For 34 years, the Deck House Restaurant and Cabaret Theatre provided a stage for young singers and musicians to showcase their talents. Owner Rob Marshall and his wife, Jan, provided much more than a job for these young people, many of whom were in Maine for the summer. The couple became surrogate parents, giving advice and encouragement; longstanding friendships developed, and bonds grew over the years, continuing even after the Deck House closed in 2009.
“It was a phenomenal experience,” said Amy Gwinn-Becker.
Gwinn-Becker was first a Deck House player for the 1989 season, returning for three more seasons beginning in 1993.
“The Marshalls supported us as artists and friends,” she said. “You want to give back. You want to find ways to support them.”
The opportunity to “give back” will come on Monday, July 3, at Camp Beech Cliff in Mount Desert. Gwinn-Becker and other cast members are coming together for an evening of musical theater to benefit Alström Syndrome International, a nonprofit Jan Marshall helped found in the early 1990s. The concert is in honor of Jan, who died last September. She worked at The Jackson Laboratory for 43 years and began, in conjunction with her colleagues, studying the disease in 1991, after stumbling upon its existence during a study of heart disease within families.
“There’s no better way to honor Jan,” Rob Marshall said of the concert.
The “Come to the Cabaret!” fundraiser begins at 5:30 p.m. with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a silent auction. At 7 p.m., the first group of about 18 former players will take the stage.
“It’s very true to what a Deck House show would have been,” said Gwinn-Becker, who is organizing the performances.
About half of the players are coming from New York City. Most of the others live in Maine, including four on Mount Desert Island. The award for traveling the farthest goes to Lynn O’Driscoll, a 1992 Deck House alum, who lives in England on the Welsh border, Gwinn-Becker said. The enthusiastic response to the call for performers wasn’t unexpected.
“It speaks to the love for the Marshalls and the Deck House experience,” Gwinn-Becker said.
The set list for the night includes “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Life is Like a Train” and “A Little Priest” from “Sweeney Todd.” Mount Desert Island resident Jackie Bachman has a torch song feature, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” The finale is “Cabaret,” a fitting tribute to the Deck House spirit, Gwinn-Becker said.
The idea for the reunion came in August and followed what Marshall called a “banner year” for visits from former Deck House players. It arose during talks on the deck of the couple’s home in Somesville.
“Jan initiated it,” he said. From there, Gwinn-Becker took charge, setting up an event page on social media.
The Deck House opened in 1975 in the Bass Harbor village of Tremont. In 1997, it moved to Apple Lane in Southwest Harbor. Becoming a Deck House player wasn’t simply a matter of applying. Marshall took pride in assembling a cast from a pool of musical theater and voice major students. Many came from the prestigious Hartt School, the performing arts conservatory of the University of Hartford. All were chosen after an audition process that led to nine or 10 people being chosen from 80 or so candidates.
Many cast members have continued their careers in music. Gwinn-Becker, who splits her time between Portland and Chicago, spent 14 years teaching middle school music and four years teaching music education at Northwestern University. A soprano, she sings with the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Francis Vogt, who also will perform at the reunion, is a vocal instructor at the University of Maine in Orono. Annie Leonardi-Merchant of Mount Desert has her own voice studio. And the list goes on. The Deck House played an important part in fostering these careers.
“We were so fortunate to have been working in a training ground for the performing arts,” Gwinn-Becker said. “It was a lot of work, but you were OK with that.”
Tickets for the reunion concert cost $25 at the door and $20 in advance. Advance tickets are available at cometothecabaret.eventbrite.com. Camp Beech Cliff is located off the Beech Hill Road in Mount Desert.