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Button Theatre debuts with 'Godspell' on Friday the 13th

Debuting a new theater group on Friday the 13th might deter some aspiring performers, but the cast and crew of I.J. Rosenblum's new group are not at all superstitious. They are ready to take Gwinnett by storm.

Button Theatre is Gwinnett's newest professional theater, and is one of only two in the county. (Aurora Theatre is the other.) Although Gwinnett boasts numerous community theater groups, being paid as a professional actor or theater technician is rare here. Button Theatre, though, will be paying their performers and crew.

The new group's first season will kick off with "Godspell." The play will be offered today through Aug. 5. Show times are 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays.

The theater's location is fairly new to the public, as well. "Godspell" will be performed in the black box theater located in the Hudgens Center for the Arts, the building next door to the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center at the Gwinnett Center.

"Our goal is to be the most influential and productive professional theater in Gwinnett," Rosenblum said. "For the next few years, we hope to present three to five musicals on the main stage of the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center with local professional talent and a full orchestra."

The idea for the company began when Rosenblum's wife, Celia, and her friend were carpooling to participate in a show in Atlanta. They reasoned it would save gas and time if Gwinnett could offer these actors opportunities to perform closer to home, and decided starting a new theater group was worth a shot.

Rosenblum, who has a bachelor of dramatic arts degree from Ithaca College in New York, is familiar with theater in the Gwinnett area. He worked for nine years at the Gwinnett Center as the technical services manager and is the manager of information services. The Rosenblums' concept of a new theater company was not much of a stretch for the experienced Gwinnettians, he said.

"We chose 'Godspell' because it is popular, people have heard of it. That's what we want to do with Button Theatre, concentrate on the classics and musical theater. We want this to be true family entertainment," Rosenblum said.

"Godspell" will employ eight professional actors: Charlie Bradshaw, Doug Graham, Glenda Tibbals-Gray, Israel Hillary, Jameel Howard, Kristie Krabe, Cheryl Rookwood and Chloe Zeitounian.

The musical was a hit when it premiered in 1971 in an off-Broadway theater. Conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak, with music and new lyrics by Stephen Swartz (of "Wicked" fame), "Godspell" went on to receive rave reviews and a Grammy Award for Best Score.

Tickets to "Godspell" are $15. Call 770-831-0951 or visit www.buttontheatre.com.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail hcalmes@mindspring.com.