FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii - Army Community Theatre (ACT) opened the curtains on its 67th season this week by casting the spotlight on the man who brought audiences "The Greatest Show On Earth."

"Barnum," a Broadway musical based on the life of American showman and circus mogul Phineas Taylor Barnum, more commonly known as P.T. Barnum, made its debut in the

islands at historic Richardson Theatre, here, Thursday evening.

The show continues tonight, Sept. 11, and Saturday, Sept. 12, starting at 7:30 p.m. (See related story for ACT's full lineup of shows, as well as performance dates and times.)

In choosing "Barnum" to usher in the season, longtime ACT producer-director Vanita Rae Smith is banking on the production's relative novelty to capture the interest of community theater-lovers throughout the islands.

With a decline in recent attendance - from a high of 21,000 seats filled in 2005, to last year's low of 13,000 - ACT could stand an injection of new life this season.

"This is a crucial year for us," admitted Smith, who's been involved in Army entertainment since 1967. "Money is tight everywhere. Our attendance has been down, and we're really trying hard to reach out and do more things.

"With Barnum, we have the circus man coming to town," added Smith about the musical, which ran for two years on Broadway back in the early 1980s. "This show has never been done in Hawaii, and that's one of the reasons why I wanted to do it."

In many ways, ACT's lineup for the 2009-10 season figures to appeal to a wide range of audiences. Aside from the newness of "Barnum," Smith has chosen the teenybopper-sensation, "High School Musical 2," for the fall; the tried-and-true hit that just closed on Broadway last year, "A Chorus Line," for the winter; and the timeless classic, "The Three Penny Opera," for next spring.

For Smith, staging such a production as "High School Musical 2" was a no-brainer due to its enormous popularity around the globe.

"Last year, we had 'High School Musical 1' and it was a success," she said. "This year, we think it will be a hit among the teenagers again."

As for "A Chorus Line," Smith said it made sense to stage the musical for the second time in 12 years, in light of budgetary cutbacks - and the simple fact that she still has the original set that she helped create back in 1997.

"All I'm going to do is pull it out of storage, dust it off, touch it up a bit, and do it all over again," she explained. "Yes, it's going to save us a lot of money, but audiences won't have to worry about being cheated at all because it'll still be fantastic."

Finally, for those who appreciate great art, there is "The Three Penny Opera," which first hit Broadway way back in 1933.

"Not that it's going to be a great crowd-pleaser," admitted Smith, "but I felt we needed to do something artistic to keep our steady people coming."

And that remains Smith's greatest challenge these days: maintaining interest in community theater productions as the venues that house such theatrical performances continue to fall by the wayside.

In Germany, for example, she noted that only 10 community theaters remain open from the 25 the European country once boasted.

Meanwhile, Richardson Theatre - home of the ACT since 1987 - is one of only three remaining ACTs in America.

"I think Soldiers need to realize that the whole family can come to our shows and not go bankrupt," said Smith, who last year was honored for her decades of service to community theater with the American Association of Community Theatre's Outstanding Service Award on Broadway. "I also think that they need to realize that they're not going to have this everywhere they go."

Could she ever envision a world devoid of community theater'

"To live in such a place would be dreadful," Smith stated.

Forty-two years into her storied career, there's no sign of burnout on Smith. In fact, she claims the excitement never wanes in community theater.

"The passion doesn't change and the patriotism doesn't falter," she said. "This is a service, and when God gives you a talent, you want to give it away. And how better to give it than to the military.

ACT's 2009/10 season delivers entertainment
The 2009-2010 season of Army Community Theatre (ACT) opened this week with the debut of "Barnum," the first of four major productions scheduled at historic Richardson Theatre, now through May.

The following are synopses of this season's major shows, along with their performance and audition dates:

Performances on Sept. 12, 18, 19, 25 and 26. All shows start at 7:30 p.m.

An award-winning show that follows the career of America's greatest showman, P.T. Barnum, during the time in which he joined up with James A. Bailey to form Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Directed by Grace Bell with music by Cy Coleman, the show is sure to leave audiences captivated from the stirring opening number to "The Grand Finale."

"High School Musical 2"
Performances on Nov. 19, 20, 21, 27 and 28; and Dec. 4, 5, 11 and 12. Auditions are scheduled Sept. 14, 15 and 16, 7:30 p.m.

Based on Disney Channel's most successful original movie and directed by Coco Wiel, "High School Musical 2" picks up with lovebirds Troy and Gabriella looking forward to a summer in which Troy needs cash for college. East High's primo girl, Sharpay, wants to help out, and gets Troy and his friends jobs at the country club her parents own.

Troy's relationship with Gabriella and others are put to the test. So what time is it' Time to see the smash-hit musical for audiences of all ages!

"A Chorus Line"
Performances on Feb. 25, 26 and 27, 2010; and March 5, 6, 12, 13, 19 and 20. Auditions are scheduled Nov. 30; and Dec. 1 and 2.

Based on the fourth longest-running Broadway show ever, this musical traces the ambitious personalities of 17 professional Broadway gypsies vying for a spot on a chorus line as they describe events that shaped their lives as dancers.

This classic fuses dance, song and drama into one hit musical that's sure to have audiences cheering. Directed by Vanita Rae Smith, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban.

"The Three Penny Opera"
Performances on May 13, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28 and 29, 2010. Auditions are scheduled March 8, 9 and 10, 2010.

Set in Victorian London, this timeless classic follows the antihero Macheath, who prowls the backstreets with a cast of motley characters made up of criminals, beggars and tarts.

In a nutshell, the show asks the all-important question: "Who is the greater criminal: he who robs a bank or he who founds one'"

Directed by Brett Harwood and based on the book by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht.

Individual show tickets are $15 and $20 for adults, and $12 and $15 for children.

To order tickets or to become a season subscriber, call the ACT Box Office at 808-438-4480/5230, or visit