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!