A Midsummer Night’s ‘Dream Team’ coming to the Riverwalk

This summer’s Valley Shakespeare Festival (VSF) cast includes one member who has longtime ties to both Shelton and to Tom Simonetti, VSF executive and artistic director.

Gary Harger, cast as Peter Quince in the July production to take place outdoors at Shelton’s Riverwalk, is well-known to members of St. Lawrence Church in Shelton as the parish’s cantor and music director.

What they may not know is that Harger was also one of Simonetti’s first directors and vocal coaches.

Simonetti began his formal theatrical training at age 7 and in 1997, at age 13, he was cast in a local production of Gypsy that Harger directed.

”We were all so excited to work with him,” Simonetti recalled, “because we knew he had been in the original Broadway cast of Shenandoah and also played Enjolras in the first national tour of Les Miserables.”

Harger also was a member of the San Francisco and Dallas operas, and performed extensively in Europe.

A theater mentor

Simonetti was so impressed by Harger that he sought him out to be his vocal coach, and credits him with having given him the training and technique he still uses today.

“Gary was the first person to instill in me that theater can be a profession,” Simonetti said. “And it was through his example that I learned just how much hard work, dedication and determination is involved in becoming a professional performer.”

When asked how he feels to have the director/performer roles reversed, Simonetti replied, “At first it felt a little bit strange, but now it feels more like a collaboration of two artists working together.”

Asked the same question, Harger replied, “That’s kind of how I feel about it as well. I’ve moved into a different age bracket and it was inevitable that I would eventually work for people younger than me.”

Harger has spent the last decade concentrating on his music and working as a vocal instructor, and is just now getting back to his roots in theater. “It’s a departure for me,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve done Shakespeare.”

VSF will present four free performances of William Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 9 through Sunday, July 12 in Veterans Memorial Park (the Riverwalk). This will be VSF’s third season of performances at the outdoor venue in Shelton.