cheryl and Alex’s 97-year-old father Alexander acts & sings in the performance!

  • 2015 – Crystal Theatre performs a fully orchestrated “Deep in the Hungarian Night” from Cheryl Kemeny and Mariner Pezza’s operetta Hungarian Nights with the Norwalk Symphony at Cranbury Park. Cidalia (Alves) Kettles reprised her role of Zsófia backed-up by CT students.

  • 2015 - World premiere of Mariner Pezza & Cheryl Kemeny’s new musical for children The Pied Piper, 12/12/15 directed by Alexandrea & Cheryl Kemeny with choreography by Char Fromentin of Dance Dimensions.

  • 2016 - Crystal Theatre presents the World premiere of student Zachary Anderson’s first musical, “Keychain”

  • 2017 - Crystal Theatre hosts Hungarian opera star and Vienna Music Academy teacher Maria Teresa Uribe Reddemann in winter and summer masterclasses for Crystal Theatre singers.

  • 2017 - Crystal Theatre embarks on its first International Artistic Exchange Program with the Liget Dance Troupe of Budapest, Hungary. We host 26 dancers who performed in our production of Hungarian Nights after which 17 Crystal students travelled to Hungary and performed the show to great acclaim as well as 2 national TV performances. Choreographed by Budapest dancer Tibor Paar and directed by Cheryl Kemeny.

  • 2018 - Cheryl Kemeny publishes her first novel—Hungarian Nights Book 1—Bonds of Blood on Amazon & Broadway producer & CT alumni Ben Simpson hosts our 30th Anniversary Alumni & Matthew Chiappetta Memorial Concert along with Samantha Tuozzolo featuring Broadway singer Joanna Vosk and a talented cast of CT alumni and students.

  • 2018 - World premiere of 12th-grade Zachary Anderson’s 2nd musical, Escape performed by a talented cast of CT alumni in August

  • 2019 - February World premiere of 6th-graders, László Balázs and Katie Romano’s first musical, Growth Spurt, directed by Cheryl Kemeny, choreographed by Alice Jackins, and musically directed

  • 2019 - Crystal Theatre presents Hungarian Nights for its first full production in NYC including 3 performances at A.R.T. Theaters in NYC and engages in 2nd larger exchange tour performances at the Duna Palota in Budapest and the Kultkikötő Outdoor Theater in Balatonfoldvar.

  • 2020 - Crystal Theatre keeps it’s lights on during the Coronavirus pandemic thanks to the generous support of grants from the federal government and CT Humanities, along with contributions from the community

  • 2021 - Mariner Pezza spearheads and completes the installation of 38 new digital lights, modernizing the Crystal Theatre technical system and implementing a technical education program for those interested

  • 2022 - Crystal Community Theatre is formally launched in June, presenting "The Burning of Norwalk, 1779" as its inaugural performance

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