‘On Golden Pond’ has become a classic American story, both on stage and in film. Stageloft Repertory Theater brings its adaptation of the Ernest Thompson play to the stage this month in their cozy setting in Sturbridge.
One the stars of the show is Auburn’s own Derek “DJ” Brigham, who plays Billy Ray, Jr., the teenaged son who gets left with his soon-to-be step grandparents – Norman and Ethel Thayer – for the summer.
Brigham is a freshman this year at Auburn High School this year, but is not a fresh face on the local stage. Acting since the age of six, Brigham has over a dozen cast credits to his name.
“He began performing in first grade in the musical theater class at Pakachoag Music School” said Stageloft owner and director of Auburn Community Players, Christine Taylor. “He continued performing with that class for several years. He did both ‘Kamp Kaos’ and ‘Pom Pom’ Zombies with us at the High School and appeared in ACP’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as the Mad Hatter and ‘Willy Wonka’ as Charlie Bucket. With Auburn Middle, he played the Prince in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and Captain Von Trap in this spring’s production of ‘The Sound of Music.’
In other words, Taylor has seen a lot of Brigham, and realized early on he had potential as an actor. Last winter, he was cast as young George Bailey in Stageloft’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ which received terrific reviews.
“Captain Von Trapp was probably my favorite role so far” said Brigham, who admits being partial to musicals.
‘On Golden Pond’, while not a musical, does offer new opportunities for the young actor. “It’s fun working with the adult actors. The cast is great, I love the cast”, said Brigham.
The story, of course, revolves around Norman and Ethel Thayer (played by Mark Patrick and Candace Schap), an elderly couple with a summer cottage on Golden Pond. The Thayer’s daughter, Chelsea (played by Emily Goldfarb) is engaged to Billy Ray (David Vilandre), who has a teenaged son, Billy Ray, Jr. (Brigham).
Chelsea and Billy Ray are heading to summer in Europe, and of course dragging a teenage boy along would dampen the excitement of such a journey. So Billy Ray Jr. is left with Norman and Ethel on Golden Pond.
Many will be more familiar with the award-winning 1981 film version, starring Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn and Jane Fonda. According to Brigham, the play does not necessarily parallel the movie.
“There is no Walter”, he said, referring to the elusive trout made famous in the movie. “In the movie, you see Billy Ray Jr. and Norman out fishing a lot in a boat on the lake. You can’t really do that on stage” he added.
Billy Ray Jr. is not the snotty kid portrayed in the movie, either. “Billy Ray Jr. is funny. He likes Norman and Ethel. He’s not a brat in the play” said Brigham.
Christine Taylor says of Brigham, “This isn’t a small role. He’s one of 6 actors in the production, and the other 5 are adults.”
Asked about the intensity of preparing for professional theater as opposed to productions with Auburn Community Players, Pakachoag Music School, or Auburn Middle School, Brigham said it was not bad.
“We rehearsed in the summer. Rehearsal was twice a week for 3 hours or so, and I was on summer break. We went back late [to Auburn Public School] this year. So it worked out well.”
Brigham was missing from Auburn Community Players’ ‘Shrek’, however, a performance in which he might otherwise have taken part. “I didn’t want to do two shows at once” he said. “That would have been a lot.”
‘On Golden Pond has two more weekends at Stageloft, then what’s next for Brigham? “There’s the high school spring musical, I think Chicago or Seussical. So I’ll do that. I’m not sure what the next season looks like here [Stageloft], so we’ll see.”
Rest assured that we’ll see much more from Derek, perhaps for a long time to come. “I’d like to stay in theater when I get older,” he said. “Otherwise I’ll probably just get a regular job.”
Spoken like a talented young man with a bright future.
‘On Golden Pond’ is written by Ernest Thompson, directed by Gwen Mason Callahan. The show is running at Stageloft Repertory Theater, 450A Main St., Sturbridge through September 26. Performances are every Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. There will be a final weekend matinée on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors 65+ and students, and $10 for youths 12 and under. A group rate of $15 is available for groups of 10 or more. For reservations call (508) 347-9005 or visit www.stageloft.com