VTG’s ‘Gold in the Hills’ at Parkside this month

Published 12:30 am Saturday, July 10, 2010

“Gold in the Hills,” dubbed the world’s longest-running melodrama by the “Guinness World Records,” hits the stage this weekend and the rest of the month.

Shows will be at 7:30 tonight and Friday and July 17, 23-24 and 30-31. The box office opens at 7, and no reservations will be taken.

The 1890s New York melodrama, presented by the Vicksburg Theatre Guild, has been produced in the River City since 1936. The cast includes a hero, heroine and a villain and features sing-along musical numbers.

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VTG president Mike Calnan, who has been the show’s producer since 2007, said he thinks family ties are a reason the play has endured so long.

“I think it very quickly became a family activity, where it was initially husbands, wives and some children participated,” he said, “and then over the years it became multi-generational.”

For example, Calnan said, Walter Johnston Jr., who plays the part of the dance-hall owner, followed in the footsteps of his father, who played the villain’s accomplice in the original cast. Also, William Mathews has been performing the part of the villain, Richard Murgatroyd, for about 40 years.

Audience participation has long been a tradition of “Gold.”

Until about four years ago, audience members threw peanuts at the villain. That changed because the peanut shells led to a rat infestation at Parkside Playhouse, the VTG’s headquarters, Calnan said. However, loud booing at the villain and cheering for the hero is still encouraged, he said.

VTG, a nonprofit organization operated by volunteers, has changed headquarters four times since its founding in 1936. It has been operated from Parkside Playhouse on Iowa Avenue since 1978.

The 75th season of “Gold” by the VTG kicked off with shows in the spring. This month’s performances wrap up the season. The play has also been performed by the Westside Theatre Foundation, formed about a year and a half ago, in the Coral Room at The Vicksburg on Clay Street.