Back in the late 1950s Theatre-By-The-Sea brought in big Hollywood names like Dorothy Lamour to bring summer stock to Rhode Island.
A young Rhode Islander by the name of Tom Roberts was spending the summer with his family in South County, when his neighbor told his father that the theatre was looking for someone local to play the part of 10-year-old boy in “Roger the Sixth,” starring Lamour and brothers Alan and Robert Alda.
“I was 12 at the time but looked younger,” Roberts told me. “I auditioned and got the part, and that was the beginning of my long association with the summer theatre.”
Fast-forward to 2019, and here is Roberts on his way to rehearsals in Wakefield for the hit Broadway musical, “Newsies.” A lot has happened to Tom Roberts in those nearly 60 years.
Tom graduated from Holy Cross with a degree in the classics and then on to Boston University for a degree in communications, which led to a job with Rhode Island Channel 36.
“I became involved in a program on the Rhode Island Council on the Humanities and became so involved that I became their director in 1972, retiring after 23 years.
“In 1984 I taught a course in history at the Rhode Island School of Design, and I’ve been there for 35 years,” he said. “During all that time, I never stopped doing theatre.”
Tom was working with Cait Calvo on a cabaret in Newport when she introduced him to Pat Hegnauer and Ed Shea, who were running a theatre on the second story above the restaurant.
“They asked me to read for a play [‘Good Evening’], and that began my long association with Second Story Theatre, where over the years I acted in over 30 productions.”
Tom has been involved in local theatre, including the lead in “The Skin of Our Teeth” at Wilbury and a show-stopping role as President Roosevelt in Theatre-by-the-Sea’s “Annie.” He has also appeared at TBTS in “The Little Mermaid” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
“I’m playing the Mayor in TBTS’s “Newsies,” plus a deli owner where the kids hang out and a couple of other roles,” he said. “Lots of costume changes.”
Noting that “Newsies” has some great choreography with the younger cast, Roberts said that he had perfected his “rhythmic walking.”
After “Newsies” Tom Roberts will take a short rest before returning back to school for another semester.
“I’ll use ‘Newsies’ in my curriculum. It’s a great historical piece.”
You can catch Tom and the rest of the cast July 17 through August 10 at Theatre-by-the-Sea. For tickets go online at theatrebythesea.com.