Pantochino Productions: Local theater company celebrates milestone
“Ridiculously excited and proud” is how co-producers Jimmy Johansmeyer and Bert Bernardi feel about their theatre company, Pantochino Productions Inc., which celebrates its fifth anniversary season this fall. The professional, non-profit theatre for family audiences is based in Milford and opens with a new musical, “Dractastic!” on October 23.
Founded in 2010, the theatre company was created to provide something for everyone in the family. Having developed his craft and a loyal audience at the former Downtown Cabaret Children’s Company, Bernardi saw the new venture as ‘“both challenging and exciting.”
“It’s always a risk to start a new business, but we have the expertise, boundless creativity, and a faithful following so we jumped in,” Bernardi said.
Pantochino’s first productions took place in New Haven. A new play, “Lifeboat Dahling” (penned by Bernardi and Connecticut playwright Joe Landry) and Justin Rugg’s song cycle “Predictable Heart,” played in the Ninth Square venue Firehouse 12.
Original musicals “Cinderella Skeleton,” “The Groovy Ghoulies” and Douglas Carter Beane’s play “The Little Dog Laughed” were presented at the Educational Center for the Arts in the Audubon district. And “Teen Santa!” and “The Brothers Grimm and A Showgirl” made their debut on the Yale campus at its Off-Broadway Theatre space. In addition, the company launched a touring division with “The Bookworms” which kicked off in Old Saybrook at the Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center.
“We were exploring, setting the tone and making a name for ourselves,” said Johansmeyer. “Our productions were noteworthy, and our After School Drama Club series was catching on at schools throughout the area.”
A chance visit to the Milford Arts Council Center for the Arts was a turning point for Pantochino.
“Former employee Kristine Kinsella, who was a lifelong friend of mine, invited us to produce a Summer Theatre Camp in conjunction with the Arts Council,” Johansmeyer said. The two-week program was an instant sell out, and the association between the two non profit organizations grew and continues to thrive.
The intimate theatre space in Downtown Milford proved to be just the venue for Pantochino’s big holiday musical, “Glitz! The Little Miss Christmas Pageant Musical.” “The space was a perfect fit for the kinds of shows we wanted to do, and the City of Milford has been more than welcoming,” said Bernardi. Since then, the company has presented all its productions at the Center for the Arts and continues its Summer Theatre Camp which has grown from two to five week-long sessions. Pantochino’s Teen Theater program is also presented in the Downtown space.
Bernardi is not only co-producer and director, he is also a published playwright and creates all of the original material the company performs. Originally from Milford, Massachusetts, he attended the University of Bridgeport where he studied graphic design and theatre.
His work as an actor and director goes beyond the local area, having worked at Surflight Theatre in New Jersey, Music Theatre North in Upstate New York, Millbrook Playhouse in Central Pennsylvania, The Arundel Barn Theatre in Maine and Cortland Repertory Theatre in Central State New York to name a few. He also was artistic director for several seasons at The Theatre Barn in the Berkshires. For his lifelong work in theatre, Bernardi was given the Tom Killen Award for Outstanding Contribution to Theatre by the Connecticut Critics Circle.
Johansmeyer is a Milford native who attended Marist College. The award-winning actor is also a professional costume designer and teacher. His work has been seen up and down the east coast including the Ocean State Theatre in Rhode Island, Arundel Barn in Maine, Gateway Playhouse on Long Island, The Emelin Theatre in Westchester, Allenberry Playhouse in Pennsylvania and Cortland Repertory Theatre in Central State New York among others. He was recently celebrated and honored by Marist College as he was named to it’s Hall of Fame.
The company’s resident musical director is Justin Rugg, who also composes original musical scores for Pantochino’s productions and camps.
This year, Pantochino is partnering with the Milford Arts Council in an entertainment series called Nite Spot Nights. “We’re very excited to bring some of New York City’s best ‘nightclub’ acts to Downtown Milford,” said Bernardi. The first installment was sold out weeks before it played. Coming up is powerhouse cabaret singer Klea Blackhurst (Saturday, November 7) and plans have just been unveiled for a Nite Spot New Year’s Eve event—a dance party with local band DynaMojo.
Pantochino’s fifth season includes a rock and roll vampire musical, “Dractastic!” (playing October 23 - November 1), a large-scale holiday musical, “Christmas Cookies,” about a trio of cookies who come to life which plays in December, a Teen Theatre production of “Zombie Prom” in February and the finale, “Fast Times at Mermaid High,” a 1980s look at the story of the Little Mermaid. Full details on the company, including information on their After School Drama Clubs, Teen Theatre, and tickets are available online at www.pantochino.com.