HARWICH PORT – Eight-year-old Florence Carlson is walking in the footsteps of legends this week. Literally.
From July 10 to July 20, Carlson will take the stage as a young Czech girl in the musical “Once” at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis. Nicknamed the “birthplace of the stars,” the Cape Playhouse has attracted famous actors to its stage since it opened its doors in 1927. Julie Andrews, Bernadette Peters, Olympia Dukakis, Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, Betty White, Gertrude Lawrence, and Ginger Rogers are among a litany of actors to perform there. The Cape Playhouse also holds a special place in American theater history as the country’s longest-running professional summer theater.
“It feels really special to be here,” says Carlson as she expertly navigates a maze of set designs backstage. “Once” is Carlson’s debut at the Cape Playhouse, but she is already at home on the stage. Carlson’s acting portfolio includes “A Doll’s House” at Monomoy Theater, “Mary Poppins” and “The Wizard of Oz” with the Cotuit Center for the Arts, and “The Music Man” and “Seussical” at Cape Cod Academy, where she is a rising fourth grader.
Enthusiastic about performing arts from a young age, Carlson began dancing ballet at three years old and began playing the violin at four years old. “I’ve loved music and dancing and creating since I was little,” says Carlson, who moved to Harwich Port from England when she was two years old. Carlson shares a love of theater with her mother and with her brother, who has appeared alongside Carlson in local performances. Between practicing lines and rehearsing dance steps, Carlson sails at Stage Harbor Yacht Club in Chatham, and daydreams of working with animals.
This spring, Carlson learned that a stage manager and actress at the Cotuit Center for the Arts had recommended her to play the part in “Once.” Carlson landed the role and joined the award-winning cast, four of whom performed in the Broadway and national tour productions of “Once.”
“I feel really excited and proud,” says Carlson of acting alongside the veteran cast.
A musical about love and connection, “Once” tells the story of “Guy,” an Irish musician and vacuum repairman, and “Girl,” a Czech immigrant. The drama chronicles their unexpected friendship, their collaboration, and how their shared love of music draws them together. The show’s music earned an Academy Award, a Grammy Award, an Olivier Award, and a Tony Award.
Carlson plays the part of Ivanka, the young, sweet daughter of Czech immigrant Girl. “I think Ivanka and I are alike,” says Carlson. “We’re both cheerful.” The opportunity to learn Czech dance and to perform a violin solo were appealing to Carlson. Carlson notes that her performances on July 17 will be especially exciting: “I turn nine years old that day and so I get to perform two shows on my birthday.”
On a sweltering afternoon, Carlson accompanies Broadway Producer and Cape Playhouse Executive Producer Joe Grandy through the dressing room corridors. Lined with legendary posters and photographs, the winding corridors are a nod to the Playhouse’s rich history. Tucked behind the scenery workshops is Grandy’s destination: the Gertie Dressing Room, named after one of the theater’s brightest stars (and rumored resident ghost) Gertrude Lawrence. Grandy invites Carlson to take a seat in the dressing room chair graced by the likes of Julie Andrews. It’s an opportunity not to be missed. Taking a seat amid the memorabilia, Carlson looks into the mirror that has reflected the faces of so many stars before her. “It’s the next generation,” Grandy remarks with a smile. Carlson beams back. A little girl can dream. Just this once.
At the Cape Playhouse, Route 6A, Dennis
Through July 20
Reservations and information: www.capeplayhouse.com/once/