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.

Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: The Shows In Review

This is the time of year when everyone trots out their “Top 10” lists. (Why ten? Who knows?) But I don’t want to miss out on the fun, so here’s mine - with one important difference. Since I was involved to one degree or another with a few of these shows, I’m not going to list them in order - I’m just going to reel off a list of ten good ones that were staged this year in no particular order (so sue me). Here goes:

- High School Musical (First Stage Theatre Co.) - This one was staged by three different groups, including the Backstage Players, the Charleston Light Opera Guild and First Stage in Huntington. They were all entertaining, but of course the latter is my personal favorite, since I directed it and all. (Hey, I never said the list would be impartial.) A terrific cast and the show was staged at the state’s best theater - the Keith Albee Performing Arts Center. A real delight!

- Little Shop of Horrors (Marshall University’s Department of Theatre) - MU always does terrific work, and Little Shop is another jewel in the crown. Funny, clever and loaded with great performances, it was an outstanding show.

- Hello Dolly! (ARTS) - You can never go wrong casting a Broadway star like Beth McVey in the title role, but an incredibly talented supporting cast and outstanding direction didn’t hurt, either. An excellent job on one of the classic musicals!

- Picasso at the Lapin Agile (Free Spirit) - This Steve Martin play knocked it out of the park. A sharp, clever, intelligent and darned funny play with an outstanding cast. The year’s funniest show!

- Oklahoma (HOT) - A real crowd-pleaser, there’s a good reason why this show is a classic. Add in the outdoor setting and a terrific cast and you get what audiences saw this summer - a great show!

- Cinderella (Huntington High School) - It’s easy to forget how much fun this musical can be, and the talented students at Huntington High turned in a top-notch performance here. Lots of fun!

- The Diary of Anne Frank (MU Theatre) - In many ways my favorite show of the year, with amazing performances and a truly moving and heartbreaking show. If you missed this, you missed a great show!

- Nunsense (Renaissance Players) - My feelings are mixed about the sequels, but I always enjoy the original Nunsense, and this was a terrific production with a real All-Star cast doing outstanding work. I couldn’t stop smiling!

- A Christmas Carol (5th Avenue Theatre) - It was tough to choose between this show and The Music Man (another excellent production), but this one wins out by a nose - an excellent retelling of the holiday classic!

- CATS (First Stage) - This was probably the most impressive production of the year, with an amazing amount of talent on display as local teens put on the costumes, wigs and makeup and brought this daunting, dancing show to life. Simply an unprecedented accomplishment in community theatre - and an incredible show!

This list isn't perfect, of course - it doesn’t include the professional shows brought in as part of the Marshall Artists Series, including Menopause: The Musical, The Guys, Wonderful Town and Peter Pan.

There are lots and lots of shows that deserve note as runners-up, including: MU Theatre’s I Hate Hamlet and The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940; Backstage Players’ Miracle on 34th Street; ACTC’s Jesus Christ, Superstar; Huntington High’s Snow White; Blazer High School’s Bell, Book and Candle and Have a Nice Day; Free Spirit’s The Prayer List; and First United Methodist Church’s production of Godspell. Fine shows all!

Apologies to all those I missed - and there are many, I know. I hope to do a better job next year of letting you, the theatre fan, know about local productions.

2007 was a terrific year for community theatre - tomorrow we’ll look at what we can expect in the year ahead.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Looking Back

The end of the year is at hand, so I'm in the process of compiling a list of the shows that we got to see (or wish we saw) in the past year.

We'll divide the shows up between the professional shows (like the ones the Marshall Artists Series brings to town), the college shows (such as from Marshall University), the community theatre shows and the school shows (high school, that is).

Tomorrow I'll present that list, and then on Tuesday (New Year's Day, natch) we'll look forward at 2008 and offer up a rundown of what to expect - as least as far as we know at this point. Most theatre groups are still working on their spring shows, and most don't know what they're doing in the fall - at least not yet.

I expect some surprises in the year ahead, and lots more great shows!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Broadway 2007

One of the nifty things about this humble blog is that it's part of the Herald-Dispatch, so I can include stories from the Associated Press - including this one that offers a recap of the past year on Broadway:
Broadway Strike Produced No Winners

AP Drama Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - More drama happened off stage than on in 2007 as stagehands shut down most Broadway theaters for 19 days this fall. No Jersey Boys. No Wicked. No Lion King. No Phantom of the Opera.

The strike got Broadway more publicity than all its hit musicals combined. Suddenly, theater was front-page news and all over the Internet. But the cost to producers, the city and theater-related businesses was enormous. Estimates of losses ranged upward of $40 million during what is usually one of the most lucrative times of the year—the Thanksgiving holiday.

So who won?

No one, although the producers got a little relaxation of work rules governing the opening and running of shows and stagehands got modest raises. The only guarantee: ticket prices will rise, probably sooner rather than later.

The strike, which started Nov. 10, dampened what has been the busiest fall season for new plays in years. After curtains rose again Nov. 29, one critically acclaimed hit, a new work by Tracy Letts, emerged.

It's called August: Osage County, and, yes, it is the best play of The drama from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company is a blistering tale in which family members fight furiously.

The language is brutal but often very, very funny, and the cast, most of them veterans of the Chicago production, is superb. In 2008, August: Osage County could very well win the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize.

There were other good plays, too. Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll, which follows a Czech writer from the turbulent 1960s into the 1990s, is terrific theater. 2007 was a double-whammy year for Stoppard. His three-part, nine-hour Coast of Utopia won the Tony Award for best play.

Great ensemble acting also could be found in The Seafarer, Conor McPherson's liquor-fueled Christmas Eve fable built around a life-or- death poker game.

And then there was Radio Golf, the final chapter in August Wilson's epic 10-play cycle depicting the black experience in 20th century America. The play, arriving on Broadway nearly two years after Wilson's death, provided a worthy ending to Wilson's ambitious effort.

The best-musical Tony went to Spring Awakening, the story of sexually repressed teenagers in 19th-century Germany. The pop-rock musical by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater opened off-Broadway in the summer of 2006 and moved to Broadway the following December.

It remained one of the big musicals of 2007, along with Mary Poppins and the revival of A Chorus Line. All three proved popular with audiences, and have recouped their considerable investments.

One little musical came to town and scored in a big way. Xanadu, based on the movie musical that pretty much sank the film career of Olivia Newton-John, opened in July. It has attracted a dedicated band of followers called "Fanadus" and has become something of a minor camp classic all by itself.

Only one big musical opened on Broadway in the fall: Mel Brooks' wildly anticipated Young Frankenstein. His follow-up to the smash hit The Producers is based on Brooks' 1974 movie about the nephew of the more famous creator of that giant monster. Its ticket prices generated publicity, particularly the premium priced $450 tickets for the best seats in the house.

They probably aren't selling too many of those since the reviews were mostly underwhelming, but the cast, which includes Roger Bart, Megan Mullally, Andrea Martin, Sutton Foster and Shuler Hensley, works very hard.

One other mammoth song and dance show was to have opened in 2007. But Disney's The Little Mermaid lost more than two weeks of preview performances during the strike. Now we will have to wait until 2008 — the show opens Jan. 10 — to learn if this "Mermaid" will sink or swim.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Auditions to Watch For

For all our acting friends out there, you should know about a couple of auditions coming up - both in Charleston, W.Va.

They are:

- The Pillowman - Jan. 6 & 7 at 7:00 p.m. - The Charleston Stage Company will hold auditions at the Capital Center Theatre at 123 Summers Street in Charleston. They're casting four principal male roles with minor roles for a man, a woman, a boy and a girl. Call 304-766-5721 for more information or visit their website at www.charlestonstagecompany.com.

- Appalachian Children's Chorus - Sunday, Jan. 6 at 3:00 p.m. at the University of Charleston, 2300 MacCorkle Ave. SE. Boys and girls from grades kindergarten through 7th who love to sing are encouraged to attend. Children do not need to have a song prepared for the audition. For more information call 304-343-1111 or visit their website at www.wvacc.org.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Cast List for "Children of Eden"

The preliminary cast list for the First Stage Theatre Company production of Children of Eden has been announced! It includes one adult - my pal Clint McElroy - and a talented group of young performers.

Here's the list:

FATHER - Clint McElroy
ADAM - Scott Burner
EVE - Brittany Hazeldine
CAIN - Elliot Imlay
ABLE - Bronson Bush
NOAH - Chris Crawford
MAMA - Maggie Saunders
JAPHETH - Josh Meredith
YONAH - Mary Kate Young
STORYTELLERS: Holly Smith, Elijah Boyles, Katy Pettit, Rachel Meadows, Shaina Carter, Jacob Smith, John Purcell, Nathan Mohebbi, TJ Thompson, Cody Verbage, Caroline Hunter, Diane Dawley, Elizabeth Schmitz, Brian Zepp, Emleigh Wilson, Kristen Caviani, Hannah Boyles, Emily Dennison, Rileigh Smirl, Rose Colclough, Kate Colclough, Samantha Young, Andrew Edwards and Lauren Vega

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How Far Will You Go? (To See A Show)

OK, since there are no shows going on right now (though a few are about ready to start rehearsals), let’s take the time to catch up on some past posts.

About three weeks ago an Anonymous poster made this comment:

"Many people, including myself, come from outside of Huntington to support your performances throughout the year. It would be nice to see more audiences from Huntington sending their support to their theater neighbors in Kentucky and Ohio as well.”

I thought this was a great point, and it’s one just about everyone who works on shows has asked at some point: why is it that theatergoers tend to only attend shows in their own town?

At any community theatre show, the audience almost always includes:
1) The theatre fans who attend as many shows as they possibly can;
2) Those who attend a show because a loved one or friend is appearing on stage;
3) Those who attend a show because they’ve either seen it before or heard about it and are interested;
4) The casual theatregoer who is looking for something to do that night; and
5) Those who attend a show because a loved one made them go.

Or it could be some combination thereof. However, some shows draw big crowds and some consider themselves lucky if anyone shows up. In my humble opinion, the difference between the two comes down to a simple notion: people only go to shows when they know they’re being staged.

I know what you’re thinking: “Duh, Chuck. No kidding.” But the problem is, most shows are operating with tiny budgets (if any budget at all), and advertising a show is an expensive prospect. It can cost thousands of dollars to buy advertising, and then you have to decide where to buy those ads - newspaper, radio, television, printing posters or banners - there are lots of choices. Most theatre groups can only afford a modest amount of advertising, and as a result the shows are only announced in the local bulletin boards, like those in newspapers, if at all.

There have been more than a few shows I’d love to have seen - but I only heard about them after the fact. For example, Spring Valley High School staged “The Pirates of Penzance,” but I missed it. Ironton High did one of my favorites a few years back, “Camelot” - guess what happened. Charleston has an extremely active theatre community, but I have missed more than a few because I didn’t know they were hitting the stage. Jenny Wiley puts on all kinds of great shows, but I don’t always track down their schedule in time to see it. The list goes on and on.

So what’s the solution? (Other than me paying more attention?) Well, theatre companies operating on a shoestring budget is something that isn’t going to change, and it's almost impossible to promote a show all over the Tri-State area - but the answer may be here in the form of the Internet, which provides an inexpensive way to promote a show.

As always, I urge theatre groups to send out emails with their basic information (the name of the show, where and when it’ll be staged, etc.) to all the newspapers and TV stations in the Tri-State. Don't forget to send it to this humble site and we’ll do our best to get the word out. Tell your friends - put it on facebook - do whatever you can to spread the word!

Perhaps only diehard theatre fans are willing to cross state or county lines to see a show, but you’ll only get them if you get the word out. It’s like the line from Godspell: “If your light’s under a bushel, you’ve lost something kinda crucial.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

I hope you're all having a wonderful holiday, gentle readers!

Here's a gift for you (sorry I didn't have time to wrap it). It's an explanation of the real reason we celebrate Christmas, courtesy of Linus (and Charles Schultz). Interesting to note that the network executives asked Schultz to edit this scene out of A Charlie Brown Christmas, but he refused. Good grief!

Have a great holiday, friends!

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Holiday Rerun in Lights

I posted this a year ago, but it's so much fun I have to offer it as a "rerun." It's a holiday light display set to music (since swiped for a national commercial), but well worth watching again. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Catching the Grinch

On stage, that is. The well-known Dr. Seuss story of the Grinch came to life at Empire Books this weekend. You can see the video for yourself right here:

And here's the story written by Herald-Dispatch reporter Whitney Johnson:
HUNTINGTON -- Four local actors held two performances of How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Empire Books on Saturday evening. The play, which was held in the sitting area of the bookstore, located at Pullman Square, offered entertainment for several young children, along with many adults during the 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. performances.

Dressed with pointed-tipped shoes and rosy red cheeks, Adam Taylor, 15, narrated the entire story, as he chuckled at the Grinch's festivities. After Taylor's introduction to the play, the Grinch peeped from behind the curtain located in the back of the area.

The Grinch, played by 18-year-old Josh Taylor, brought the story to life, as he let out many grunts and growls while running throughout the area stealing Christmas presents.

Max, his dog, was played by Amelia Grey, 24, and soon was dressed in antlers and jingle-bells, helping the Grinch with his Christmas-stealing scheme. Cindy Lou Who, played by 16-year-old Shelby Ward, caught the Grinch as he was trying to steal her presents.

At the end of the performance, the Grinch handed out small bags of candy to each child attending the play and then offered his signature in each How the Grinch Stole Christmas book purchased after the show was completed.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Holiday Weekend

It's been a busy weekend! The auditions wrapped up today for Children of Eden, and as always I'm impressed by the talent in this area. It's going to be a terrific show, as some of the area's top young performers bring the story to life. I'm also glad I don't have to make the final casting decisions, because so many skilled young actors are in the running!

The cast will probably be announced within the next couple of weeks - I'll post it here as soon as it's available!

I also found it interesting to watch how the director, Jack Cirillo, ran his auditions - they were different from any other I'd been part of, as he incorporated quite a bit of play-acting and improvisation into the process, in addition to the usual singing and dancing audition.

Working with a professional like Jack (not to mention the rest of his terrific directing team) and staging the show at Marshall's Experimental Theater is a great opportunity for these students. Can't wait to see the finished show!

Friday, December 21, 2007

"Children of Eden" Auditions Today

A reminder that today and tomorrow auditions will be held for First Stage Theatre's production of Children of Eden. The auditions start today and run from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and they continue tomorrow (Saturday) from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Francis Booth Experimental Theatre of the Joan C. Edwards Playhouse at Marshall University. The auditions are open to all students grades 3 through 12 (age 8-18).

For those who haven't seen it, here's a description of the musical:
From Stephen Schwartz (Godspell and Pippin) and John Caird of Les Misérables comes a joyous and inspirational musical about parents, children and faith... not to mention centuries of unresolved family business!

Freely based on the story of Genesis, Children Of Eden is a frank, heartfelt and often humorous examination of the age-old conflict between parents and children. Adam, Eve, Noah and the “Father” who created them deal with the headstrong, cataclysmic actions of their respective children. The show ultimately delivers a bittersweet but inspiring message: that "the hardest part of love... is letting go."

The melodic, energetic score is a mix of pop, folk, rock, reggae, gospel, Broadway and powerful choral moments.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

On the Screen - "Sweeney Todd"

A rare thing at the movies (namely, a musical) hits the screen tomorrow as Johnny Depp plays the title role in director Tim Burton's film version of Stephen Sondheim's stage production, Sweeney Todd. (Whew, try doing a diagram of that sentence, sports fans!)

Kind of a grim feature for the holidays, but it looks like a good one! The show has been receiving positive reviews, like this one. Depp is certainly an excellent actor, but can he sing? Well, he doesn't have the usual pipes of a Broadway star, but this clip shows he's no slouch in the music department, either. Here's a short clip of Sweeney singing "My Friends."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Auditions for "Children of Eden"

I'm running a bit late on this, but auditions are coming up this weekend for Children of Eden - here's the basic information:

The First Stage Theatre Company will hold auditions for its Spring 2008 musical Children of Eden Friday, Dec. 21 from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 22 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Francis Booth Experimental Theatre of the Joan C. Edwards Playhouse at Marshall University. The auditions are open to all students grades 3 through 12 (age 8-18).

Students may sing along to a recording (tape or CD), with accompaniment (a pianist will be provided) or they can sing without music. Friday will be the singing audition. If students cannot attend on Friday, they can sing on Saturday. Saturday will be the movement/acting audition. All students will be taught a dance combination and participate in an improvisation activity on Saturday. Students may be asked to read from a script.

Children of Eden is a musical based on some of the Bible's first stories (Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah). It was written by Stephen Schwartz, composer of Wicked, Godspell and Pippen. There are parts available for up to 30 performers, and the show will be presented at the Francis Booth Experimental Theatre April 11 - 13 and April 18 - 20.

The production team for this show will be: Jack Cirillo, director; Mary Smirl, choreographer; Mark Smith, music director; and Clint McElroy and Chuck Minsker, producers.

The First Stage Theatre Company is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing an educational, developmental experience for young people through the performing arts.

For more information, contact Jack Cirillo at 304-696-2511.

(You know, that last producer's name seems familiar somehow.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Speaking Out

My pal Danny Ray sent along this information about the Speech Team at Huntington High School. It's great to hear about the success of these young people, especially since many of them have also appeared in local community theatre productions. Here's what Danny said:
We have 42 students on both the Varsity and JV teams and have competed at four tournaments this year.

We finished second at the State Novice Tournament, fourth at Western Kentucky University, first at Braxton County and we finished second at Parkersburg High. Our students compete in 11 individual speech events and three debate events.

Here are the results from Parkersburg:

Student Congress
- Caitlyn Irr - 6th, Amy Elliott - 5th

Salesmanship - Tyler Rice - 5th, Amelia Rapp - 4th

Prose Interpretation
- Stephanie Budrus - 1st, Ryan Jackson - 2nd

After Dinner Speaking - Jordan Bean - 4th, Brittany Hazeldine - 5th

Dramatic Interp - Ryan Jackson - 4th

Public Forum Debate - Cameron Knight & Kailey Imlay - 4th, Katie Leffingwell & Chase Lawrence - 5th, Spencer Smith & Sean Delancey - 6th.

Lincoln Douglas Debate - Alex Dementiev - 2nd, Hoover Long - 4th.

Poetry Interpretation
- Stephanie Budrus - 3rd.

Humorous Interpretation - Jordan Bean - 4th.

Impromptu - Philip Cron - 3rd, Stephanie Budrus - 4th, Sophie Berhie - 5th.

Declamation - Josefine Landgrave - 5th.

Original Oratory
- Amelia Rapp - 3rd.

Extemporaneous Speaking - Sophie Berhie - 2nd, Sue Chaundry - 4th.

Dramatic Duo
- Amelia Rapp & Philip Cron - 2nd, Jillian Felder & Leanna White - 3rd.

We are very proud of our students and team. Our coaches are:
Helen Freeman, Head Coach; Danny Ray, Assistant Coach; Stephen Vance, Stephen Freeman, Theresa Rapp, Anne Durham, Bil Neal and Terri Tagmeyer.

We will be hosting our tournament in January and hopefully will
convince local friends and theatre doers to help judge. It's a
lot of fun and very entertaining.
Thanks for the info, Danny, and congratulations to the HHS Speech Team!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Real Life Gets in the Way

Sorry for the lack of posts in the last few days, dear readers, but the real world got in the way. Friday at work I felt very sick, so as a precaution the nurse sent me to the Emergency Room at St. Mary's Hospital, where I was informed that I had apparently suffered a (very) mild heart attack.

Quite a shock at my tender young age (hack, cough, wheeze)! I had to stay under observation for a couple of days, and this afternoon underwent a cathertization, wherein they insert a thin wire into your heart (!!) to check for damage or blockage. (Don't worry, it's not nearly as bad as it sounds.)

I'm happy to report that the results were all clear - no damage and no blockage - and my doctor is working with me to avoid any future incidents.

I have to say how much I appreciate the excellent care I received at St. Marys, and my heartfelt thanks for the overwhelming amount of kind wishes I received from friends and loved ones. You never know how much you're appreciated until you do something crazy like this!

I'm still resting up, but posting should be back to normal tomorrow. Eat right and get some exercise, friends - it's the only way to fly!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Coming Attractions

With the holidays around the corner, we're about to move into another quiet spell for local theatre - but of course, that won't stop me from blabbing on this site! So what shall we talk about?

Well... how about:

- The last go-round of shows coming up before the end of the year.

- We'll discuss the question recently posed: why is it that theatre-goers tend to only attend shows in their own town?

- A preview of the shows coming up in the Spring.

- We'll talk about some auditions coming up in the very near future.

- A look back at the shows that entertained us in 2007.

- And we'll talk about what shows you'd like to see local community theatre groups tackle.

All that, and much more! And as always, if you have something to discuss, send in a comment or send an email to TheMinskers@aol.com - we're always looking for lively topics!

So stay tuned, theatre fans!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You - Sweeney Todd

A week from Friday the movie Sweeney Todd lands in theaters. Directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, it's already generated a lot of buzz. It seems an odd movie to release at Christmas, since it's all about a man who seeks a terrible revenge on the judge who destroyed his life - but that's Hollywood for you. Certainly the dark humor and the time period are a perfect match for Burton's style.

At any rate, here's the trailer for the movie, which gives you a quick glimpse of what to expect.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas Music

My pal Sally Pettit sent this announcement:
Cabell Midland High School's Collegium Musicum will hold their 14th Annual Madrigal Dinner Friday and Saturday, Dec. 14 and 15 in the school feast hall. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Show and dinner start at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $15.00 each and include dinner, the play and concert. For more information, call 304 743-7400 ext. 7420 or visit CMHSCollegiummusicum.org
And let me just add that my family has made going to the Madrigal Dinner a Christmas tradition. The food is great, the play is always fun, and the music is fantastic.

The group sings Renaissance-era songs (often a capella) dressed in the costumes of the era. The music is always terrific and you'll leave with a Christmas glow hanging around you (of course, drinking some wassail doesn't hurt).

(It's just spiced Apple Juice - but boy howdy is it good!)

Monday, December 10, 2007

A (Cultural) Storm of Activity

There are several stories in today's Herald-Dispatch about some interesting cultural events - one coming up and two that were held over the weekend.

There's an interesting story about plans to air an Opera performance live via satellite at a theater in Ashland - you can read about it right here.

You can also read about the performance of The Nutcracker in Ashland right here - or see a short video about The Nutcracker in Huntington on the Multimedia page. You can also see it right here:


Sunday, December 09, 2007

An Interesting Comment

This comment came in today, and I wanted to post it out here on the main page for all to see. A writer identified as "Anonymous" wrote:
Dear Chuck-

I want to thank you for giving a voice to the local theatre community. It is reassuring to see continued support for the performing arts in our area. The tri-state theatre community has more potential then it gets credited, not just in Huntington, but in Ashland, Russell, Greenup, Ironton, Portsmouth, and beyond. People come from all the areas--crossing state boundaries and rivers--to perform in shows at 5th Avenue, First Stage, ACTC Theatre, Huntington Outdoor Theatre, Company of Dreams, Portsmouth Little Theatre, ARTS, Backstage Players, etc. giving testament to the 'without boundaries' community we have in our tri-state area of Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

Since the title of this blog is Tri-State Theater, I was wondering if you could cover more of the tri-state area, especially in Kentucky and Ohio. I understand you are from the Huntington area and are very proud of the local talent. Equal amounts of raw talent can be found all along the river. Many people, including myself, come from outside of Huntington to support your performances throughout the year. It would be nice to see more audiences from Huntington sending their support to their theater neighbors in Kentucky and Ohio as well.

Thanks again for your support to the performing arts community.
And here's my response:
Anon, thanks for your kind comments. I agree that there's some amazing talent out there, and certainly Huntington isn't the only place to go see a great show. Unfortunately, I'm just one guy, and while I try to attend shows all over the Tri-State, I don't always succeed. That's why I welcome anyone out there who has information, photos or a review of a local production to send it to this blog, either as a comment or an email. My address is TheMinskers@aol.com. Thanks!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A Christmas Carol - The Review

Some holidays it's not always easy to get into the holiday spirit. If you have that problem this year, I have the perfect solution: drop by the Huntington City Hall auditorium and catch A Christmas Carol - you'll immediately feel the spirit of the season get a grip on you.

That's because the show is filled with wonderful performances. Leading the way is Clint McElroy as Ebenezer Scrooge. It's always a good idea to find the best actor in the community to play your lead, and that's what they've done here. Clint is outstanding as Scrooge - grouchy, surly, insulting, miserly (and those are his good qualities) and always fascinating to watch. Since this is a musical, Clint gets lots of chances to show off his outstanding singing skills as well. Scrooge is a very difficult role to play, since he must make the ultimate transition from bad to good and do so in a convincing way. Clint makes it look effortless and is perfect in his role at the heart of the story.

But he doesn't manage all this alone - he has an outstanding supporting cast, starting with Mark Near, who pulls double duty as Scrooge's humble employee, Bob Cratchit, and as the larger-than-life Mr. Fezziwig. Mark is a terrific singer and also provides a great counterpoint to Scrooge - watching Mark and Clint working together is seeing two pros in action.

Of course, the story revolves around the four ghosts who visit Scrooge. The first is Paul Neace as Scrooge's dead partner Marley, and Paul's another theatre veteran who does outstanding work, is an excellent singer (and gets to show it in a fantastic number) and made the ultimate sacrifice for the show - he shaved off his beard!

The second Ghost (of Christmas Past) is played by Laura Evans, and what an amazing voice she has! She's performed with the Symphony, but hopefully we'll see her in more stage productions.

The third ghost (of Christmas Present) is played by another veteran of the stage, Tommy Smirl. He plays the part perfectly - larger than life - and has a blast singing and dancing with an army of kids. He's awesome!

The fourth ghost (of Christmas Future) is played by Joy Wilkes (who also plays Mrs. Fezziwig), and she also has a terrific voice and commands your attention.

The show also features a small army of supporting performers (at times they virtually spill off the stage, there are so many), a terrific orchestra and lots of terrific songs.

Kudos to director Mary Smirl, assistant director Tracy Meadows, choreographer Tiffany McCullough and vocal / orchestra director Lara Donahoe for their outstanding work bringing this classic story to the stage.

It's a great show, and there's a good reason why it's become a holiday tradition - it's the ultimate story of the power of Christmas. Do yourself a favor and check it out!

Friday, December 07, 2007

It's Magoo, By George!

My pal Clint McElroy is playing Scrooge in A Christmas Carol this weekend, and he mentioned that his all-time favorite rendition of the character - mine as well - was by Mr. Magoo!

Thanks to YouTube, here's a look at the show's saddest song. Kinda gives you a lump right here.

On Stage This Weekend - Lots 'o Shows!

Lots going on this weekend, including two Scrooges, two Nutcrackers, a Grinch and a Santa:

- 5th Avenue Theatre's A Christmas Carol at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Jean Carlo Stephenson Auditorium at Huntington City Hall.

- the Huntington Dance Theatre presents the storybook tale of The Nutcracker 8:00 p.m. Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday at the Joan C. Edwards Playhouse.

- The Grinch takes the stage at the new Jeslyn Performing Arts Center in Huntington at 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Dec. 15, and at 3:00 p.m. Dec. 16.

- The Backstage Players present the classic story of Miracle on 34th Street with shows at 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland.

- The Paramount will also be home to the Moscow Ballet as the Ashland Youth Ballet present two performances of The Nutcracker at 3:00 and 7:00 p.m. on Sunday.

- And you can see A Christmas Carol: Scrooge and Marley at the Ashland Community and Technical College Theater in the J.B. Sowards Theater on the College Drive Campus in Ashland at 8:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and again at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Whew! It's not humanly possible to see 'em all, but take the time to see as many as you can!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Why I Love My Producer

If you look under my mug shot over there on the right you’ll see that I’ve directed eight local community theatre shows. I’ve worked with a lot of talented people in those shows, but I want to take a moment to recognize someone very special.

Six of the shows I directed were produced by the same person - Jeanette Rowsey. In my humble opinion, she’s the best community theatre producer in the area.

There are lots of reasons why she’s the best, but perhaps the most important one is that she's incredibly organized, which is probably the most vital skill a producer needs. In local community theatre, the producer handles hundreds of different, mostly behind-the-scenes tasks, including: organizing workers and volunteers; making the arrangements for a rehearsal space for the cast; finding a stage where the group can put on the show; making sure the set, costumes and props are being put together; organizing fundraisers; overseeing the promotion of the show; soothing bruised feelings; answering dozens of questions at once; and generally tackling any other jobs that might appear.

It’s a difficult, stressful and often thankless job - but no one manages the job better than Jeanette. She can quickly organize a team of parents to tackle any job, from assembling programs to building a set or planning a cast party.

It’s always amazing to me how calm and collected she is, no matter how stressful the situation - she’s always in control and ready to find the solution to any difficulty.

Those skills are just a few of the reasons why I love her. Of course, there are other reasons - for one thing, more than 24 years ago she married me, and I’ve always been grateful to her for that. Together we’ve built a home, faced life’s obstacles and joys, including raising two wonderful sons - both of whom were (and are) active in community theatre.

I knew I was in love with her the first time I saw her, and I’m blessed to have been able to find someone so special to share my life with.

I bring all this up not just because she produced the just-completed High School Musical, or because she’s so wonderful to be around - but today is a special day.

It’s her birthday! (I won’t say how old she is - I am a gentleman, after all - but I will say that she’s still just a baby next to me.) So if you see her, wish her a Happy Birthday!

As Jackie Gleason always said, "Baby, you're the greatest!"

Christmas Rush

There are lots of great shows out there to choose from, and my pal Dave Lavender provides an excellent wrap-up in the Entertainment section of today's Herald-Dispatch.

You can read all about the two Christmas Carols, the Grinch, two Nutcracker performances, a Miracle on 34th Street and the Santaland Diaries.

He's making my job easy! You can read Dave's story right here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

'Tis the Season

Several bits of theatre news in the Herald-Dispatch this week (which is always nice). For example:

- Students at Davis Creek Elementary celebrated the season by performing The Littlest Christmas Tree last night, as you can see in this photo by Howie McCormick. (You can see more photos here.)

- There's a nice letter raving about 5th Avenue Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol: The Musical right here.

- You can also read more about that show in this story.

- For those who live further down the Ohio River, the Ashland Community and Technical College is also staging A Christmas Carol, which you can learn about here.

Great to see so much activity in the area's community theatre - it's enough to get a smile out of Scrooge!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"Cyrano" Extends Its Run

The holidays have been good to the Broadway show Cyrano de Bergerac, so it's going to hang around for two more weeks. This is good news, of course, because the show features Charleston's own Jennifer Garner as Roxane, and Kevin Kline in the title role.

The show will extend through January 6, 2008. The production had been set to close on December 23. You can read more about it right here.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A Quiet Monday

After the stampede of shows over the weekend, we've hit a quiet spell for a couple of days (although you can catch A Christmas Carol next weekend at Huntington's City Hall - more on that later this week).

There was another show over the weekend that I completely missed - a performance of Narnia, with two actors recreating the story from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardobe. You can read all about it right here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

On Stage - Sunday Afternoon and Evening

In a happy bit of scheduling, there are two community theatre shows today in Huntington, but you can actually see both if you want - because for once, they aren't scheduled against each other!

A Christmas Carol: The Musical runs this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. at Huntington's City Hall auditorium. The show will continue next weekend, so if you missed it this time around there's always next time.

But today is your last chance to catch Picasso at the Lapin Agile - the last show is tonight at 8:00 p.m. at the Jeslyn Performing Arts Center (the old Camelot Theater).

So get out there and support your community theatre!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

On Stage - Saturday Night

Once again, you have three shows to choose from tonight in Huntington:

- A Christmas Carol: The Musical runs tonight at 8:00 p.m. at Huntington's City Hall auditorium (I look forward to seeing it soon);

- Picasso at the Lapin Agile runs tonight at 8:00 p.m. at the Jeslyn Performing Arts Center (the old Camelot Theater) - you can read my review of that show in the next entry;

- and tonight is the final show for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at 7:30 p.m. at (the new) Huntington High School.

So don't sit at home and say, "There's nothing to do!"

Picasso at the Lapin Agile - A Review

Sometimes you go to see a community theatre show and it’s just the same old thing - and sometimes you see something that’s just a pure delight. Picasso at the Lapin Agile definitely falls into the latter category.

The play, written by Steve Martin (yes, THAT Steve Martin), is set in 1904 and tells about an imaginary meeting between three of the men who changed the 20th century - Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso and another hilarious (and unexpected) addition who I won’t spoil for you.

The discussion that follows and weaves around the meeting of the two in the Lapin Agile (a bar in Paris) is clever, intelligent and very, very funny.

The cast features some of the best comic talent in the area, including:
- Dwight Slappe as the bartender Freddy, who gets some of the funniest side comments;
- Melissa Langham as the wise Germaine, who works in the bar but has he own agenda;
- Jonathan Joy who does double-duty as both director and as Gaston, an older gentleman with lots of knowledge about women and very little experience;
- Mike Murdock as Einstein, with a terrific accent and, as always, perfect comic timing;
- Karah Markins as Suzanne, a fan of Picasso’s who’s just this side of being a stalker;
- Mark Cohn as Sagot, an art dealer who’s always looking for an angle;
- Travis McElroy as Picasso, an egotistical and incredibly talented painter (not to mention being a terrific actor);
- Michael Sullivan as Schmendiman, who virtually steals every scene he’s in;
- Cabrina Person as The Countess, Einstein’s soul mate and significant other;
- Jen McComas as A Female Admirer, and while she doesn’t get much time on the stage, she does manage to get the show’s biggest laugh (and that’s saying something);
- and Josh Jannotta as A Visitor, who gives a magnetic performance, though to discover his character you’ll have to see the show for yourself.

This small cast gets the maximum laughs out of a clever script that should appeal to any fan of Mr. Martin’s. The best description I could manage was that it’s like seeing a funny, Americanized version of Monty Python. (And I mean that as high praise, trust me.)

My only complaint about last night’s show had nothing to do with the performers - the heat was on the fritz at the Jeslyn Performing Arts Center, making this the first show I’ve ever seen in a refrigerator. But even with the cool temps (and I’m sure they’ll have the heater running normally tonight), “Picasso” is still a terrific play and well worth seeing - no matter the temperature, the script is crisp and fresh, the acting is sharp and top-notch, and the laughs are many.

Highly recommended!

Friday, November 30, 2007

On Stage Tonight - You Have Three Choices

A wealth of theatre to choose from tonight!

You can:

- see A Christmas Carol: The Musical tonight at 8:00 p.m. at Huntington's City Hall auditorium;

- watch Picasso at the Lapin Agile tonight at 8:00 p.m. at the Jeslyn Performing Arts Center (the old Camelot Theater);

- or catch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at 7:30 p.m. at (the new) Huntington High School.

Is this a great country or what?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

He's No Einstein - Oh, Wait - Yes, He Is

For our final interview let's hear from actor / writer / director / all-around swell guy Mike Murdock, who plays the part of Albert Einstein, who meets another legendary figure in the play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, a comedy which runs this weekend at the Jeslyn Performing Arts Center (the old Camelot Theater). Here's what he had to say:

Q: Why did you decide to be part of Picasso at the Lapin Agile?

A: "Picasso" is a very funny, intelligent show that I've wanted to be a part of for a long time. I'm a long-time fan of Steve Martin, both as a performer and a writer, and when Jon Joy, the director, proposed the show, I had to jump at the chance to do it. Not often in community theatre do you get the chance to do not only a non-musical, but also a show that's as smart as this show. I've wanted to do the show for years, and I'm lucky enough to have finally gotten the chance.

Q: Just who is this Steve Martin guy and why does he think he's funny?

A: Does he think he's funny? Yeah, he probably does. Steve Martin, for those who, for some crazy reason, might not know, is a comedian / actor / writer / banjo player. Although he was never a cast member, he has appeared on Saturday Night Live quite a bit - he and Dan Aykroyd were the two "Wild and Crazy Guys"... he sang a song called "King Tut" and he has appeared in such films as The Jerk, Three Amigos, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, Roxanne and the film that eventually became a new Broadway musical, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Of course, many may also know him from his more family-friendly films such as the Cheaper by the Dozen series, the Father of the Bride series or as the latest incarnation of Inspector Clouseau in the remake of The Pink Panther. He's won numerous awards for comedy and writing, has an extensive art collection, which explains his fascination with Picasso. So, basically, the real question is "Is it really THAT Steve Martin that wrote it?", to which the answer is, "YES. It's THAT Steve Martin!"

Q: How intimidating is it to play such a famous historic figure as Einstein?

A: As this question suggests, I'm playing Albert Einstein at age 25 in the show. The play bends time a little and posits on what could have happened if Einstein and Picasso had met while they were around the same age and both on the verge of producing what were arguably their master works. It's tough playing someone that actually existed because you want to get the little things right. You want to have the accent. You want to have the eccentricity. You want to have the costume and mannerisms down. At the same time, you have to make it your own. We're not playing caricatures here. These are real people, for the most part, even though some of the comedy is absurd. Luckily, with real people, there's a lot of history and information about them, so it makes knowing who you are and what you're doing a bit easier. I just hope I do a passable job. Einstein is one of my heroes, and always has been. It's a great honor and challenge to bring him to life on stage.

Q: Why would you urge people to come out and see this show?

A: This is a quick night of GREAT theatre (the show only runs about an hour and twenty minutes with no intermission). It's a wonderful show, and we've collected some fantastic talent. Everyone in the show is great and we've all worked very hard to bring this to life. As I said, it's not often you get to see something around here that isn't a musical (not counting Marshall's productions, obviously), and this is a great precursor so what 2008 will bring for the Tri-State. It's a very smart show that will not only make you think, reflect, and talk about it long after, but it will also make you laugh out loud. What more could you ask for?

Q: What are the dates and times and place for the show?

A: The show runs this weekend: Friday, Nov. 30 at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 1, at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 2 at 8:00 p.m. at the Jeslyn Performing Arts Center (the old Camelot Theater downtown in Huntington). Tickets are $8.00.

And that Sunday evening performance even gives the good folks performing in Fifth Ave.'s A Christmas Carol a chance to see it, and I hope they do!

As a final note, Jon has put together a wonderful show, with a superb cast. This isn't a show you want to miss! See you there!!

Strike Ends On Broadway

Good news to those planning to visit New York over the holidays - the strike is over and things should be back to normal starting today! Here's the story from the Associated Press:
Shows to Resume on Broadway; Strike Ends

AP Drama Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Curtain up. Broadway raced to reopen for business Thursday after stagehands and theater producers reached a tentative agreement, ending a crippling strike that kept more than two dozen shows dark for 19 days.

The settlement came Wednesday night, the third day of marathon sessions between Local 1 and the League of American Theatres and Producers to end the lengthy work stoppage that has cost producers and the city millions of dollars.

Most plays and musicals that were shut during the walkout, which began Nov. 10, were expected to be up and running Thursday evening.

"The contract is a good compromise that serves our industry," said Charlotte St. Martin, the league's executive director. "What is most important is that Broadway's lights will once again shine brightly, with a diversity of productions that will delight all theatergoers during this holiday time."

Union President James J. Claffey Jr. was equally effusive in signing off on the agreement, saying, "The people of Broadway are looking forward to returning to work, giving the theatergoing public the joy of Broadway, the greatest entertainment in the world."

Details of the five-year contract, which must be approved by the union membership, were not disclosed.

But negotiations, which began last summer, were difficult, right up to the last day, as both sides struggled with what apparently was the final hang-up: the issue of wages. It concerned how much to pay stagehands in return for a reduction in what the producers say were onerous work rules that required them to hire more stagehands than are needed.

Until then, the talks had focused on how many stagehands are required to open a Broadway show and keep it running. That means moving scenery, lights, sound systems and props into the theater; installing the set and making sure it works; and keeping everything functioning well for the life of the production.

The strike couldn't have happened at a worse time for Broadway. Such popular shows as Wicked, Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia! and The Lion King were shut during the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday week. It's normally one of the best times of the year for Broadway when the city is filled with tourists and Christmas shoppers.

Financial losses were staggering. But it wasn't just producers and stagehands who were hurt. Actors, musicians and even press agents lost paychecks, too. And theater-related businesses also suffered.

City Comptroller William Thompson estimated the economic impact of the strike at $2 million a day, based on survey data that include theatergoers' total spending on tickets, dining and shopping. The league put the damage even higher.

Eight shows remained open during the strike (their theaters had separate contracts with Local 1), and they were joined by a ninth when Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! got a court order to let it reopen.

The end of the walkout means a scramble for new opening nights for several shows that were in previews when the strike hit. They include Aaron Sorkin's The Farnsworth Invention, August: Osage County from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company and an adaptation of a long-lost Mark Twain comedy, Is He Dead?

Disney's The Little Mermaid already has announced it would push back its scheduled Dec. 6 opening—with a new date still to be set.

"We are so excited," said Tituss Burgess, who portrays Sebastian the crab in the lavish musical. The actor said he hadn't anticipated the strike would last as long as it did.

"We hope everyone's satisfied ... the atmosphere around our stage door was: We tried to remain positive," Burgess added. "We're just happy to be going back to work."

Alecia Parker, executive producer of Chicago, said tickets to the musical's Thursday reopening would be sold at the box office at a discounted $26.50 and that she wasn't worried theatergoers might not come back to Broadway.

"I think people have been very disappointed to have Broadway dark," Parker said. "I think we'll see an outpouring of support from the community."

Parker said rehearsals were planned Thursday to get the cast back up to speed, but she anticipated few problems. "You can imagine the adrenaline for coming back after 19 days," she said.

Broadway's last strike occurred in 2003 when musicians staged a four- day walkout. The musicians also struck in 1975, shutting musicals but not plays for 25 days.


Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz and Dino Hazell contributed to this report.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Scrooge" Speaks Out

OK, we've heard from the director, so now let's hear from the star of A Christmas Carol: The Musical, which runs this weekend and the next at Huntington's City Hall auditorium. My pal Clint McElroy has starred in a number of local productions, and now that lovable scamp is tackling the role of one of the all-time nastiest stage characters - Scrooge! So let's hear from Clint:

Q: Why did you decide to tackle Fifth Avenue's A Christmas Carol: the Musical?

A: I blame Mr. Magoo. Ever since I saw Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol when I was a kid in the '60s, I've wanted to play the part. It is such an amazing tale of redemption and grace through love... who can resist that?

Q: This isn't your first time being part of this play - what other roles have you tackled?

A: I played Marley when the show was done by First Stage Theatre Company... (12 feet of real, honest-to-goodness chains wrapped around me... THAT was fun), and in the recent Marshall University production I was the ghost of Christmas Present... (in a green fur robe and wreath on my head... I think it's how Liberace always envisioned Santa Claus).

Q: You're a naturally cheerful guy - how much fun is it to play the ultimate grouch, Scrooge?

A: I am having a ball. I'm not used to doing a show where all the little kids are frightened of me. It's a bit unnerving... but I do get first crack at the snack table.

Q: Why is Christmas Carol such an enduring classic?

A: EVERYBODY feels like Scrooge at some point. Maybe you don't say "Humbug!" Maybe you say: "I don't WANT to go to the carol singing at church." Or "Do we HAVE to go to Aunt Bonnie's this year?" Or "I'm not getting him a gift because he took my parking place." It isn't really your nature, but sometimes the holidays can just wear you down to a nub. Scrooge's story tells us that "It's never too late to change"

Q: Why would you urge people to come out and see this show?

A: The music is remarkable. The cast is one of the best ever put together for this region. Mary Smirl has such a wonderful director's vision for this show. Every age will be captivated by it. And the message is so important. AND, there are dancing candies.

Q: What are the dates and times for the show?

A: November 30, December First, Seventh and Eighth at 8pm.... Sunday matinees December 2nd and 9th at 2:30pm.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Talking About "Picasso..."

For our next interview, we hear from Jonathan Joy, a multi-talented writer, actor and director who's tackling the comic play Picasso at the Lapin Agile this weekend at the Jeslyn Theater in Huntington.

Q: For those who haven't heard of it, tell us about Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

A: The play takes place in a bar (the Lapin Agile) in Paris in 1904. It is a comedy/fantasy revolving around a meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein just years before their work changed the century. Bar patrons add even more humor to the fast paced show, each throwing in their own comedic viewpoints about life, love and work. The play is written by Steve Martin, who many people know from his film work and his days on Saturday Night Live.

Q: Why did you decide to tackle "Picasso?"

A: I've been a big fan of Steve Martin since I was a kid. This play is witty and well written. It's one of my favorite contemporary comedies. And the characters are so much fun. I thought it would give us an opportunity to showcase a nice ensemble of actors. I had the opportunity to perform in this play seven years ago and I had a great time. It's one of those plays that I think I could do over and over again.

Q: What actors are appearing in the play?

A: We have an awesome cast. Mike Murdock plays Einstein at age 25 and Travis McElroy play a young Pablo Picasso. I play a 62-year-old barfly named Gaston and Dwight Slappe plays Freddy, the bartender. Others include Melissa Langham as Freddy's girlfriend, Germaine, Michael Sullivan as idiot inventor Charles Dabernow Schmendiman, Karah Markins as Suzanne, Mark Cohn as Picasso's art dealer, Josh Jannotta as a time traveling visitor from the 1950's and Jen McComas and Cabrina Pierson. And on the technical end of the show, my wife, Rissie Joy, has designed the set, posters and program.

Q: You're putting on the play at the Jeslyn Theater (the old Camelot Theater in downtown Huntington). Does it lend itself to this kind of production?

A: It's a perfect space for this play. We have a large stage at our disposal and comfortable seats for the audience. This is our second play in just over five months at the Jeslyn and I'm looking forward to many more. I grew up in this area and I saw many movies at the Camelot in my youth. It's nice to see it getting a second life as a performing arts center. That's great for the community.

Q: Why would you urge people to come out and see this show?

A: It's very funny. We have a great cast performing a wonderfully written script. The audience is going to have a lot of fun. And $8.00 is a bargain for an evening of live theatre.

Q: What are the dates and times for the show?

A: We have 3 performances. We open this Friday, November 30 and continue our run Saturday, December 1 and Sunday, December 2 at 8:00 p.m. each night. Tickets will be available each night at 7:30pm when the doors open.

Who's the Fairest...?

Once again my pal Stephen Vance has my back. Huntington High School's theatre class is putting on a show this weekend, and luckily Stephen sent this information and jogged my memory. He wrote:
Huntington High is opening Snow White this week for a limited run. This version is a one act children's show based on the familiar fairy tale. This production is the first semester project for HHS's theatre classes.

The show is directed by Helen Freeman, and features both new and old faces.

Snow White is played by newcomer Hilary Cornell. While the Prince is played by High School Musical's own Elliott Imlay.

The Seven Dwarves are played by Hailey Bellomy, Sarah Clark, Sara Wolfe, Alli Knight, Deidra Blackburn, Josh Adkins and Sable Blevins. Sable won best supporting actress in the state last year and Deidra won an all state actor award as well.

There are two school shows this week. Public performances will be Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Adult tickets are $5 and students are $3.

This is a great show for children especially under for those under the age of 12.
ADDED: You can find more information in this article in Tuesday's edition of the Herald-Dispatch.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Talking About "Christmas Carol"

As promised, here's our interview with Mary Smirl, the director of 5th Avenue Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol: The Musical, which starts this Friday at Huntington's City Hall auditorium.

Q: Why did you decide to tackle Fifth Avenue's A Christmas Carol: the Musical?

A: I directed A Christmas Carol for 5th Ave. Theatre last year and had such an amazing experience that when they asked me to do it again I had no choice but to accept.

Q: The cast is a bit different this year - how does that change things?

A: This year's cast is different but the same if you will. It is as if we took all the folks from last year and rotated them around a bit, adding a new actor here and there. Last year's Bob Crachit is this year's Ghost of Present, our last year's Ghost of Present is this year's Marley, and our last year's Marley is this year's Bob Crachit! We have last year's Mr.Fezziwig playing Scrooge and last year's Mrs. Crachit playing Mrs. Fezziwig, so you can see much of the cast is seasoned and familiar with the show. I wanted one thing only and that was with a new actor - Clint McElroy - playing Scrooge, we would have different ghosts play off of him, I felt this was very important for the whole dynamic. We do have some new faces this year bringing the excitement of a first time run to the production as we help make the local talent pool of experienced actors expand. I would say that every one of them is bitten by the bug and we both know that is a good thing. We have the multi-talented Lara Donahoe returning as our vocal director but we could not have gotten this far without the help of Ron Short and Eddie Harbet to get us started.

Q: You've done choreography for lots of shows, but for this one you have someone else teaching it - is that difficult for you?

A: The dance in this show is amazing, it moves all over the place all the time, thanks to our new Choreographer Miss Tiff McCullagh. As a choreographer myself I thought it would be tough to let go of the dance, this music is so much fun that it is hard not to want to jump in and begin creating! I have found that, to my surprise, as much as I love to dance and create dance, I absolutely adore the directing aspect of the process. It is a real treat as well as an education for me to see how the music motivates another's perception of the dance. Tiff teaches at my studio and we are very much in sync, she is the only other choreographer I know that uses tiny "post its" onstage when teaching, she is a very good instructor and a beautiful dancer as well.

Q: Why is "Christmas Carol" such an enduring classic?

A: I feel very blessed to be able to direct a retelling of this classic story of love and redemption. My first time to help direct a Children's Theatre show was this very story, with my dear friend Jim Stone playing Scrooge, it was then, and is still a real treasure. This story reminds us all to dig down deep and find our ability to be tolerant and find compassion for others. The most beautiful song in the show and the number that will brings tears to the eyes of the "scroogiest of scrooges" has a string of little angels coming down the center isle with candles singing "Let The Stars In The Sky, Remind Us Of Man's Compassion, let us love till we die and GOD BLESS US EVERYONE, till each child is fed, till each man is free".... I can't think of a better message for a better time than this.

Q: Why would you urge people to come out and see this show?

A: I urge everyone to come out and see this show, it is filled with love and laughter and the cast will pull you in as they walk all over the fourth wall shaking hands and singing as they go. You will laugh, you will cry and you will be filled with The Christmas Spirit as you go on the journey with Scrooge while he learns the lesson we all need to embrace, time is short, make the most of every precious moment!

Q: What are the dates and times for the show?

A: We open on the 30th of November and have shows on the 1st, 2nd, 7th, 8th, and 9th, with a school show on the 6th. Sunday shows start at 2:00 p.m., evening show at 7:30 p.m. One last thing, this year we have a new Pre-Show, with 35 little ones from around the area singing and dancing to your delight! The show is directed by new comers, Wendy Goodenough, Amy Coughenhour, and Sara Dick. COME SEE US!!!!!

Building The Set

In the last post I talked about taking down the set, and it occurs to me that I haven't spent enough time talking about the difficult task of putting together a set.

In a community theatre show, just about everything you see on the stage (not including the actors or the actual theatre) is part of the set - and believe me, it doesn't just spring into existence. Groups like First Stage Theatre or Huntington Outdoor Theatre (and a few other local groups) usually don't have access to a stage until the week of the show, so the set must be built elsewhere, and then transported to the stage and assembled there.

At First Stage, we're lucky enough to have Jack Welch, a board member who oversees the construction of the set. It's a huge undertaking, and takes up a lot of time - but you couldn't ask for a better (or nicer) guy to tackle the job.

In general, it works like this (at least on the last couple of shows I've directed): before the show begins rehearsal, I sit down with Jack and we talk over ideas for the set. Since each show is different, each set requires a different design. We sketch out the basic concept, kick around ideas, and then Jack turns those doodles into actual designs.

Some shows actually arrive with the set already designed - but with most, it's up to the directing team to cook up a design that will work on the stage space you have available.

Then the real fun begins. Jack works with our parent volunteers and cast members as they construct the various pieces that makes up the set. For example, for High School Musical, they built and painted the flats that, when assembled, formed a 45-foot-long wall at the back of the stage. They painted a backdrop (the same size, only taller) that towered above the back wall. They built three movable flats that had lockers on one side and painted backdrops on the other. They built a booth for the radio announcer, a science table - well, you get the idea. It's a lot of work.

None of that would happen without someone like Jack taking the lead and keeping the troops organized and moving in the right direction. It's a huge job, but Jack tackles it with great enthusiasm and energy. He's part taskmaster, part big brother, and all workhorse!

That's why I'm always thrilled to have him on the team - every theatre group needs a Jack Welch (but hands off, you lot - he's ours)!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

One Week Later...

It's hard to believe that we wrapped up the First Stage Theatre production of High School Musical a week ago! It takes up to 12 weeks to prepare a community theatre show, and it becomes so much a part of your life, there's always some decompression required after it's all done.

After the show ended last Sunday we immediately struck the set (in a "strike," you take the set apart, load it onto the truck(s) and take it back to your storage facility). However, this strike was a bit different, because about half the set didn't go back to our facility. Everyone at Wayne High School was a big help to us in our production, and they're planning to stage HSM in February, so to thank them for their help we offered to let them use our set.

So they brought a truck to our last show and carted away a significant portion of the set, which we'll get back after they're done early next year. It's one of the things I love about community theatre - the way each group is willing to offer a helping hand!

We're all in this together, you know!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Coming Up Next Week

Since two community theatre shows open next weekend, we'll offer up a preview of both performances next week by running interviews with the directors (and others) who are involved.

So there, you have something to look forward to! In the meantime, enjoy your holiday weekend!

Cue the Grinch!

Despite the strike on Broadway, at least one show is back on the stage. Here's the story from the Associated Press:
Curtain Goes Up for Broadway's 'Grinch'

AP Drama Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - The Grinch—not to mention all those singing and dancing Whos—came back to Broadway Friday, two weeks after the musical about Dr. Seuss' celebrated green meanie was shut down because of the stagehands strike.

When actor Patrick Page, dressed in his furry chartreuse costume, slunk on stage at the St. James Theatre, the crowd erupted in cheers. It was the first performance of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! since Nov. 9, the musical's opening night.

The walkout by Local 1, the stagehands union, the following day shut down more than two dozens plays and musicals.

Said producer James Sanna just before the 11:00 a.m. performance (the first of four on Friday) began: "This may be the first time in Broadway history a producer has made a curtain speech on two consecutive performances. The first one was a traditional one on our opening night and now 14 days later on our reopening. ... We have faced lots and lots of obstacles and we are very happy to be back. But if there ever was a show and a company that deserves to be back, it is ours. I am very proud and humbled the way the whole company rallied around us on this."

Theatergoers milled in front of the theater, working their way through reporters and TV crews to get into the theater. Meanwhile, across the street at the dark Majestic Theatre (which houses The Phantom of the Opera) pickets from Local 1 quietly walked in a circle.

Vendors hawked $20 souvenir programs (which includes a "Grinch" knapsack) as audiences streamed into the theater.

Mark Cleveland, his wife Karla, and their two sons, 10-year-old Adam and 8-year-old Connor, had come from the Netherlands Antilles to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and then maybe some shows. They were leaving for Los Angeles immediately after seeing "Grinch."

"The weather doesn't look very nice, and there are no other shows to see, so we are going to Disneyland," Karla Cleveland explained.

Proud father, Sam Micalizzi of Brooklyn, was also out front. His 13-year-old daughter Marina, is in "Grinch," playing Scallop Who. He had brought along Marina's 10-year-old sister, Gianna, as well as the girls' aunt, Carol Davis of San Diego, to see the musical.

"We think `Grinch' is an important show" Davis said. "It has a really good message."

The reopening of the $6 million production was ordered Wednesday by state Supreme Court Justice Helen Freedman, saying: "I think one Grinch in town is enough."

Her ruling came a day after she heard arguments from producers of the show and Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns the St. James. Producers, citing a special contract between the show and Jujamcyn, wanted the show to go on.

The judge said her decision was based on a provision of the theater lease, adding that she believed the production company would be irreparably harmed if the show wasn't permitted to resume its run.

"Grinch" is on a limited holiday run through Jan. 6. It had 15 performances scheduled for Thanksgiving week, one of Broadway's most lucrative times of the year.

The dispute between Local 1 and the League of American Theatres and Producers has closed 26 other Broadway productions.

Stagehands—who include scenery and prop handlers, carpenters, electricians and lighting and sound technicians—have been working without a contract since the end of July. The labor dispute is focused on how many workers are required to open a Broadway show and keep it running.

Eight other shows, whose theaters have separate contracts with the league, remain unaffected by the walkout: Pygmalion, The Ritz, Mauritius, Cymbeline, Young Frankenstein, Mary Poppins, Xanadu and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. All off- Broadway productions are open, too.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

There are a couple of great shows starting next weekend in Huntington:

Just in time for the holiday season, 5th Avenue Theatre will present A Christmas Carol: The Musical for two weekends - Nov. 30 and Dec. 1,2,7,8 and 9. The shows will be presented at the Huntington City Hall auditorium.

Also running next weekend (Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 and 2) is Jonathan Joy's production of Picasso At The Lapin Agile, a hilarious play written by Steve Martin. It'll be presented at the Jeslyn Theater (the former Camelot Theater) in downtown Huntington.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanks All Around

Happy Thanksgiving, gentle readers!

I have a lot to be thankful for, including a wonderful family, great friends, good health and a terrific job.

I’m also grateful for my recent experience as the director of High School Musical - it was a tremendous success for the First Stage Theatre Company, it was (I hope) a great experience for the young people involved, and it gave First Stage a chance to give back to the community by offering its support to the historic Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center.

As a holiday treat I’m going to take you backstage. Just before the last show on Sunday, I continued a tradition that I’m going to share with you - a talk with the cast about all the people who deserve recognition for their work to create the show. Working on a show is a true team effort, and it only works if everyone does their part.

So here’s what I said to them:

High School Musical has been an incredible experience! You’ve made new friends and performed before some amazing crowds - Wednesday’s school show was the most energetic and fanatical audience I’ve ever seen.

There are lots of people to thank, like:

- Your family, friends and loved ones who supported you being part of this show.

- everyone at the Marshall Artists Series and the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center for their kindness and hard work in allowing us to perform in this great facility.

- the union crew of Local 369 of the International Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees who ran the rails and lights for us...

- Jeff Riley and his crew for an amazing job of managing the mics and sound.

- your tech crew, they’ve done an incredible job behind the scenes, moving sets, managing props and special effects - Zach Davis, Daniel Phillips, Jessica Handloser, Joseph Enders, Emily Goetz, Christopher Crawford, Claire Boyles, Lindsey Cremeans and Mary Frances Wilkes. - they make the on-stage performers look good, and you should thank them for it.

- even our talented leads couldn’t do this show without everyone in the cast doing their job and pulling their weight... so congratulations to:

- the Skaters - Troy Nicely, Sarah Clark, Marissa Clayton, Chloe Donahoe, Brooke Estep, Chloe Herrold and Ashlee Matthews;

- the Thespians - Alissa Fetherolf, Morgan Jacobson, Sydney Pay, Sarah Wolfe, Clark Lewis, Mary Kate Young, Courtney Cremeans, Emily Davis and Amy Klim;

- the Brainiacs - Maggie Saunders, Jacob Smith, Todd Childers, Sophia Berhie, Rachel Enders, Ashley Johnson, Alisa McGrony, Christa Navy and Ashlee Simkins;

- the Cheerleaders - Allison Bartram, Hailey Bellamy, Grayon Collins, Allison Harker, Angel Harrison, Morgan Raines and Meg Riley;

- and the Jocks - Eric Newfeld, Caleb Donahoe, Garrett Gaunch, Avery Kitchen and T.J. Thompson for a job well done!

- a special thanks to the adults in the cast - there are actually five - including Ryan Riegel; our Mascot, Zach Davis, who keeps going despite illness and having to wear the fur suit; and of course, our faculty - Bill Bartlett, who stepped in late in the game and saved my hide - and my pal Debbie Wolfe, who keeps reminding me that I told her that Ms. Darbus was only in a scene or two - hey, I miscounted! I’ll talk more about "Ms. Tenney" in a minute...

I’ve been so impressed with this cast! We’ve seen great work from everyone... but I want to shine the light for a moment on three guys who’ve gone beyond the call of duty, both in their part and helping out in many other ways... namely Jacob Smith, Morgan Jacobson and Caleb Donahoe.

I always enjoy seeing the natural cast leaders emerge - the ones who lead by example, by hard work and by their dedication. I’m talking about Alissa Fetherolf, Maggie Saunders, Hailey Bellamy, Eric Newfeld and Mary Kate Young.

Now I want to talk about our leads. For Drew Sowards and Hannah Boyles, this is their first show, but you’d never know it. They’ve both done a fantastic job rocking the house, and I’m so proud of both of them.

You’ve all been lucky enough to see an acting clinic put on during rehearsals, and Jordan Sager and Josh Meredith have demonstrated what it is to get the maximum impact out of your role. It’s been a blast to watch you guys at work!

Last but not least, the stars of the show - Elliott Imlay and Angela Pino. You know, everyone who tries out for a show wants the lead roles, but they usually don’t realize how difficult those roles can be. The leads shoulder much of the responsibility for the show. Troy and Gabriella are the heart of the show - so much of whether or not the show works depends on the two of them being sympathetic, believable, convincingly in love with each other - not to mention great singers and dancers. You two were perfect in the roles, and I am so proud of the great work you’ve both done.

Now we want to take a moment to recognize the Seniors in our show - we have two seniors this time around. That means this might be their last time on stage as a member of First Stage. So let’s get Daniel Phillips up here! He’s my hero - he’s all over this stage, moving set pieces, managing slo-motion effects - all while maintaining the coolest hair of any guy in the show! (Daniel has his hair spiked up high in the air.)

Our other senior is a First Stage veteran. Jordan Sager has played dozens of roles, including a cowgirl in “Schoolhouse Rock”... she got “killed” on stage in her last two shows - Les Miz and Cats... and she’s had another star turn here as Sharpay. But all that aside, she’s always impressed me with her dedication, her hard work and her sheer talent. You won’t find a cast member more dedicated to making the show better... so let’s hear it for our seniors!

OK, now we need to talk about the first ones in line to make this show happen - your directing team - like our marketing director, Justin Minsker; our tech director, Schotch Donahoe; our costume director, Jeanette Bills; our Stage Manager, Ashleigh Bills, who has done an incredible job running all the tech elements that make up this show; our set contruction director, who’s responsible for this amazing set you’re performing on, Jack Welch; and our Producer, who not only coordinated a million details that made this all possible, but she also took on a stage role (Ms. Tenney) to help make the show happen! Let’s hear it for our producer, Jeanette Rowsey!

You can’t have a musical without the music, so let’s hear it for the master of the keyboard... the sultan of song... our musical maestro... you know him, you love him.. give it up for Mr. Mark Smith!

And finally, my usual line about Amy Browning is that she’s like a Swiss Army Knife, in that she can handle a hundred different jobs without batting an eye, whether it’s teaching dance steps, fixing hair backstage, finding props that no one else can dig up, tweaking performances., adjusting costumes, mediating misunderstandings... heck, I’ve seen her sweeping up the auditorium between shows. She’s absolutely been dedicated to making this show the best it can be.. and she’s dedicated to making it a great experience for you all. Every show has its stars and its supporting cast, and when it comes to this show, Mark and Amy are your directing stars!

As for me, this is the eighth show I’ve directed, and each show is special in its own way - but given the size of the job... the size of the stage... and the fantastic job you’ve all done... I have to say that I don’t think I could be more proud of a cast than I am of this one. This is one of the best shows First Stage has ever done, and that’s because of your hard work and dedication, and it’s been an honor to be part of your show.

For almost a year this show has been in the works... and it comes down to this. So get your energy up... focus on where you have to be and when to get there... and most of all... have fun!

Saturday’s show was awesome - the best yet! You’ve got five outstanding shows behind you... you’ve been working on this for almost three months now... you have one more chance to bust up the joint! (and they did, too - in the best possible sense.)