Tri-State Theater

Let's discuss upcoming shows, secrets behind the scenes, things you never knew about the theater and why live theater is so darn entertaining.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

We Are Marshall - The Review

Hey, not to step on the toes of my pal Justin McElroy (whose fine blog, “Marshall Movie News,” is just a click away – the link is over there on the right side of this page), but I finally saw "We Are Marshall," and while I admit to being prejudiced, I have to say: what a great movie!

Kudos to all involved for making a film that is respectful without being maudlin, funny without being stupid and heartfelt without being cloying. Take a handkerchief, but be prepared to laugh a lot, too.

All the actors turn in great performances. Matthew McConaughey is perfect as Coach Jack Lengyel – he’s very funny but very real, and he holds the film together. Matthew Fox is amazing as Red Dawson, who really carries the emotional burden of the story, and his emotions play out across his face – he’s great in this film. David Strathairn nearly steals the movie as Marshall’s President – his part is understated, but he makes a perfect foil for Lengyel’s antics and Ian McShane’s bitter resident (also spot-on in this movie). McConaughey’s last line to Strathairn (which I won’t spoil here) is my favorite in the film.

The players are perfectly cast, including Anthony Mackie as Nate Ruffin, who is the heart of the team and has the most touching scene in the film. Special kudos to MU (and Cabell-Midland) basketball star Mark Patton, who has a couple of fun scenes.

It was also fun to see friends showing up on the big screen, including Keith Morehouse (who shows up as a kid and all grown up), C.E. Wilson (remember, there are no small parts – just brief cameos) and WSAZ-TV’s Doug Korstanje, who looked right at home in the press conference. I’m sure there are others I’ll spot in upcoming viewings. It was also fun to pick out local settings where exteriors were shot.

But imagine my surprise to discover that - even though I'm not on screen - I actually shot part of the movie! To catch it, you have to watch very, very closely.

At the end of the movie, they recap what happened since 1971 and included a couple of shots from a Marshall game that was shot by yours truly. In 1984 Marshall managed its first winning season in almost 20 years, but it came down to the last game of the season, a game at East Tennessee State. At the time, WOWK-TV produced the coach's show, so they shot video at every game. Marshall was 5-and-5 going into that last game, and WOWK was the only station that sent a videographer to the game. I was the one tapped for camera duty (my wife made the trip with me, and though we didn't know it yet, she was pregnant with our first child - so Justin was there, too). Ordinarily we shot footage from the press box, but our Sports Director, Terry Bumgarner, knew that a victory would mean lots of emotion on the sidelines, so if it looked like Marshall was going to win (or could possibly win), I was to take my camera down to the sidelines and get footage of the celebration. As the fourth quarter started, the game was close, so I went to the sidelines. Marshall won and I was there to shoot the players hoisting Coach Stan Parrish on their shoulders and the celebration that followed. That's the shot that appears in the movie.

After the game I was gathering up my equipment and ran into my old pal, sports writer Jody Jividen (God rest his soul). We had been through many of those losing years for Marshall, and we gave each other an exuberant “high five” to celebrate the end of the team’s losing streak. Little did we know how much higher Marshall would soar in the years ahead.

Of course, I didn’t get a credit at the end of the movie, but that’s OK. Heck, they didn't even credit the TV station. Still, it was pretty cool to see my work up there, if just for a few seconds.

But (as much as I hate to admit it) it would have been a great movie even without it. Congrats to the director, McG, and everyone else involved, for creating a classy movie that’s respectful, heartfelt and a lot of fun. Highly recommended for everyone,

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Hope you're all having a great holiday! (Mine has been awesome, aside from eating entirely too many sweets.)

Once the holiday cruch is over, I'll be back with lots more postings, including a preview of the shows coming up this spring, a look at local theaters (and the positives and negatives of each one) and a beginner's guide to putting on a show. And I'll finish the many threads I've started here in 2006.

But for now, enjoy your holiday!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Great Show

Even though no humans are involved, here's a great holiday show. I have no idea whose house this is, but someone decided to configure his or her home Christmas light display into this monster. You gotta figure the neighbors hate it - but it's a lot of fun to watch. Click on the box to see the video.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Person of the Year

Time magazine has named its Person of the Year, and believe it or not, it's me. Go here for proof.

Oh, by the way - you're the Person of the Year, too. Congratulations!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Getting Into Local Theatre - Part 6

When the board of the First Stage Theatre Company (the local children’s theatre) decided to stage “A Christmas Story” in 2001, I knew this was the perfect show to tackle as my first directing job. For one thing, I loved the source material - the original film based on Jean Shepherd’s stories about his efforts as a kid to get a Red Ryder BB Gun.

I’m the only person I know who saw that film at the theater when it was released (although I’ll admit it was just luck - at that time I saw virtually every movie that came out). I loved it - it was funny, nostalgic and pretty much nailed the whole feeling of what Christmas is like for a kid.

In casting, I decided early on to cheat a bit and cast adults in at least three roles - as the Father (always referred to as the Old Man), the Mother and the Narrator. There were two reasons for that - believability (it’s not always easy to pass teens off as adults) and because I wanted some veteran actors to help guide the young performers. Only a handful of adults showed up to the auditions, and casting the show was a no-brainer.

For the Old Man, it had to be C.E. Wilson. He had lots of experience in comic roles, so I knew he’d get the maximum laughs out of the part - and even though he’s really an incredibly nice guy, I knew he’d also be able to sell the Old Man as a grouch. As expected, he was wonderful in the part. If they ever decide to reshoot the film, they’d be smart to use C.E. - he owns the role.

For the Narrator, I tapped my pal Clint McElroy. Filling in for humorist Jean Shepherd (who narrated the film) is no small task. Not many actors could convey the emotion and humor of the part just with their voice - but I knew Clint could do it, and I was right - he was terrific.

The role of the Mom was tough, because there were several good candidates - but I settled on a woman I had seen on stage doing great work in Easter shows at her church. Leslie McElroy (Clint’s wife) was perfect in the part. As a Mom (both on stage and in real life) she could go from stern discipline to loving concern, from outrage at the Old Man’s antics to gentle manipulation, all without batting an eye. Like C.E., she owned the part.

I ended up using two other adults in the show - Tom Hastie made a great Santa (hey, the real Santa was busy at the time) and a guy named Bobby Williamson filled out the other adult parts and almost stole the show with his turn as a cowboy - he took it as far over the top as I’ve ever seen an actor go (in a comedy, this is a good thing), and the crowds loved it.

All we needed now was a bunch of kids and a place to stage the show.

Next: Staging the show.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Getting Into Local Theatre - Part 5

There have been so many shows lately that I lost track of my running memoir about how I found myself involved in local theatre. So where was I? Ah, yes...

I had landed my first role as an actor (not counting my starring turn as a blade of grass during my first grade class play, “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”). What followed was a couple of months of rehearsal and lots of fun.

There’s a special camaraderie that brings most acting troupes together - you become a team, fighting to get through the impossible job of learning all the lines, memorizing the songs, figuring out the dance steps and the stage movements, all while pretending to be a different character - and sometimes more than one character. The group of guys (and two women) who made up the cast a “1776” really bonded - we laughed, told stories and just in general had a heck of a good time.

That was largely possible because we had a great cast - too many to name here, but I have to mention Clint McElroy, in one of his best performances ever as John Adams, and Danny Ray, who played Ben Franklin perfectly. There were so many others - I could fill volumes just talking about how wonderful they all were, each perfectly cast in their part.

Of course, no show would succeed without great leadership, and director Gene Anthony did a herculean job pulling the cast together and turning it into a wonderful show. I don’t want to embarrass him by gushing too much, but he and the rest of his directing team did an amazing job bringing all the disparate elements together and crafted a terrific show. He made every rehearsal a joy.

In fact, I was worried that the weakest element in the show was going to be - well, me. Thankfully, they had me covered - I was given a part that called for a timid man who didn’t demand the limelight - that was me all over! I only had about a half a dozen lines, and any fears that I wouldn’t be able to remember them quickly vanished - after two months of rehearsals, they were locked into my head, and since my entrance didn’t happen until about 45 minutes into the show, I had plenty of time to review them while everyone else was out there working.

I only had one moment of uncertainty. During the final week of rehearsal, I was pulled aside by someone not directly involved with “1776” - an actor who wanted to give me some advice. It seems I wasn’t talking with a New Jersey accent (my character was the delegate from that state). I smiled and said, “Let me explain. I don’t do accents because I can’t do accents. Second of all, my character was actually Scottish, and another character in the show was already using a Scottish accent to great comic effect, and he probably wouldn’t appreciate me stealing his bit.” (That part was played by my pal Jim Lamp, who was terrific, especially in his on-stage arguments with fellow real-life attorney Mark Hayes.)

When the shows arrived, everything went like clockwork - the costume makers had provided me with an awesome black suit, and the makeup crew applied the necessary coverage to my mug (I must admit that I hated that part. It wasn’t their fault - I just hated having makeup on. I was probably just thinking, “What would Dad say if he saw me now?”).

I did my part, the shows went well, my fellow actors were incredible, I survived, got rid of most of my stage fright in the process, made new friends and had a great time.

It was time for the next challenge: directing.

Next: A Christmas Story

Sunday, December 10, 2006

On Stage Sunday Afternoon

It's your last chance to see these shows:

First Stage Theatre presents "Babes in Toyland" today at 2:30 p.m. at the Renaissance Center (the old Huntington High School).

5th Avenue Theatre Company presents a musical version of “A Christmas Carol,” at the Jean C. Carlo Stephenson Auditorium at Huntington's City Hall at 2:30 p.m.

As the holiday gets closer the chances to see live theatre diminish, so get out there and see a show while you can!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

On Stage Saturday Night

You have three shows to choose from tonight:

First Stage Theatre presents "Babes in Toyland" tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Renaissance Center (the old Huntington High School).

5th Avenue Theatre Company presents a musical version of “A Christmas Carol” at the Jean C. Carlo Stephenson Auditorium at Huntington's City Hall at 8:00 p.m.

Cabell Midland High School's Collegium Musicum will present its 13th Annual Christmas Madrigal Dinner at 6:30 p.m. at the school cafeteria.

Pick one and enjoy some local talent!

Friday, December 08, 2006

On Stage Friday Night

Yet another busy December night for shows. Here's what to look for tonight:

First Stage Theatre presents "Babes in Toyland" tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the old Huntington High School.

5th Avenue Theatre Company presents a musical version of “A Christmas Carol,” at the Jean C. Carlo Stephenson Auditorium at Huntington's City Hall at 8:00 p.m.

Tomaseen Foley's "A Celtic Christmas" will be presented by the Marshall Artists Series at 7:30 p.m. at the Keith-Albee Theater.

Cabell Midland High School's Collegium Musicum will present its 13th Annual Christmas Madrigal Dinner at 6:30 p.m. at the school cafeteria.

The Backstage Players present “A Christmas Story” at 8:00 p.m. at the Paramount Arts Center.

So no one can complain there's nothing to do. Brave the cold and see a show tonight!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

On Stage Thursday Night

Tonight you can catch "A Christmas Story" at Ashland's Paramount Theater at 8:00 p.m.

It's based on the movie which is based on a story by Jean Shepherd about a boy named Ralphie who wants a BB Gun for Christmas, but everyone says "You'll shoot your eye out!" Basically.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Another Busy Weekend

Just when you thought things were calming down on the local theatre scene, here comes another busy weekend with lots of shows to choose from.

First Stage Theatre will present three more shows of "Babes in Toyland" at the old Huntington High School in Huntington - shows are at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Fifth Avenue Theatre will present "A Christmas Carol" at Huntington's City Hall at 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Part concert, part original show and part dinner theatre, The Cabell Midland High School Collegium Musicum - a vocal ensemble of students who perform in Renaissance costume - will have its 13th annual Madrigal Dinner at 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 8-9, in the school cafeteria. I've been going to these for years - both before, during and (starting this year) after my youngest son was involved with the group - and it's a fun evening with wonderful holiday music. Tickets are $15 per person and include a sit-down dinner served by the students.

Also, even though we focus on the Huntington area here, I wanted to mention two performances of "A Christmas Story" at Ashland's Paramount Theater Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m. It's the story by Jean Shepherd about a boy named Ralphie who wants a BB Gun for Christmas, but everyone says "You'll shoot your eye out!" Wouldn't be Christmas without it.

4 shows in 4 days

Our pal "MarshallMark" just sent the following in as a Comment - he reviews four shows from the past weekend. I love it! I wanted to be sure everyone saw this, so I'm turning this entry over to him. Here's Mark:

Last Thursday, my lovely wife and I had a pleasant evening out taking in "Driving Miss Daisy" at Marshall. The show was terrific, and the performance by the actress that portrayed 'Miss Daisy' was superb. She looked and acted in her 70s, even though I'm sure she was college-aged. Director Gene Anthony took a simple set and made it interesting, and functional, and molded his small cast into three excellent characters. It was a LOT of fun.

Friday night (and Saturday night, for that matter), we attended Cabell Midland's performance of "Little Shop of Horrors". That show has always been one of my favorites since I saw it at the Orpheum Theatre in New York City in the late 1970s. Midland's production was excellent! John Wolfe was terrific (as usual) as Seymour, and Ashton Ernst was funny as ditzy Audry. The narrating trio was great, especially the pretty soprano (disclaimer: that's my daughter)! The plant stole the show, particularly after promising to eat the audience (and Cleveland). Very nice performance -- probably the best high school production I've ever seen!

Sunday, my lovely wife (the same one!) and I ventured to cold Columbus to see "12 Angry Men" as part of the Broadway Across America series. This show featured George Wendt (Norm in 'Cheers') as Juror #1, the foreman, and Richard Thomas (John Boy from 'The Waltons') as Juror #8, the same part played by Henry Fonda in the 1957 movie. Wendt really didn't have that much to do, but Thomas was excellent. The show is very much an ensemble cast, and this production had 12 very, very good characters to enhance the show's development. It was very much worth the drive!

Next weekend we're scheduled to see "Babes in Toyland" and "A Christmas Carol", then off to "CATS" in Columbus the following weekend! What's the old saying...no rest for the wicked?

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Christmas Carol - The Review

The story of Ebenenzer Scrooge and his discovery of the true meaning of Christmas must be the most-performed stage show ever. The show has been staged numerous times in our area, and theatre groups are always looking for a way to give the show a fresh spin.

One of the newest versions of that story is on display at Huntington’s City Hall auditorium as Fifth Avenue Theatre Company presents the musical version of “A Christmas Carol.” If you missed it this weekend, there are three more shows being staged next Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

The show features a huge cast, including some of the area’s best performers. Schoch Donahoe tackles the part of Scrooge, and does a great job (although it takes a moment to get used to seeing Scrooge singing). Playing the ghost of his old partner Marley is Mark Near, who leads a terrific number and lugs a huge chain around at the same time (and the chain is very real and very heavy - talk about method acting)!

Veteran performer Tommy Smirl turns in his usual excellent job as Scrooge’s employee Bob Crachit, and Caleb Donahoe and Sydney Pay perform a sweet duet as Young Scrooge and his sister Fan. The Ghosts of Past, Present and Future are brought to life by Jessica Maier, Paul Neace and Kerri Easter.

There are quite a few fun dance numbers and songs along the way, but the show really hits its stride when Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, played with delightful gusto by Clint McElroy and Linda Reynolds, kick off their Christmas party.

The company has put together an energetic and fun-filled version of the holiday classic - special kudos to director Mary Smirl for tackling such a herculean task. “A Christmas Carol” is a notoriously difficult show to stage, and the directors, the cast and the tech crew have done some amazing work to make this one happen. A special tip o' the top hat to orchestra leader Mark Smith and his band - as always, they're awesome!

There are those who claim Charles Dickens "saved" Christmas by popularizing the holiday with his famous story (first published on Dec. 19, 1843). That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it sure wouldn’t seem like Christmas with the “Carol.”

The Weekend That Was

There's a short story and photogallery about "A Christmas Carol" in today's Herald-Dispatch. You can see it here.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

On Stage Sunday Afternoon

Things calm down a bit today - there are only two shows to choose from this afternoon. They are:

First Stage Theatre's "Babes in Toyland" at 2:30 p.m. at the Renaissance Theater (the old Huntington High School).

Fifth Avenue Theatre's "A Christmas Carol" at 2:30 p.m. at Huntington's City Hall.

But if you can't see one today, take heart - both run again next weekend!

Music from "Aida"

Since the musical "Aida" isn't as well known as some, I wanted to provide a clip to give you a sample of what to expect - but the only thing I could find was lots of clips of a high school performance somewhere - and this one, with Shania Twain performing Amneris' Song with Elton John, who wrote the music for the show with Tim Rice shortly after their collaboration on "The Lion King."

Here's the clip:

On Stage Saturday Night

Here it is, the busiest night in local theatre in memory (if there was ever a night with more shows to choose from, I'd like to hear about it)!

Tonight's line-up:

The Marshall Artist Series presents the only performance of "Aida," which features songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, tonight at 8:00 p.m. at the Keith Albee Theater.

The final performance of Marshall's "Driving Miss Daisy" is at 8:00 p.m. at the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center.

First Stage Theatre's "Babes in Toyland" is at 7:30 p.m. at the Renaissance Theater (the old Huntington High School).

Fifth Avenue Theatre's "A Christmas Carol" is at 7:30 p.m. at Huntington's City Hall.

Cabell-Midland High School presents the final performance of "The Little Shop of Horrors" at 8:00 p.m.

Five shows in one night - amazing! Get out there and try one!

More Babes in Toyland

There's a nice write-up and photogallery in today's Herald-Dispatch about "Babes in Toyland" - you can see it here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Babes in Toyland - The Review

Strictly speaking, First Stage Theatre’s “Babes in Toyland” isn’t really a Christmas show - it contains no direct references to the holiday at all. However, watching it will put you in the holiday spirit. That’s because the show evokes the magic and wonder of childhood.

It tells the story of a family made up of characters from Mother Goose stories - Mary, Mary Quite Contrary, Little Bo Peep, Jack and Jill, Little Boy Blue, Little Red Riding Hood - well, you get the idea. They’re all being threatened by the bad guy, Barnaby, who wants to marry Mary - but Mary’s in love with Barnaby’s nephew, Alan, who survives more than one attempt on his life by a couple of bumbling henchmen, and the whole gang survives a trip through the Spider Forest and finds themselves at Toyland, where magical things happen. (Whew!)

This is a show that really is aimed at the young - and (if you’ll pardon the cliché) the young at heart. It’s funny and sweet and endearing all at the same time. The cast combines some veterans of the children’s theatre with some new faces and creates a show that’s a lot of fun, with several sweet songs and lots of high-spirited choreography.

Special kudos to: Brittany Hazeldine, who is perfect as Mary (her expressions are priceless and her singing is tremendous); Sam Yates, who has a great time chewing up the scenery as the evil Barnaby (and he sports an amazing mustache); Elijah Boyles, who’s a relative newcomer to the stage, but does a great job as the hero of the show; Hilary Rousch and Alissa Fetherolf are hilarious as the bumbling henchmen; Lauren Cundiff has some great scenes as the Widow Piper (who’s easily confused); and Tom Hastie, the show’s only “grownup,” is obviously having great fun playing the Toymaker.

I certainly don’t mean to slight anyone else in the cast - they’re wonderful, and theatre is a team effort - it takes everyone doing their part to being a show together, and the cast is excellent, whether singing, dancing, telling jokes, staging bits of business or just delivering their lines. The show proves that the future is bright for First Stage.

If you want a refresher course in the magic of childhood, check out “Babes in Toyland.” You’ll find yourself watching with a big smile on your face - and if you have any little ones around, take them and enjoy watching them smile, too.

Roll the Tape

Hey, the Herald-Dispatch's website is including actual video these days. They should tell me these things!

Click here to see a short video story about Cabell-Midland's "Little Shop of Horrors."

On Stage Friday Night

Tonight's the night - there are lots of shows to choose from out there, including:

Marshall's "Driving Miss Daisy" at 8:00 p.m. at the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center.

First Stage Theatre's "Babes in Toyland" at 7:30 p.m. at the Renaissance Theater (the old Huntington High School).

Fifth Avenue Theatre's "A Christmas Carol" at 7:30 p.m. at Huntington's City Hall.

Cabell-Midland High School presents "The Little Shop of Horrors" at 8:00 p.m.

There's a nice wrap-up of local productions here on the Herald-Dispatch website. I won't be able to see them all this weekend, so write in and let us hear your thoughts about the shows.

Happy theater-going!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Another Show?

Apologies to our friends at Cabell-Midland High School - I neglected to mention that they also have a show coming up Saturday and Sunday night. "The Little Shop of Horrors" will be presented at the school's auditorium, and the show features a lot of talented actors, including John Wolfe, Shayne Gue, Chuck Hearndon and Sarah Hayes (to name just four).

You can check out some photos from the production at the Herald-Dispatch's photogalleries page here. They're in the "News" column.

With so much talent on display, you know it'll be a great show. It also has to be some kind of record - on Saturday, there will be five different shows being presented in Cabell County ("Aida," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Babes in Toyland," "A Christmas Carol" and "The Little Shop of Horrors").

On Stage Thursday Night

Tonight's the second performance of the Marshall University Department of Theatre's "Driving Miss Daisy." The show starts at 8:00 p.m. at the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center, and shows continue through Saturday. Of course, it's based on the Off-Broadway play which also became an Academy Award-winning film. Marshall's plays are always top-notch, so take time out of your holiday week to take a look.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

On Stage Tonight

Tonight's the first performance of the Marshall University Department of Theatre's "Driving Miss Daisy," which is based on the long-running Off-Broadway play which also became an Academy Award-winning film.

The performance is tonight at 8:00 p.m. at the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center, and shows continue through Saturday.

The play is a warm-hearted, humorous and affecting study of the unlikely relationship between an aging, crotchety white Southern lady, and a proud, soft-spoken black man. Tickets may be scarce, so order early!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Getting Into Local Theatre - Part 4

I actually agreed to be a director before I became an actor (to use the term loosely). Here’s how it worked: In the spring of 2000, First Stage Theatre decided its holiday offering later that year would be “A Christmas Story” (that’s the one about the kid who wants a BB Gun for Christmas, but everyone tells him, “You’ll put your eye out.”) I have been a huge fan of the movie since stumbling onto it during its brief appearance at local theaters in 1983, and I was looking for the right show to tackle as my first effort at directing for the stage, so I offered to direct it, and the board members of First Stage said “OK.”

Then doubt crept in - did I really have any business directing actors on stage when I had never been on stage myself? By happy coincidence, Huntington Outdoor Theatre announced they were going to stage two shows the summer of 2000 - “Cinderella” and “1776.” Here was my chance! (No, not “Cinderella.”) I had seen the movie “1776” when it was first released in the early ‘70s and loved it. It tells the story of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and yes, that may sound dull, but it’s a delightful show with some great songs, lots of humor and drama. Even though you know how it ends, you’ll find yourself thinking, “They’re never going to get this thing approved.” If you get a chance to see the movie or the play, you won’t regret it.

Where was I? Oh, yes - this was my chance! For a show like “1776,” they were going to need lots and lots of men - always a scarcity in local productions. I thought, I’ll try out, hopefully manage to get a small part, and then I’ll have some stage experience to guide me when I start directing. Even better, the show was being directed by Marshall professor Gene Anthony - a professional actor, a fantastic director and all-around great guy. The lessons he imparted were invaluable.

The auditions were held on the stage at the old Huntington High School, and somehow I muddled through, despite being scared to death - I’ve always been shy and not wild about getting up in front of people to talk, let alone sing and dance - but being on stage seemed like a good way to fight that fear. It’s hard to tell from the perspective of the one auditioning, but I think I did fine during the reading and I squeaked by the singing audition (no worries about having to tackle any solos), but the most difficult part was the dancing audition, in which I tried (unsuccessfully) to hide at the back of the group.

When the cast list was posted, amazingly enough (or perhaps a sign of their desperation), I was in the show, cast as the delegate from New Jersey, The Rev. John Witherspoon. A modest part, with a handful of lines, a nifty entrance and no solos. My plan had worked!

But the fun was just beginning.

Next: Rehearsals

Monday, November 27, 2006

This week in Theatre

Start saving your hard-earned dough, theatre fans, 'cause this may well be the busiest week of the year for shows!

Coming up this week:

Starting Wednesday, Marshall's Department of Theatre presents "Driving Miss Daisy."

Starting Friday, First Stage Theatre presents "Babes in Toyland" at the old Huntington High School, and Fifth Avenue Theatre presents "A Christmas Carol" at City Hall's auditorium.

Then on Dec. 2, the Marshall Artist's Series will present "Aida" at the Keith Albee Theatre.

Is this a great country or what?

Under the Weather

Sorry for the lack of posting - between the holidays (had a wonderful time visiting the family at my brother Bill’s house, thank you), a ferocious fight with a cold (the score right now is: Cold 3, Chuck 2 - but I’m rallying), and some technical problems, I haven't been able to do much blogging - but I’ll try to make up for it in the coming week, which is filled with all kinds of delightful shows. And I’ll continue my essays on “How I got Into Local Theatre.” All that and more, as we used to say in TV.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! It's always been one of my favorite holidays, as family gathers together, eats a wonderful meal (wisely, they don't let me cook - but I am a pro at the consumption end of the equation), and we get to watch lots of football. Who could ask for more?

Whatever your plans today, I hope you have a good day - and in case you're wondering, one of the many things I'm thankful for is that we have this space to share. Have a safe and happy holiday!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Getting Into Local Theatre - Part 3

When the children’s theatre decided to stage “The Hobbit” in the spring of 1999, my pal K.C. Bragg expressed interest in directing the show. Since K.C. had lots of stage experience, the board decided to name him the director - but according to the group’s bylaws, a board member would have to serve as the producer. Since I was responsible for bringing him on board, it only seemed right for me to take on the job of producer - even though I’d never done it before.

The easiest way to sum up the producer’s job is that he (or she) does just about everything the director doesn’t do. To be more precise, the producer handles most of the behind-the-scenes effort: arranging for a venue; finding a rehearsal hall; organizing work parties to build sets, find props and make costumes; overseeing the design of posters and the printing of programs; setting up ticket sales; arranging for promotional ads and media coverage; helping with crowd control at rehearsals; meeting with parents and making sure everyone is on the same page; and lots of other details. Basically, you’re a support element. I should add that the director has a hand in each part of this process, as well - the producer mostly organizes the effort.

The secret to success, of course, is to have lots of help - and thankfully, the children’s theatre has always been blessed with hardworking parents who are willing to pitch in and make a difference.

And “The Hobbit” was a major challenge, with a large cast, lots of costumes for Hobbits, Dwarves, Goblins, Villagers and a Wizard, loads of make-up, weapons (swords and axes) and a giant dragon. The costume team did amazing work, and two of the moms built the head of the giant dragon Smaug using chicken wire and papier-mache, with huge lights for the eyes. It was really impressive, and I had a ringside seat for the construction, which took place in my garage.

K.C. did a great job guiding the young actors, building the stage and handling the thousands of details the director manages (more on that in a later post), and the final show was really impressive. The obstacle that we had trouble overcoming was the fact that most people didn’t know what a Hobbit was (this being before the “Lord of the Rings” movies came out).

Still, it was a fun show, and it gave me a lot of appreciation for all the hard work a producer has to put into each show.

Next: The most frightening step yet, as I attempt to play the part of an actor.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Getting Into Local Theatre - Part 2

So one of my first jobs in local theatre was running the sound board. Since I was working in television at the time, it was a natural step - I had certainly wrestled with audio boards and microphones before. But I’d never faced the controlled hysteria of running sound for a stage show.

The job mainly involved running the microphones for the actors. Remember, we’re talking about children’s theatre here, so for the young (and often soft-spoken) actors to be heard clearly - especially when they’re singing along with a band - they have to wear microphones.

For more than a decade, the standard for theatre mics has been some form of the lavalier microphone, which is a small wireless mic that features a battery pack that clips under the actor’s costume, and a tiny mic that is clipped to the front of the costume, or (more commonly today) is taped to the actor’s face.

The problem is, there are never enough mics to go around, so the actors must share, switching mics backstage - which means the sound board operator has to be careful to bring up the right mic at the right time. Every show, at some time or another, has had that moment when a backstage mic was turned on in time for the audience to listen in to a conversation that has nothing to do with what’s happening on stage.

Lots of other things can go wrong - mics can drop dead, or develop a short, or make horrible noises as the actor brushes against them. Of course, we've all heard the dreaded feedback noise.

To add to the confusion, the sound person also may be called on to insert sound effects at a crucial moment (doorbells ringing, dogs barking, sirens wailing, etc.) - and sometimes you just don’t have enough hands to cover all the bases.

Still, it’s a lot of fun, and you get to see all the shows for free. However, after I had run sound for quite a few shows, I had a moment of revelation. In the children’s theatre, we have young people working backstage as well as acting in the shows. They form the stage crew, moving around sets, running lights, helping the actors. Just before one show it occurred to me (I never claimed to be quick), why not let one of the kids run the sound board?

Sydnee Smirl offered to tackle the job, and I gave her what little training she needed - and for the run of the show, she ran the sound - and did a great job! At one point during a show, there was a problem with a mic, and I started to step forward to help - but before I could arrive, she jumped up, fixed the problem, and went back to work. Hey, I was impressed.

In fact, kids have run the sound on most of the shows First Stage has produced since then - and almost without exception, they’ve done the job as well - or better - than I ever did. It was one of the few times I didn’t mind being put out of work - and best of all, it’s a great experience for the kids. If you can handle a sound board, you can handle almost anything.

Emphasis on the "almost."

Next: Wearing the producer’s hat.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Getting Into Local Theatre - Part 1

So how does a guy who had never been on the stage get involved with community theatre? It’s the same story that many other people could tell – namely, I got involved because of my kids.

Back in 1995 my oldest son (who was 10 at the time) decided to try out for the children's theatre production of “The Wizard of Oz.” He was cast in a dual role as one of the Witch’s guards and as a person of Oz. He had one line – “Hail to Dorothy, the Wicked Witch is dead!” – and that began an involvement for the whole family that continues to this day.

I should admit that, at the time, I was working for a local television station, where I produced children’s programming, including “Kidsmag,” a news show hosted by young people, and numerous original children’s specials. Directing children for television would eventually lead me to directing for the stage.

Not long after “Oz,” I was invited to become a board member for the children’s theatre – and I’m still doing that, too. In no time, my other son was acting in shows, and my wife became a director and producer, too.

Next: What was my first job in the theatre? Here’s a clue: testing… testing… one… two… three.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Busy Days Ahead

Things are quiet on the theatre scene right now, but the week after Thanksgiving you'll find a plethora of shows. Marshall's Department of Theatre will present "Driving Miss Daisy," First Stage Theatre will offer "Babes in Toyland" and Fifth Avenue Theatre will roll out "A Christmas Carol" - all on the same weekend! Then, for the second weekend in December, "Babes" and "Carol" will have another round of shows.

Christmas is a popular time for shows - travel to Charleston or Ashland and you'll find even more shows taking the stage. So if you're feeling like there's nothing to see or do, just be patient - it'll all change soon.

Local Theatre History - Part 7

Take my word for it - it’s not easy to stage a show. It takes a lot of people, time, effort, dedication and yes, money to put one together. For that reason it’s not surprising that quite a few groups have faded away over the years. I wanted to wrap up my series about “the history of local theatre as I remember it” with a tip o’ the hat to those groups.

First of all, there have probably been quite a few that I’ve never heard of - after all, I arrived in Huntington in 1976, and that’s where my memory starts. (As always, dear reader, feel free to post comments or send me an email at TheMinskers@aol.com with corrections or additions.)

Possibly the biggest group to fade away was the Community Players. I only remember seeing one show of theirs - “A Christmas Carol,” at the old Abbott Theater on Huntington’s west end. The group spent years putting on shows, but when the Abbott finally closed (and was later torn down), the group disbanded. A few efforts have been made in the years since to revive the group, but for now, the group has apparently left the stage.

The only other group that I know about firsthand was the Appalachian Regional Theatre (known as ART, but not to be confused with the ARTS group in the Renaissance Theatre). Organized by Danny Ray, a stage veteran who returned to his home in Huntington, the group put on some outstanding shows, including “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “The Sound of Music,” “The Odd Couple,” “Noises Off” and “Into the Woods,” to name a few. Sadly, the group shut down about a year ago, and its return is uncertain.

My hat is off to anyone who undertakes the challenge of putting on a local show. It’s a near-impossible job - but it can also be lots of fun and very rewarding.

In future blog entries, I’ll tell you more about the pitfalls of putting on a local production - what it takes and why it can succeed wildly - or fall on its face - and why there’s no way to predict which way it’ll go.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Wiggling Away

Here's one of those posts that got delayed: If you missed The Wiggles (shame on ya, mate!), you can read the story online here and check out some photos here.

Blogged Down

Sorry for the lack of posts recently! The ol' website was broken down, but if you're reading this - and you know you are - then it's apparently back up and working. I'll try not to run off and leave you hanging like that again.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Local Theatre History - Part 6

The newest theatre group in town is, basically, a new wing of an organization that got its start about seven years ago. Arts Resources for the Tri-State (ARTS) began as a gathering of theatre groups - and one orchestra - who would work together to refurbish part of the old Huntington High School and turn it into a center for local arts groups.

For reasons that will take some explaining (it’ll be the subject of a future blog entry), the idea didn’t work out and the original members of the organization - the Musical Arts Guild, the Musical Arts Guild - Children’s Theatre, Huntington Outdoor Theatre and the Tri-State Youth Orchestra - all eventually left the ARTS organization.

The group continued on its own, managing the use of the Huntington High School auditorium and renting it out to other organizations. Approximately once a year since the organization began, the group has presented fundraisers in concert form, usually featuring Broadway veterans Mark and Beth McVey.

More recently, under the leadership of Beth McVey, the group started presenting its own stage shows. The idea, of course, was to raise money to refurbish the auditorium.

Their output has been limited so far - they presented the Christmas show “Amahl and the Night Visitor” twice (in 2004 and 2005) and staged the recent “Fiddler on the Roof.” I think that’s it so far - but given the success of “Fiddler,” I suspect we’ll be seeing more from that group in the near future.

Next: Theatre groups that faded away.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

On Stage This Weekend - The Wiggles!

Those of you with young children are no doubt familiar with The Wiggles, the Australian hosts of the popular TV show. They're four colorful singing guys who've also sold a ton of CDs, and they're arriving in person this weekend at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena. They're putting on two shows Friday - one at 3:00 p.m. and the other at 6:30 p.m. The show is called - what else? "Wiggledancing! Live on Stage."

A good time is guaranteed for kids - and I suspect the adults will have fun, too.

If you've somehow missed seeing the cheerful quartet, here's a video of them singing a couple of their most popular songs, "Big Red Car" and "Rusty Dance." Click on the video to catch the Wiggles.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Local Theatre History - Part 5

The 5th Avenue Theatre Company was founded about five years ago for a unique purpose: to raise money for the City of Huntington Foundation.

Back in 1991 the Foundation began the restoration of City Hall's auditorium. The city had planned to gut the old auditorium to create office space, but interior designer Jean Carlo Stephenson urged City Council to reconsider. She was the Foundation's first director, and today the auditorium is named after her.

But maintaining and making improvements to the facility takes a lot of cash. To raise money, the 5th Avenue Theatre Company has staged a number of shows, including “Annie,” “West Side Story,” “Carousel” and the upcoming “Christmas Carol.”

Because of the uneven nature of bringing in money on shows (not every show makes money, as anyone in theatre can tell you), 5th Avenue has been cautious in presenting shows. But with two shows on tap for this season, including “The Music Man” in the spring, the City of Huntington Foundation will continue to give audiences a reason to pay a visit to their facility.

Next: The area’s newest theatre group is also supporting a classic theater - just four blocks away from City Hall.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

What's So Great About Theatre

There's a scene in an episode of "The Simpsons" where an unidentified couple are watching a bad stage show, and the man turns to the woman and says, "And this is better than a movie... HOW?"

Well, it made me laugh.

But I was reminded last night why theatre is so much fun. I was watching six young girls rehearsing a scene for the upcoming "Babes in Toyland." They were learning a dance from director Amy Browning, and Tom Hastie, the only adult on stage in the show (he plays the Toymaker), was giving pointers to the young performers on their dance steps. The sheer enthusiasm and joy just radiated from those actors - young and not-quite-so-young alike.

As I started to leave, one of the girls stopped me and said, "You have to watch us run through the whole song." So I did - and it was delightful. Adorable. Cute. Funny. And then some.

I can't wait to see this show - it's got "Holiday Classic" written all over it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Vote Already!

OK, it has nothing to do with local theatre - but Tuesday is Election Day, so here's a reminder to get out there and do your duty as a citizen! Perhaps if enough of us vote, they'll stop running those annoying TV commercials!

Wishful thinking, I know.

Local Theatre History - Part 4

The Huntington Outdoor Theatre (HOT) got its start back in 1993, and - of course - its origins can be traced to the Musical Arts Guild. At one performance (I’m not sure which show it was), Helen Freeman first met Patti Shaver. The two kicked around the idea of starting a local outdoor theatre - and finally decided to give it a try.

HOT’s shows have all been presented at Huntington's Ritter Park Amphitheater. The shows usually run through each weekend in July. Some years the group has presented two shows in a summer, while other times they present a single show.

The group is led by Helen, who serves as the President and Artistic Director, and Patti, who is Vice-President and Managing Director. Helen directs most of the shows, and Patti choreographs and organizes things behind the scenes. Of course, they have lots of help, with a board of directors and an small army of managers tackling every job from designing posters to selling tickets and T-shirts.

HOT has established itself as a summer tradition, and focuses on presenting big musicals, including shows like “Hello, Dolly,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Disney's Beauty and the Beast,” “The Music Man,” “Huntington: The Jewel of West Virginia” and “Oklahoma.”

Each show also features a pre-show, featuring a variety of performers singing or dancing, and a prepared performance by young actors.

HOT has been a real success story, bringing in huge crowds through the month of July. Like any outdoor theatre, its only enemy is bad weather, but thankfully Huntington’s summers are usually mild.

Oh, HOT has one more dubious distinction - it’s the only organization that has presented a show that included, as one of its actors - me. But I’ll save that story for another day.

Next: A theatre group that’s been around less than a decade - and it’s designed to raise money to pay for improvements to a local building.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Local Theatre History - Part 3

The First Stage Theatre Company got its start 16 years (and one name change) ago. After auditions in 1990 for shows like “Annie” and “Hansel and Gretel” brought in - literally - hundreds of kids, it was obvious that there was a need for an outlet for these young thespians.

As with many local theatre groups, its beginning are tied to the Musical Arts Guild (MAG). George Snider and Jennifer Salcines approached the board of MAG and asked the group to sponsor the children’s theatre, and that’s how the Musical Arts Guild – Children’s Theatre (MAG-CT) began. The group’s first production was “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” on Sept. 14, 1990.

There are, basically, two kinds of children’s theatres. One features adults putting on shows for young people (with the cast perhaps including a few young actors), and the other stars young actors in the leads (with the cast sometimes including a few adults). MAG-CT would be the latter, and over the years it has allowed young people the chance to star in all kinds of shows, both musical and non-musical.

Like any youth organization, the group has an ever-changing board, as young actors and their parents get involved, graduate and move on to other interests. There are only two board members still involved with the group who were there at the beginning - the group’s chairman, C.E. Wilson, who was the first liaison between MAG and MAG-CT (he’s a darn good actor, too), and Mary Smirl, who has directed and choreographed quite a few shows (and she’s also a darn good actor).

By 2001 it was obvious that MAG-CT was able to stand on its own two feet, so in an amicable split the two groups separated, and the children’s theatre adopted a new name (one suggested by board member Clint McElroy): the First Stage Theatre Company.

Like its parent group, First Stage is a theatre group without a home - so it roams from theater to theater, depending on which one is available and which one fits the needs of the production. Every year the group produces either two or three shows, each one featuring young actors from across the Tri-State area. The purpose of the group is to provide young people with a positive experience either on the stage or working behind the scenes.

If anyone out there is avoiding their shows because it’s a “children’s theatre,” you’re missing out on some great young talent - many of whom you’ll see on stage in other local theatre productions.

In the last four years the group has staged major shows like “Bye, Bye Birdie,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Seussical: the Musical,” “Honk,” “Les Miserables: The School Edition” and the upcoming “Cats,” in addition to smaller shows like “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” “Winnie the Pooh,” “A Christmas Story,” “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” “The Three Musketeers” and the upcoming “Babes in Toyland.”

First Stage also offers up a scholarship program named in honor of Jim Stone, a local actor who was a great supporter of the arts and a mentor to many young actors.

First Stage has established itself as a great place for young people to get their start in theatre. There they gain the skills and confidence that will serve them well throughout their life.

Next: Started just a few years after the Children’s Theatre, this group rules the month of July - which must be why it’s called HOT.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see last night's performance of "Alice" - I had a church dinner to attend. The H-D has some nice photos from the show - you can get to their photo gallery here and click on "Alice" under the news category.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Local Theatre History - Part 2

The Musical Arts Guild (MAG) is the second-longest-running (and still active) community theater group in the Huntington area. Way back in 1965 several area churches combined their choirs to provide music for a preaching mission, and that was the beginning for the Musical Arts Guild.

Those early missions were presented for a while at the Keith-Albee Theater, and when that ended, the group continued doing concerts and finally “regular” shows at the Huntington High School auditorium (now known as the Renaissance Center).

Over the years since, the group has produced some terrific shows and given stage time to many local actors who moved on to Broadway, including Michael Cerveris and Mark and Beth McVey.

One of my favorite shows produced by MAG was “Fiddler on the Roof” in the mid-’90s, starring my pal Jim Stone (God rest his soul) as Tevye.

Unfortunately, it’s been a while since MAG tackled a stage show - I believe their last show was a few years ago. “The King and I” was directed by Danny Ray and starred Tommy Smirl. The group is still active, but has gone back to its roots and presents shows in concert form only. Just a week or so ago MAG held a fundraising concert for the three scholarships the group awards every year to Marshall students - two for music majors and one for a theatre major.

They’ve carried the torch of community theatre for more than 40 years - and hopefully they’ll continue to bring the gift of music to the area for many more years to come.

MAG was also directly involved in the creation of the next-oldest local community theatre group - the one devoted to local children.

Next: Part 3 - First Stage Theatre Company

On Stage Tonight - Alice

The Marshall Artists series presents "Alice" tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Keith-Albee Theatre.

Here's a synopsis of the show:

If you think being rich will get you a giant house, fun times, and lots of great friends, come join sassy teen Alice, who believes it will, and then wins a mysterious sweepstakes.

In a dizzying race against the clock to claim her big prize, she takes off into the topsy-turvy neon wonderland of the Big City with her two best friends: a white, kind-of-invisible rabbit, and a card-playing nerd.

Skyscrapers seem to grow taller, diners appear to get smaller, and rich uptown ladies try to steal their winnings, but that’s just the beginning to all the outrageous adventures in store for you. Whoopi Goldberg’s delightful children’s book, Alice, has been made into a one-hour play with music.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Local Theatre History - Part 1

In thinking about theatre here in Huntington, I often think about the history of it. As far as I know, no history of local theatre has ever been assembled - and there's not much to be found on the subject on the Internet.

Touring shows have probably been presented in Huntington virtually since the city was founded, and certainly local schools have put on shows since the first teacher or parent walked through the door who was willing to take on the challenge.

A quick look at www.Ask.com reveals that the newest section of Marshall’s Old Main - the part with the auditorium in it - was built in 1907, and no doubt the students started staging shows there not long after. Although I don't have any research to back it up (and I trust you'll correct me if I'm wrong, dear reader), it seems safe to assume that Marshall has the longest continuing tradition of putting on shows in Huntington.

I have wonderful memories of seeing great shows in that auditorium. When I was a student in the late ‘70s, one of the outstanding performers was a guy named Joe Johns, who is well known today for his work on CNN (and NBC before that). Perhaps Marshall's most famous acting alumni is the Oscar-winning Brad Dourif (although Billy Crystal also attended for a semester). Actually, my hero Soupy Sales is probably the most famous, though I'm not sure if he ever acted on the Marshall stage.

These days Marshall has a new theater, and it’s a beauty. The Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center is a state of the art facility, and the Department of Theatre uses it to maximum effect. The shows they’ve staged in recent years certainly live up to (and often surpass) the ones from the past. They stage at least four shows a year, most of them directed by professors Jack Cirillo or Eugene Anthony - and they do amazing work.

In just the last couple of years, they’ve done shows like “The Foreigner,” which is one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen on a stage, the outstanding “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which should be required viewing for every student everywhere, and the phenomenal “Hair” (to name just a few). Almost every year they tackle a Shakespeare play, like the excellent “Romeo and Juliet,” "Julius Ceasar" and “The Tempest” - you owe it to yourself to see these.

Really, if you’re not checking these out on a regular basis, you’re missing some excellent work - not to mention the chance to see the potential stars of the future!

So I'm assuming Marshall has been putting on shows the longest - although certainly the local high schools are also in the running, even though their output has been sporadic over the years. So who's next on the longest-running list?

That's the topic of the next post, which we'll call: History Part 2 - The Musical Arts Guild.

UPDATE: In doing some research I discovered an interesting fact: Marshall staged its first show in the Old Main auditorium on March 13, 1908. I still don't know which show it was, but I'll keep digging.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Spelling Bee on TV

Here's a clip of the performers from the Chicago version of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" making an appearance on a local telethon. Check it out (and I assume you can still make a donation if you're so inclined). This just proves that YouTube can do anything (except make money).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Now that the rush of local shows has abated (for the moment), here’s the review of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” that I promised over a week ago. (“Speedy Delivery” is not my slogan.)

Broadway shows don’t exist only in New York - they also ship ‘em around for extended runs in major cities like Chicago. That’s where my wife and I saw “Spelling Bee.” It’s a musical with a simple premise - six students are competing to be the local spelling champ, and during the course of the show we learn their stories, along with a few other characters.

Of course, each character has his or her own strange quirks, and the contest allows for some really funny gags. The production actually recruits competitors from the audience - before the show, you can sign up for the chance to be pulled up on stage. We didn’t register (the line was too long), but my pal Clint was chosen when he saw the show in New York, and had a hilarious time in his first starring role on Broadway.

The show has a lot to recommend it - the characters are very funny, often touching - or hilariously offensive. It may look like a children’s show, but it really isn’t, thanks to a few four-letter words and a few adult references.

The performers were terrific, and perfectly cast - especially James Earl Jones II, who has an amazing voice.

The songs are lots of fun, but my only complaint is that none of the songs are instantly memorable - you won’t walk home humming any tunes (though you'll probably remedy that by buying the soundtrack). But if you get the chance to see it, I do recommend the show - it’s funny, it’s entertaining, and who knows? You might get your big break, depending on how well you can spell.

Picture This

You can see a few nice photos from "Superstar" when you click on the link on this page. No idea why they lumped the Scooby-Doo photos in there.

What Did You Think?

Since this is our blog - yours and mine - I want to invite you to write in with your comments about any shows you've seen (I'd love to hear your thoughts on "Jesus Christ Superstar," for example). You can make comments at the end of each subject (click on the words "Post Comments") or send your thoughts to me at TheMinskers@aol.com and I'll create the post for you. Hey, we're all in this together!

Jesus Christ Superstar - The Review

Since it’s been 33 years (gulp!) since Ted Neeley played the title role in the film, the question on everyone’s mind going into this performance on his farewell tour was, “Can he still hit those high notes?”

The answer, I’m happy to say, is heck yeah! Oh, his voice may not be quite what it was, and he’s probably a bit too old to play the part of the 30-ish Jesus, but he’s still in amazing shape and is a fantastic performer. He brings such power and gravitas to the role, you know you’re in witnessing something special.

The cast was loaded with talent, not the least of which was Living Color’s Corey Glover as Judas, and Christine Rea-Briskin as Mary Magdalene - and a special tip o’ the hat to Larry Alan Coke as every bass singer’s favorite role, the high priest Caiaphas.

Touring shows like this have to travel light, but they still managed some amazing stage effects through a combination of a creative (and deceptively simple) set, lots of ingenuity and lighting effects. The show also featured a small but excellent live band and some great choreography.

I wondered in a previous post whether or not the show would incorporate the resurrection into the conclusion. I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone, but their solution was powerful and inspired - and amazing.

It’s not often you get to see a living legend of the theatre perform in a show like this, and I’m glad I was able to witness this one. If you missed it, you missed a great show.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

On Stage Tonight

The rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar" will grace the Keith-Albee Theater stage Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. as part of this season's Marshall Artists Series.

Could We Start Again, Please?

So back in the Summer of 2003 I was asked by my church – Pea Ridge United Methodist Church – to direct “Jesus Christ Superstar.” At that point I had directed two shows for the First Stage (Children's) Theatre Company, so tackling an “adult” show sounded like a good challenge – besides, it was a good way to give back to my church (assuming the show made money).

Auditions brought out some great talent, including Eric Wilson (Judas), Autumn Seavey (Mary Magdalene), Len LaCara (Herod), Brandon Giles (Simon Zealotes) and Anthony Donta (Caiphas), to name a few – but we came to the end of the auditions and didn’t have anyone to play Jesus… until the last person walked in. Michael Naglee was perfect for the role – a terrific singer and actor, he was the man for the part, and brought along the experience and leadership you need in any show.

The show is also special because it involved my whole family, with wife Jeanette and her sister Sherri playing “Soul Girls,” youngest son Evan was “Peter” and oldest son Justin my (unofficial) assistant director. The whole cast came together and overcame many obstacles to learn the (often difficult) music for the show.

It wasn’t an easy show to put together (in fact, in many ways it was the most difficult I’ve ever tackled), but thanks to the talented cast and some hard work by band leader Quinn Ballard (and his orchestra), choreographer Melissa McGuffin, set design and construction by Brandon Giles, and costume assistance by Denise LaCara (among others), it somehow came together and ended up being (in my humble opinion) a darn good show. Like most community theatre performances, it might lack the extravagant costumes and towering sets of the professional show, but it made up for it with spirit, energy and raw talent.

At the end of the show, we followed the lead of other community versions and added a sequence to represent the resurrection (which wasn’t easy – the effect didn’t come together until the dress rehearsal). I’ll be curious to see if Wednesday’s show does the same. But as I said in the program at the time, “The story of Jesus is too big to be captured in a single play, and too powerful to be brought down by a sometimes-controversial interpretation.”

Monday, October 23, 2006


As mentioned earlier, I have a few reasons for liking the show “Jesus Christ Superstar,” not the least of which is the terrific music. When I was in college at Marshall University, a friend of mine (Dana Grooms, where are you?) maintained that everyone who was buying albums in the early ‘70s had at least one of the following in his or her record collection: “Frampton Comes Alive,” Carole King’s “Tapestry” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Most had all three - including me.

Of course, there was a lot of controversy around “Superstar,” especially when it was first released in 1970. Many considered it to be sacrilegious because the story is actually presented from the viewpoint of Judas, and attempts to explain why he betrayed Jesus. It’s also criticized for the fact that the play ends with the crucifixion and doesn’t depict the resurrection. However, aside from those objections and a line or two in the songs, the story actually follows the scripture (fairly) closely, and has brought more than a few people back to the church. You can count me among that group - it really spoke to the teens at my church in the early '70s, and gave us a great topic of discussion.

The album later became a stage musical, then a movie in 1973. It’s been a TV special and a touring show, and quite a few community theatre groups have tackled the show. When my church decided to stage the show a few years ago, I found myself being asked to be the director - but I’ll save that story for my next blog entry.


There's a good story in today's paper previewing "Superstar." You can read it here.

What's the Buzz?

After a flood of local productions, we only have one show on tap for this week - but it's a good one! "Jesus Christ Superstar" will be presented by the Marshall Artists Series Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. at the newly-expanded Keith-Albee Theater.

I have several reasons for liking this show - which I'll share in an upcoming post. But you should be anxious to see it, too, because it may be your last chance to see the actor most associated with the title role.

This performance is part of the farewell tour for Ted Neeley, who played Jesus in the 1973 film based on the musical. Just for fun, let's see if yours truly can insert a video here - click on the window below to see Ted singing the powerful song "Gesthemene."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Three Musketeers - The Review

There are lots of plays based on “The Three Musketeers,” and they fall into two categories - the ones that only cover the first half of the book (which gives the illusion of a happy ending), and the ones that cover the whole book, tragic events and all. Kudos to First Stage Theatre Co. and director Travis McElroy for taking the courageous route and tackling the latter version.

The story focuses on young D’Artagnan (Caleb Donahoe) as he journeys to Paris in hopes of becoming one of the King’s guards, the Musketeers. Along the way he becomes involved in court intrigue, murder plots, evil agents and more than a few sword fights. He also falls in love (more than once) and, of course, he befriends “The Three Inseperables,” Musketeers Athos (Chuck Hearndon), Aramis (Clint Wilson) and Porthos (Joseph Overstreet).

The cast features some terrific young actors who bring the classic story to life. They do a great job, including McKenzie Young as Queen Anne, Aaron Dunn as Rochefort, Lexi Smith as Constance, Sheila Arrowood as Milady, Eric Newfeld as the Duke of Buckingham, Blaine Roberts as Planchet, Chris Crawford as Bonacieux, Maggie Saunders as Madame Coquenard and Shane Stevens as Monsieur Coquenard (to name just a few).

The cast does an excellent job with the fight scenes - a real challenge in the limited space available, but they tackle it with great skill. Stage combat is difficult to master, and they’ve done a terrific job here.

Kudos also to the costume department. In a show like this, it’s a real challenge to come up with convincing period costumes - especially on a limited budget - and they’ve worked miracles here.

The set is also amazing - the stone bridge / castle may seem simple, but many long hours went into making it solid enough to handle the wear and tear of the cast marching across it. Jack Welch and his construction crew put in a lot of work to make it happen.

It takes almost two months of practice and preparation to make a show like this happen, and the cast and production crew have done an amazing job putting together a faithful recreation the original story.

You have one more chance to catch the show - Sunday at 2:30 p.m. the cast will bring the Dumas book to life one more time. Miss it not!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

On Stage This Weekend

The Three Musketeers

The First Stage Theatre Company's production of "The Three Musketeers" will be presented today at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow (Sunday) at 2:30 p.m. at the Renaissance Theater (the old Huntington High School). Tickets are $8.00 for adults, $6.00 for children and $5.00 each for groups of 12 or more.

"Give Our Regards to Broadway"

The Musical Arts Guild will present a dinner show tonight at 6:00 p.m. in the Don Morris Room at the Marshall University Student Center. Tickets are $50.

Friday, October 20, 2006

On Stage Tonight

The Three Musketeers

The First Stage Theatre Company's production of "The Three Musketeers" will be presented tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Renaissance Theater (the old Huntington High School). Tickets are $8.00 for adults and $6.00 for children. Shows will also be presented Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Three Musketeers

Even though I've had very little to do with the production of the show, I take great pride in the First Stage production of "The Three Musketeers." (Full disclosure time: I'm a member of the board of directors of First Stage Theatre Co.)

For one thing, they have a terrific cast, including familiar faces like Chuck Heardon, Clint Wilson and McKenzie Young, and quite a few new actors who've never been in a First Stage show. I take pride in the quality of show First Stage presents - these shows are much more than "just" children's theatre, as some of the most talented young men and women in the tri-state take part. I think it's great that these young people are taking part in a show that includes stage combat, which is a difficult skill to learn and master.

But perhaps most of all, I'm proud of the directing team. The Director, Travis McElroy, started his career on the stage, acting in First Stage shows like "Bye Bye Birdie," "The Wizard of Oz" and "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." He also worked behind the scenes for several shows, and was the Assistant Director for me on "A Christmas Story." He studied drama in college, and tackled this show as his first project after graduation. Travis was also one of my "Kidsmag" reporters back in the mid-1990s. His Assistant Director I take even more pride in, since he's my son, Justin - who also appeared in several local shows, including "Birdie" and "Oz," along with HOT shows like "Cinderella." Justin also worked backstage on many shows, and has been my Assistant Director (both official and unofficial) on almost every show I've directed.

Needless to say, I can't wait to see the show they've been working on for the past six weeks (or so). I know it's going to be a swashbuckling good time!

Read All About It

The H-D ran a nice story (with cool photos) in today's paper about "The Three Musketeers." Check it out at www.herald-dispatch.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061019/LIFE/610190333/1004.

Not the Candy Bar

The First Stage Theatre Company's production of "The Three Musketeers" takes to the stage this weekend at the Renaissance Theater (the old Huntington High School), and here are a few interesting bits o' information about that show:

- The show is the first in the history of First Stage to feature swordfights using actual swords.

- The Director of the show is Travis McElroy, and the Assistant Director is Justin Minsker - both former actors in First Stage shows.

- It's the second consecutive show from First Stage to be set in France (last spring's "Les Miserables: School Edtion" was the other).

- It's a non-musical, but features instrumental accompaniment written by cast member Clint Wilson.

The show only runs this weekend, so mark your calendars!

A New Way of Seeing Things

Again, my apologies for the light blogging - I was out of town for a few days to have Lasik surgery on my eyes. For the first time, I can see objects at a distance without wearing glasses or contacts - and it's an amazing feeling. I'll try to make up for my two absences in the past week with several posts - thanks for bearing with me.

By the way, anyone who'd like to send in their own comments about local theatre, reviews of shows they've seen or previews of upcoming shows, feel free to post a comment, or send your thoughts to this email address: TheMinskers@aol.com.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Man Who Wasn't There

Many apologies for the light blogging this weekend, but I was out of town - the family and I went to Chicago to visit my son Evan, who attends college in the Windy City (which is, I must say, a wonderful town).

But don’t think I abandoned you completely - while there, my lovely wife Jeanette and I saw “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” the musical that was last year’s darling at the Tonys. I’ll have a review later this week.

I trust you got out to see one or both of the shows that just wrapped up here in Huntington - both “Hair” and “Fiddler on the Roof” were great shows. Coming up this weekend is First Stage Theatre Company’s production of “The Three Musketeers,” and that show features several firsts - which I’ll also be telling you about later this week. But be warned - unlike most First Stage shows, this one runs one weekend only - so make room in your schedule!

Friday, October 13, 2006

On Stage This Weekend

Here are the shows to look for this weekend:


The Marshall University Theatre department will present Hair, the American tribal love-rock musical from the 1960s, at the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 and $10, and free to full-time Marshall students with ID.

Fiddler on the Roof

ARTS (Art Resources for the Tri-State) will present the musical Fiddler on the Roof at the Renaissance Theatre (the old Huntington High School) Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $7 for children. The Saturday performance will also be a dinner theater, with tickets costing $40 per person. The buffet includes oven roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, salad, vegetable, dessert roll and beverage. For reservations or information, call (304) 733-2787.

Fiddler on the Roof

This is one of my all-time favorite musicals, and it’s great to see it being staged in Huntington again - it’s been 10 years! In case you haven’t seen it, Fiddler on the Roof is the story of a man named Tevye and his family and friends. Together they go through many changes - and while the story is set on another continent, it’s one that’s all too familiar - and one that will touch the hardest of hearts. As Tevye tries to hold onto the old ways, he finds the world changing around him, and he must face the loss of his daughters as they fall in love and move away to start their own lives.

As staged by ARTS at the Renaissance Center (perhaps someday we’ll be able to leave off the description, “also known as the old Huntington High School”), Fiddler boasts an outstanding cast of local veterans of all ages. Playing the lead is Clint McElroy (of WTCR fame), and I’d tell you he’s one of the finest actors and singers in the area even if he wasn’t such a good friend of mine. Seeing him in this role will be a real treat.

Playing the part of his wife Golde is Mary Olson, and I’d tell you that she’s also a wonderfully talented performer with an amazing voice even if she wasn’t also a dear friend of mine (but I have known Clint longer - just barely). They have several wonderful songs and scenes together, but my favorite has to be the sweet “But Do You Love Me?” - it will bring a tear to any eye.

My pal Linda Reynolds plays Yente and - as always - she’s hilarious. (I’ll refrain from listing all the other cast members I know, but I’m pretty sure there are a few who I haven’t met - yet.)

Fiddler is an unusual musical - it has very little dancing, but makes up for it with lots of humor. But like the best musicals, the songs drive the story forward, and you’ll find yourself captivated. The show opens tonight, and I suggest you make the time to see it - you can thank me later.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

On Stage Tonight


The Marshall University Theatre department presents the musical Hair at the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center tonight through Oct. 14 at 8:00 p.m., and Oct. 15 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 and $10, and free to full-time Marshall students with ID.

Vicki Lawrence and Mama

The Marshall Artists Series presents the hilarious Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two Woman Show, tonight at 8:00 p.m. at the Keith Albee Theatre. The Emmy Award-winning comedienne was part of the cast of the “Carol Burnett Show,” where she created her most endearing character to date, “Mama.” Vicki went on to star in the sitcom “Mama’s Family.” Tickets for the show are $55, $45, and $35.

"Hair" - A Review

I just got back from seeing the opening night performance of “Hair,” and I have to say that if you don’t see this one, you’re missing a fantastic show. Marshall’s Department of Theatre has been putting on topnotch shows for a long time - and I’ve seen a lot of them - but I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed one more than this.

The show kicks off with a hilarious, memorable entrance for the band, and wastes no time launching into the terrific score, which includes songs like “Aquarius,” “Good Morning Starshine,” and “Easy to be Hard.” It’s billed as “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” and it’s tough to single out performers, since it’s very much an ensemble piece - but I have to give credit to a few actors, like Ryan Hardiman, who plays Berger. He manages to be fierce, loving, playful and intense (sometimes all at the same time), and the show is custom-built for his powerful voice. Then there’s Autumn Seavey, who plays Sheila. Like Ryan, she is an amazing talent, with an incredible voice and a commanding stage presence. Chris Ferris plays Claude, and he also turns in a strong performance in a difficult, sympathetic role.

Really, the entire cast deserves accolades; Ted Rose as the towering Woof is sweet, funny and has a great voice; Jennifer Scott is another wonderful singer with great stage presence; Nick Reynolds turns in an excellent performance; I could go on and on - oh, and special kudos to the scene-stealing cameo by Margaret Meade and her husband - I haven’t laughed so hard in years.

In addition to the actors, the directors and the production crew deserve a curtain call of their own - I am in awe of the amazing job they did in resurrecting the ‘60s and planting it on the stage. The costumes, the set design, the lighting - all were phenomenal. Also a tip of the hat to yet another excellent job by music director Mark Smith and his band - nothing beats a live orchestra.

Now, I have to say that if you’re easily offended, you might want to give the show a miss. There’s some vulgar language, drug use is depicted and there are a few jokes that might offend. But if you’re looking for a show full of energy, great music and the area’s top performers, you owe it to yourself to see “Hair.”

By the way, Friday and Saturday’s shows are sold out - so that leaves a few tickets left for Thursday and Sunday’s show. You’ve been warned!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

On Stage

On stage tonight:


The Marshall University Theatre department will present five performances of Hair, the American tribal love-rock musical from the 1960s, at the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center. The first performance is tonight at 8:00 p.m., with shows running through Saturday, Oct. 14 (each at 8:00 p.m.). There will also be a show Sunday, Oct. 15 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 and $10, and free to full-time Marshall students with ID.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Let the Sunshine In

The director of "Hair" is Jack Cirillo, and in case you missed it a couple of days back, he sent this comment about the show:

<< I might also add that "Hair" has been fortunate in that it has been choreographed --stunningly--by the Artistic Director of The West Virginia Dance Company of Beckly, Donald Laney. The work has been very creative and wonderfully organic, and the results are simply amazing. I would also point out that "Hair" has been made possible through a College of Fine Arts collaboration between both the departments of Music and Theatre. Collaboration after all, is the corner stone of the theatrical artform and it truely has found a wonderful example in this. The show is also being produced as part of the Birke Fine Arts Symposium 2006 which has lent great support for the project. We are all very excited about this project and look forward to seeing you there.
--Jack Cirillo >>

Good Morning Starshine

Courtesy of my pal Ryan Hardiman (who also stars in the show), here's the poster for "Hair." Click on it to enlarge the artwork (and your mind):

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Age of Aquarius

I realize that (especially to my sons) I'm an old-timer, and I actually am old enough to remember the musical "Hair" being both a bit hit and the source of controversy. In the late '60s I was attending Hayes Junior High School and I remember our choir singing a song from the show: "Aquarius" (which had also become a pop hit). Of course, at the time I was too young to get my parent's approval to see "Hair" on stage, even if it were being presented anywhere around St. Albans (which it wasn't).

Kudos to Marshall's Department of Theatre for having the courage to tackle a musical as challenging and (potentially) controversial as this one. Tuesday night they'll run their dress rehearsal, and then Wednesday it'll be the real deal. I'm looking forward to it - and Mom said it was ok for me to go. If only I still had a pair of bellbottoms.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I Don't Remember Getting Older

I've seen "Fiddler on the Roof" on stage twice locally. The first time was at the Mountaineer Dinner Theater (hands up, those of you who remember that unique venue), and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have no idea what year that would have been - an offhanded guess would be the late '70s.

The second time I saw the show was the last time it was performed in Huntington. The Musical Arts Guild staged it (I'm guessing in the mid-90s) at the City Hall Auditorium, with Jim Stone playing the lead perfectly. He was such a wonderful guy and a real friend to the Huntington theatre community - one day soon I'll write more about him.

If you've never seen "Fiddler," your chance is coming up next Friday, this time with the multi-talented Clint McElroy tackling the lead, supported by some of the top performers in the area, including Mary Olson and many others (oh, I'll include Mark Near on the list, just so his feelings won't be hurt). Throw in the directing talents of Broadway veteran Beth McVey, and you know you're in for a treat.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

On With the Show, This is it!

Here are the shows to look for this week:


The Marshall University Theatre department will present five performances of Hair, the American tribal love-rock musical from the 1960s, at the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center. Performances are Oct. 11 through Oct. 14 at 8:00 p.m., and Oct. 15 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 and $10, and free to full-time Marshall studentswith ID.

Fiddler on the Roof

ARTS (Art Resources for the Tri-State) will present three performances of the musical Fiddler on the Roof at the Renaissance Theatre (the old Huntington High School) Oct. 13 and 14 at 8:00 p.m. and Oct. 15 at 2:30 p.m. It tells the story of Tevya, a poor farmer who attempts to maintain his family and religious traditions while adapting to new pressures – especially those caused by his eldest daughters. Tickets to the musical are $15 for adults and $7 for children. The Saturday performance will also be a dinner theater, with tickets costing $40 per person. The buffet includes oven roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, salad, vegetable,dessert roll and beverage. For reservations or information, call (304) 733-2787.

Vicki Lawrence and Mama

The Marshall Artists Series presents the hilarious Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two Woman Show, Oct. 12 at 8:00 p.m. at the Keith Albee Theatre. The Emmy Award-winning comedienne was part of the cast of the “Carol Burnett Show.” At the ripe old age of 24 she created her most endearing character to date, Thelma Harper, or “Mama” as she is better known to her fans. Vicki went on to star in “Mama’s Family,” which is still airing in reruns around the country. Tickets for the show are $55, $45, and $35.

Friday, October 06, 2006

One for All and All for One

Coming up later this month from First Stage Theatre is the play The Three Musketeers. We'll talk about it more soon, but for now, here's the (quite awesome) poster for it:

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Long, Beautiful Hair

One of the shows starting soon (on Wednesday, October 11, to be exact) is the hit musical Hair, being presented by Marshall University’s Department of Theatre. It’s a rare musical performance from MU (which is a real shame, given the level of talent they have), but with the terrific talent they're putting on the stage -- including Ryan Harridan, Autumn Seavey and Nick Reynolds (to name only three) - and the guidance of director Jack Cirillo and Music Director Mark Smith (to name only two), you know this is one that you must not miss.

When it ran on Broadway back in the late ‘60s, Hair was controversial because it included a scene where virtually the entire cast shed their clothing. If you’re wondering (and you know you are), there won’t be any actual nudity in Marshall’s presentation (or so I’m told) - but it will be “suggested.”

If you’re planning to go, my advice is to pick up your tickets immediately - when I ordered mine last week I was told they were “going fast.” MU’s shows have a bad habit of selling out (every theatre group should have such troubles) - might I suggest that they add more performances?

If I Were a Rich Man

It's always feast or famine with local shows - there are either too many going on at the same time or none at all. Next week it's feast time, as ARTS presents the classic "Fiddler on the Roof" the same weekend that Marshall University brings "Hair" to the stage.
Two great musicals at once - what's a theater fan to do? Clear your schedules now, because you won't want to miss either show. "Hair, " of course, will be staged at the Joan C. Edwards Theater, while "Fiddler" will be at the Renaissance Theater (the old Huntington High School).
I'll have more about those shows soon.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Local theatre in an interesting phenomenon, wherein a group of people gather together to “Put On A Show.”
Huntington has a rich history of theatre, both at Marshall University and its outstanding Department of Theatre, and through community efforts, including groups like the Musical Arts Guild, the First Stage Theatre Company, Huntington Outdoor Theatre, Fifth Avenue Theatre and ARTS, to name the ones that leap immediately to mind.
You’ll also find active theatre groups at almost every local high school, and several groups just a short drive away in Charleston and Ashland.
And thanks to the Marshall Artists Series, we even get to see professional theatre groups perform locally.
So if you like live theatre (and we assume you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t), there’s a lot to choose from. In addition to its rich history, Huntington has a bright future ahead, with some impressive shows on the way in the months and years ahead.
In October alone, you can see "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Hair," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "The Three Musketeers."
That’s why, under the kind auspices of tThe Herald-Dispatch, we’re launching this theatre blog -- to focus on those local shows, and talk about the shows that are coming up, shows from years past (the ones you loved and the ones you hated), and to take you behind the scenes to see how shows are made.
If you have a topic you want to offer up, drop me an e-mail and we’ll get the discussion going. I’ll be offering my own comments, reviews and previews as we go along. Comments are always welcome, as long as they’re civil.
So thanks for stopping by -- we hope you’ll add us to your “Favorites List” (hint, hint)!