‘Meet Camille’ opens July 22-23 at Camille Playhouse in Brownsville

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Soloist Sara Arellano sings “Skid Row (Downtown)” from the Broadway musical “Little Shop of Horrors” Thursday, July 6, 2023, during rehearsals for their upcoming event celebrating 60 Seasons at the Camille Playhouse. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

The Camille Playhouse will launch its Diamond Jubilee season with “Meet Camille,” a two-day show July 22-23 featuring hit songs from its best musicals of the past 60 years.

The Camille Playhouse has the distinction of being the oldest operating community theater south of San Antonio. It was founded in 1963 by a small group of teachers and friends calling themselves The Brownsville Players. They performed in a sampling warehouse, and a year later the Earl Sams Foundation awarded the group a grant to build a 300-seat theater, which was named the Camille Lightner Playhouse in honor of Sams’ youngest daughter, Camille.

Meet Camille will showcase a song from each of three musicals per decade for the last 60 years: “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Sound of Music” for 1963-1973, “My Fair Lady,” “Oklahoma” and “Gypsy” from the ‘70s, then “Guys and Dolls,” “The Fantastics” and “Hello Dolly” from the 1980s.

“That’s our first act, those shows together,” said Camille Executive Artistic Director Brandon Binder.

“And in between those three sections of three songs, I will be doing some narration about the history of the Camille, the family and how they all got here. In the second act I’ll talk about past directors and board members, people who performed here and have gone off and performed elsewhere, and then close it out with what the organization has been doing recently,” he said.

The next section is “Godspell,” “Funny Girl” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” the fifth section is “Cabaret,” “Annie Get Your Gun” and “Hair,” and the last section is “Jekyll and Hyde,” “In the Heights” and “A Chorus Line.”

“Over the past 60 years we’ve done over 100 musical performances, so it was hard to pick down to 18. But a couple of years ago we did our ‘56 Seasons of Camille,’ which was our benefit, cabaret-style show that we did after the pandemic, and we featured a lot of similar shows. But I did not want to have too much overlap from that performance,” Binder added.

Who’s performing?

The Camille held open auditions for Meet Camille, which brought out close to 40 people, Binder said.

“Our group is about 22 performers, very talented people who have been here on the stage recently, people who have been in the shows the past couple of years, and completely new people. We have a very wide range of people, from professional dancers, to trained opera singers, music teachers and even students who are still learning their way through all of this craziness,” Binder said.

The cast sings “Skid Row (Downtown)” from the Broadway musical “Little Shop of Horrors” Thursday, July 6, 2023, during rehearsals for their upcoming event celebrating 60 Seasons at the Camille Playhouse. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Meet Camille will showcase what the theater has done over the years, with some history and memorabilia mixed in.

“We are going to be showcasing the history of Camille in our lobby and in our event space — posters from the last 60 years, photographs, artifacts, props that we’ve used for years and years and years. So as much as we are doing this to entertain and to bring awareness to the shows we’ve done, we also want to enrich people and educate them on the history of the organization, what we’ve done, influential people who have come through here, and just add a little bit more substance to our building, to our organization so that when we get into our 60th the community will have a better understanding of what the Camille does,” Binder said.

Melanie Esparza, who choreographed The Sound of Music this past season and also was recently featured in Pippin as one of the main dancers, is the choreographer.

“Between me and her, we sat down and tried to piece people into some of the songs we had already picked, and then we changed songs to fit some of the people who had auditioned,” Binder said of setting up the show.

Besides Meet Camille, the theater will have its second-session summer youth workshop, which will open at the beginning of August, with “Finding Nemo Jr.” and “Guys and Dolls Jr.”

“We have over 50 children signed up for that, who will be here for four weeks of our program that we do, and then we start our 60th season in September with ‘Rock of Ages.’ Our auditions for that will be at the end of July, so everything is starting to come together and get our season going,” Binder said.

Tickets for Meet Camille are $25, the normal musical rate. They are on sale at the box office and online starting Monday.