TORRINGTON — The Warner Stage Company is making a comeback — not the theater’s stage, but a special venue — Sept. 23 with the cast of its 2015 production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins.”

The musical will be presented live at the Pleasant Valley Drive-in in Barkhamsted.

The event is a fundraiser for the Warner Theatre, which has been closed since March because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Performers will be staged in “vehicle pods” including pickup trucks, flatbeds, wagons and open cars, and socially distant locations with video cameras to present the live show, which will then be projected in real time on the drive-in’s big screen, according to organizers. The show’s sound will run through the drive-in’s FM transmitter system, allowing guests to hear it in their car or other devices.

The encore performance is directed by Katherine Ray, with music director Dan Koch. “Assassins” features Warner stage alumni: Matt Cornish, Ian Diedrich, Adam Fancher, John Farias, Michelle Funaro, Joe Harding, Tony Leone, Lyn Nagel, Josh Newey, Keith Paul, Steffon Sampson, Juliette Koch, Trevor Rinaldi, Noel Roberge, Jonathan Ross and Priscilla Squiers, according to organizers.

Sharon Houk, producing artistic director at the Warner, said the idea to stage “Assassins” started with a conversation with director Katharine Ray.

“Several months back we were talking about wanting to do a concert version of the show,” Houk said. “Katherine suggested “Ragtime ... But we talked about the size of the cast being an obstacle during the pandemic and the difficulty we would have with staging it. I started thinking about our past productions and suggested “Assassins.” It was a smaller, and because of the way the show is put together, an easier piece to perform following social distance protocols. Everything evolved from that discussion.”

“‘Assassins’; is not a musical about an American Presidential assassin, it’s about nine of them,” the Warner Stage Company shared in a statement about the performance. “This one act historical ‘revusical’ explores the dark side of the American experience when our nation's most notorious assassins gather to violently pursue a twisted American Dream. From John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald, writers Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman bend the rules of time and space, taking us on a nightmarish roller coaster ride in which assassins and would-be assassins from different historical periods meet, interact and inspire each other to harrowing acts in the name of the American Dream.”

Houk recently attended a live concert at a drive-in movie theater, and reached out to owner Donna McGrane at the Pleasant Valley theater, “to see if what we were thinking was even possible,” she said.

“Donna was incredible and truly made this a reality ... We were able to secure an ‘outdoor’ venue to do our production,” Houk said.

Finding the original cast of “Assassins” was a challenge, as well as scheduling rehearsals for the musical, Houk said.

“The Warner really didn’t have any plans to bring back “Assassins”, but that production from five years ago was so memorable,” she said. “And with this being a presidential election year, we thought it might be a good fit. The key was getting as many members of the original Warner cast back together to make rehearsals a bit easier.”

The stage company also had to deal with pandemic restrictions to rehearse, since assembling the entire cast in a regular rehearsal space didn’t easily follow COVID-19 restrictions, Houk said.

“Most of our rehearsals so far have been done remotely, via Zoom,” she said. “We were able to bring back all but two cast members. We plan to have three in-person rehearsals at the theater in the parking lot ... And then one dress rehearsal at the drive-in, prior to the performance.”

Houk reminded ticket holders that“Assassins” contains strong language, gun violence and adult situations. It may not be suitable for all ages. It is being presented by special arrangement with Music Theater International.

In early August, Warner Theatre Executive Director Rufus de Rham welcomed U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, to the theater for a press conference to discuss the proposed “Save Our Stages” bill, and the RESTART Act. The $10 billion Save Our Stages grant program was developed for live venue operators to pay their employees. A second funding proposal, the Restart Act, is a new loan program to cover six months of payroll, benefits and operating expenses for small businesses — including arts and cultural organizations and entertainment venues.

At the time, de Rham said he was meeting weekly with other major theaters in Connecticut including the Shubert in New Haven, the Bushnell in Hartford and others in Waterbury, New London and Stamford, to discuss supporting the bill as well as how theaters are coping. De Rham said the Warner’s annual income from ticket sales, subscriptions and fundraisers also brings revenue into the northwest corner every year. Because COVID-19 restrictions limit large gatherings, it’s likely that the Warner and other theaters won’t reopen until summer 2021.

Houk said the impact of the pandemic on places like the Warner has been devastating.

“Save Our Stages and the RESTART Act are vital to the future of arts organizations and small venues across the United States,” she said. “Our industry was the first to close and we will be the last to reopen to full capacity. Operating at 25 percent or 50 percent capacity is not a viable option for most arts organizations and concert venues - over 96 percent of people in our industry are unemployed, furloughed or working reduced hours due to the pandemic. Our hundreds of volunteers have lost their place of community.”

Presenting “Assassins” is a way to bring the theater community together, she said.

“Without assistance from Save Our Stages and the RESTART ACT, hundreds of arts organizations may never reopen, which would set forth a shockwave that will affect numerous other industries outside of the live events business,” Houk said.

The Warner Theatre is following COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions for the performance of “Assassins.”

“The safety of our guests and staff are of the utmost importance,” the stage company said in a statement.

The precautions are to ensure safety based on local, state and federal guidelines for the performance at Pleasant Valley Drive-In, organizers said. “Please adhere to the rules as outlined – we are guests of the Pleasant Valley Drive-In and want them to be able to continue to host events like this as well as their weekly movies. Please do your part.”

Rules include: Social distancing to anyone who leaves their vehicles and at all times at the drive-in theater property; guests must also wear masks when not in their cars and guests are asked to remain in their cars at all times during the show, with the exception of visits to the concession stand or restroom. Social gatherings will not be allowed, organizers said.

Besides the hand sanitizers in each restroom, volunteers will have spray bottles with hand sanitizers for your use. No alcohol is allowed.

Ticket holders are asked to arrive early. Cars will be parked facing the screen; trucks and large vehicles may be parked with the truck bed facing the screen (but those will be parked towards the rear of the drive-in).

Spaces are limited; only 175 cars will be admitted, including 20 VIP spots. The cost is $100 per carload with up to five passengers, or VIP for $250 per car, also with a five-passenger limit.

Tickets are available at www.warnertheatre.org only, and can be printed at home or uploaded to a mobile device.

Gates open at 6:30 p.m. and the performance begins at 7:30 p.m.

For more information, visit warnertheatre.org.

Connecticut Media Group