Ranch couple pour hearts, time and money into musical theater

RANCHO SANTA FE — There is still time to see “The Story Of My Life,“ the musical presented by the fledgling San Diego Musical Theatre Company. It runs until Feb. 6 at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza.
This little company, which has only been in existence for about three years, has already grabbed the attention of theater critics across the county.
Its first offering in 2007 was “The Full Monty,” which earned an award for Outstanding Musical Direction from the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle. In 2008, its “Dream Girls,” earned them awards for the Outstanding Musical Production and Best Male Actor.
Next up will be “A Chorus Line.” They were lucky enough to snag Kay Cole as director and choreographer.
“She was Maggie in the original 1975 Broadway show and knows it inside and out,” said Erin Lewis, who founded the company along with husband Gary.
They can either blame or thank their daughter Jill for their current involvement in musical theatre. She performed in her first musical at age 11 and later made the rounds of all the venues in the area. As an adult, she joined the national tour of “A Chorus Line” and “Camelot.” She married fellow actor Robert Townsend. The couple will move to New York next month to try their luck on Broadway.
Erin and Gary Lewis, Rancho Santa Fe residents, have turned what used to be a hobby into a full-time job, but they don’t mind.
“You know, I grew up in a musical family,” Erin Lewis said. “My dad played in dance bands in the 40s and sang. I grew up just loving musical theater. When our daughter got involved, of course you have to drive them everywhere and you volunteer while you’re there. We really thought there was a need for a nonprofit, year-round theater company.”
The couple decided since they have been successful in business, maybe they could run a year-round musical theater company.
“If we ran it as a business and hired artistic people around us to put on a show, maybe we can make this happen,” she said. “We knew it was something that you wouldn’t make money at. We’ve had a budget of $150,000 a show.”
Its all-volunteer staff uses the money from ticket sales and donations to go toward the show itself. Only the actors, directors, musicians and crew are paid.
“We still rely on donations to keep it going,” she said.
The company was founded in 2006, with its first production in 2007, but because of the dreary economy, it took off a season. They returned with “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” and now are presenting “The Story of My Life.”
“I expect good reviews. This is the San Diego premiere of ‘The Story of My Life.’ It was on Broadway for a while,” she said. “It’s funny. It’s lighthearted, but also sad and it definitely has a message to it.”
The musical has only two actors, which will be Robert Townsend and Chad Borden.
Erin Lewis said that while they love putting the show on, they have some frustrations. The first is money. “We still put a lot of our own money into it because we are new,” she said. “People are not going to give money to something they don’t know about. People who donate have seen our work.”
The second issue is having a theater space of their own.
“We have to rent and of course that costs us more money,” she said. “The long-term goal is building our own theater space in North County. We are looking from Carmel Valley to Encinitas. All we need is $20 million,” she said with a chuckle. ”Everyone needs a goal.”
But in the meantime, their goal is to keep going from year to year, she said.
“We have our real job that pays the mortgage. It (the musical company) started off as a hobby, but now is a full-time job, “ she said.
By day, the Lewises are distribution directors for Tupperware in San Diego. She started selling the products at age 22 when she wanted to make a few extra dollars for the family. Now they train and motivate Tupperware sales people from around the county.
“It’s like having two full-time jobs,” she said. But the business of musical theater is much like the Tupperware business.
“It is a sales business and a business of relationships,” she said. “You want them to know who you are and put a face on the organization.”
To learn more about the San Diego Musical Theatre, visit www.SDMT.org or call (858) 560-5740.

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