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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Free Show Tonight in Charleston!

My pal Ryan Hardiman sends along this news about a free show for New Year's Eve (which is, like, tonight). He writes:
I've been insane busy and I didn't have time to get this to you until now, but if you readers are looking for something family-oriented to do on New Years Eve, and don't want to be out too late, here's the FREE ticket! I'm performing two 45-minute mini-concerts as part of Charleston's GoodNight 2008 New Year's Eve arts celebration tonight.

There are performers all over the city at different venues doing shows running at 6, 7, 8, and 9 p.m. I've put together a collection of songs (most of which I've never performed before), focusing on appreciating the ones you love and living each moment to the fullest. I want it to be a positive, inspiring experience to ring in 2009!

Here's the info:

Cost: FREE
Times: 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Venue: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1600 Kanawha Boulevard East
Easy directions: If you take the Virginia Street exit from I-64, turn right onto Virginia St, Take the next right to Kanawha Blvd and turn left on Kanawha Blvd. Follow Kanawha to Elizabeth St. Trinity Lutheran is at the corner of Kanawha Blvd and Elizabeth St. (2 blocks fom the State Capitol)

Here's the setlist:

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
Someone To Watch Over Me
Always On My Mind
Wind Beneath My Wings / You Raise Me Up / The Rose (Medley)
Out There (from Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Corner Of The Sky (from Pippin)
A Bit of Earth (from The Secret Garden)
In Whatever Time We Have (from Children of Eden)
I'll Be Seeing You

For more information on GoodNight 2008, including the full schedule, call 346-2494 or 346-7832.

Thanks, and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More About Broadway's Woes

Talking about Broadway's recent rash of shows closing, my pal marshallmark said in a comment posted earlier today:
I think Gypsy probably has just run its course, and Hairspray announced its closing before the economy tanked so Spring Awakening and 13 might be the only ones that can be attributed to the lack of pocket money.

I don't know about Spring Awakening, but it appears that the audiences just weren't interested in 13. Playbill lists the percentage of tickets sold and 13 routinely hovered around the 50 percent mark. No show is going to stick around with that record.

Harvey Firestein noted in an article I read today in USA Today that the tickets to Broadway shows are overpriced. He pointed to the popularity of Hairspray's discounted tickets and, when you see that 13's tickets STARTED at $111 each, its easy to see why audiences are starting to slide.
I think your comments are right on the money here, Mark. With a few exceptions (Mamma Mia, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Jersey Boys), shows have a limited life span, and it could be that those shows had either run their course (Spring Awakening, Hairspray, Spamalot), never built up the kind of following it needed (Young Frankenstein) or just never caught on in the first place (13).

The high cost of tickets is probably directly responsible for the low ticket sales many shows are experiencing, but it's a two-edged sword. To provide the kind of high-end theatre experience with amazing sets, costumes and top talent, the producers must spend a lot of money. The only way to recoup that is for the show to have a long, popular run and charge a high price for the tickets.

Sometimes audiences are willing to pony up the money for a theatre spectacle (The Lion King is a good example), but I think audiences are being more selective these days, and that makes it tough on new, untested shows. The new Shrek musical, for example, may be facing some rough times.

It'll be interesting to see which shows survive this downturn, and which will continue to thrive.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Rough Month Ahead for Broadway

There will be quite a few tears shed on Broadway next month as a number of shows shut down in January, including long-running hits like Hairspray, Gypsy and Spring Awakening, along with shows that barely got off the ground, like 13, which starred a cast of teenagers.

Here's the latest on that closing from Broadway.com:
Jason Robert Brown’s 13 has set a closing date.

The new musical, directed by Jeremy Sams, will play its final performance on January 4, 2009 after 22 preview and 105 regular performances at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.
On the up side, that show may return as a touring show, and in the near future it should be available for community theatre groups.

The post-holiday season is always a tough one for Broadway shows, but the economic problems hitting the country seem to be adding to the problem, forcing quite a few shows to close their doors. But there are lots of other shows in the works, so don't expect Broadway to go out of business anytime soon.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

That's What I Call Dedication

For our final holiday video (we'll be back tomorrow with regular community theatre news type stuff), we have an amazing display of house lights set to music.

This family is obviously way into the holiday season, and they've synchronized their lights to "play along" with the song "Wizards in Winter" by the Trans Siberian Orchestra.

Hats off to this display - it's awesome!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kristin Sings "I'll Be Home For Christmas"

Continuing our holiday video selection (while yours truly enjoys his Christmas break), here's one that actually has ties to theatre.

Kristin Chenoweth is one of Broadway's biggest stars and a heckuva terrific singer. Here's a clip from a recent appearance on the (very funny) Craig Ferguson show, singing a popular holiday song.

Friday, December 26, 2008

More Christmas Animated Clips

We're still enjoying the holidays here at your Tri-State Theatre blog (and we hope you're doing the same), but that doesn't mean you won't get your daily posting!

Here's another holiday video clip - it's a short animated film about "Hardrock, Coco and Joe," and it was a long-running holiday tradition in Chicago.

It's fun, cute, and as my lovely wife points out, a little creepy. Check it out:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Have a Merry Christmas and a Cool Yule!

Merry Christmas! For your holiday enjoyment, here's a short animated video of The Drifters singing "White Christmas," with Bill Pinkney on lead bass and Clyde McPhatter on tenor. The cartoon is by Joshua Held.

I ope you enjoy your animated Christmas Card, and have a wonderful Holiday!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

If It's Christmas, Where's Charlie Brown?

I've never understood why there are two stage shows based on the Peanuts comic strip - You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Snoopy - but one hasn't been made yet based on the perennial holiday classic.

It's not Christmas without taking the time to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas - but just in case you missed it this time around, here's a look at the opening to the show, courtesy of YouTube (just think of it as an early Christmas present from me to you):

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

When Theatre Goes Wrong

The other day we talked about a single scene in the touring production of The Wizard of Oz that came to a brief halt because of a technical glitch, but there are lots of stories about shows where more than one thing went wrong, and the actors had to deal with it.

I just read the story of such a show, a production of A Christmas Carol out in Los Angeles. The story is being told by Mark Evanier, a professional writer who writes an excellent blog called News from ME.

It's a terrific story, and you can read the entry right here. Here's a snippet:
Opening night of A Christmas Carol at the Kodak (Theater), so many things went wrong that the audience couldn't keep from laughing and ultimately, neither could the actors.

Our first inkling that things would be far from perfect came when we sat down in the theater and opened our program books. Out tumbled one of those little slips that told you there'd be a cast substitution. This one was unusually chatty...
It's a funny story, and one to chill the blood of anyone who's involved in theatre. Of course, this is exactly why live theatre is so much fun - anything can happen!

It's a real challenge for actors to overcome unexpected problems and keep the show moving along - though sometimes it's an impossible task.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Symphony Orchestra Sells Out

It's great to hear that this week's performance of the Huntington Symphony Orchestra was a huge success - a little too successful, actually, since the show was sold out.

You can read the story right here from the Herald-Dispatch's Taylor Kuykendall (the photo below is by Mark Webb). Here's an excerpt:
A Saturday concert featuring a special blend of traditional holiday favorites sold out the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center, leaving a few unfortunate customers at the door.

The show was hosted by the Huntington Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra played selections from "12 Days of Christmas" to "Deck the Halls." The concert was sold out before the event opened it's doors at 7 p.m.

"I would really like to thank the Tri-State for coming out and supporting the arts and helping me sell out my first show," said executive director T. Hogan Haas. "I am thrilled to be in my new position and to sell out my first show."

People who came late tried everything from requesting to stand during the show to trying to buy from ticketholders. The show, nearly two hours long, was filled with guest appearances and numerous holiday selections.

"If anybody can sit through the whole show and not leave in the holiday spirit, they must be some kind of Grinch," Haas said. "It's just an all-American holiday concert."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Review of "Mamma Mia!" (the movie)

My pal John Gillispie writes about movies for the Herald-Dispatch every Thursday, and he recently wrote about the DVD release of a film that has its origins in pop music and a popular stage show.

I'm talking about Mamma Mia, of course. You can read my comments when the film was originally released right here, and you can read John's review right here.

Here's an excerpt from his take:
Movies & More reviewer John Gillispie thinks Mamma Mia, which is rated PG-13 and stars Meryl Streep, Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan, is a humorous version of the musical that weaves the words of hit ABBA tunes into its plot.

Many, many years ago, I memorized all the words to all the songs on an eight-track tape featuring the chart hits of the Swedish group ABBA. When I was forced to clean and straighten my room as a kid, the music of ABBA seemed to help pass the time.

There really must be something special about the group's music since here we are, all these years later, and ABBA's music is at the center of a great new musical, which was released on DVD earlier this week.

Mamma Mia has already taken the stage by storm, and this summer, Meryl Streep and her co-stars scored a box office smash with the film version of the musical. Last week, the film was nominated for a Golden Globe in the Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy category.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Last Show of 2008?

It runs tonight - the classic Charles Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol, being staged by the Kanawha Players at the Charleston Civic Center Little Theater at 8 p.m.

So what will we talk about in the space for the rest of the year and into January, which is also mighty lean when it comes to community theatre?

Oh, we'll think of something...

Friday, December 19, 2008

First Stage Announces New Spring 2009 Season

Finally, the decisions have been made, the contracts signed, and here's the press release announcing the two shows First Stage will be presenting in Spring 2009 (note that the auditions for both shows will be held together on the second weekend in January):
The First Stage Theatre Company has a new lineup of performances for its Spring 2009 season, which wraps up the 19th season for the area children’s theater. Two shows will be staged in March 2009: Charlotte’s Web and Alexander, Who’s Not Not Not Not Not Not Going to Move. Auditions for actors for both plays will take place in January.

Charlotte’s Web is based on the popular children’s book by E.B. White. The show will be presented at the Renaissance Theatre in Huntington, W.Va., March 6, 7, 8, 13, 14 and 15, 2009. The non-musical play tells the story of a girl named Fern who saves a runt pig named Wilbur, and how his life in turn is saved by a clever spider named Charlotte. The play will feature a cast of about 35 young performers and will be directed by Amy Browning and produced by Jeanette Bills.

Alexander, Who’s Not Not Not Not Not Not Going to Move is a musical comedy based on the popular book by Judith Viorst with music by Shelly Markham, and is the sequel to Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It tells the story of a young boy and how he reacts when his parents tell him the family has to move to a new town. The show will be presented at the Jeslyn Performing Arts Center in Huntington, W.Va., March 20, 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29, 2009. The musical will feature a cast of about 15 performers. The directing team is: director Chuck Minsker, producer Jeanette Rowsey, music director Mark Smith, choreographer Melissa McGuffin, and assistant director Eric Newfeld.

Auditions for both shows will take place at the Pea Ridge United Methodist Church at 5747 E. Pea Ridge Road in Huntington on Saturday, Jan. 10, 2009, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 11 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Auditions are open to performers ages 10 to seniors in high school. Those auditioning for both shows will be provided scripts to read aloud. Those auditioning for “Alexander” should be prepared to sing a 30-second song selection. There will be a pianist, but you may use an accompaniment tape or CD (with no vocals). Wear comfortable clothes for dance.

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Importance of Safety on Stage

A tragic story today brings home the importance of being safe on the stage:
CINCINNATI (AP) -- A spokeswoman at a Cincinnati mega-church says a Christmas pageant actor who fell about 25 feet during the show's opening night performance has died.

Crossroads Community Church says 23-year-old Keri Shryock died Thursday morning at University Hospital. A church spokeswoman says Shryock was a graduate student at Xavier University.

Shryock was playing the role of a wise man in a contemporary Nativity story and was suspended by an overhead cable when she fell Wednesday night. A spokeswoman for the church says it's not clear how the accident happened.

The church says it has canceled the 10 remaining performance of the Christmas show.
That's a story that sends a chill through anyone who's worked in theatre, and our hearts go out to the families who lost a loved one in this accident.

That's why we all work hard and must stay vigilant to make the experience a safe one for the actors and tech crew.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Coming Up This Weekend - The Year's Last Show

Yep, as the holiday draws near the pickin's get more slim (as they used to say on all my favorite Westerns).

In fact, there's just one show taking the stage this weekend - and it's the last show for the year. It's the classic Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol, being staged by the Kanawha Players at the Charleston Civic Center Little Theater on Dec. 19 and 20 at 8 p.m.

The sad news is, January's not much better - there's only one show in that month, too (as far as I know) - but more on that later.

And we'll have other things to talk about in the weeks ahead, like auditions and rehearsals and the usual community theatre news!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Mystery Solved!

Hey, I mentioned back in this post that the cast of the touring show The Wizard of Oz obviously had a problem in one scene near the end, as they had to kill time while waiting for the Wicked Witch to make her entrance.

I didn't know what had caused the delay - but now the mystery is solved, thanks to my pal, Dr. Elaine Young, who sent this note:
I heard from the cast of Oz that when the Witch had a delayed entrance, what happened was this: she normally stepped up on the platform to go through the door onto the stage, and then someone handed her the broom - but in Huntington she was handed the broom and tried to make the long step up, but she didn't have a free hand to pick up her skirt. As she stepped up, she stepped on the long skirt and pulled it off! Tech had to help her get her skirt back on - she said that had never happened in all her years in the theatre!
Thanks for clearing that up for us, Elaine!

That's the great thing about live theatre - anything can happen, and you never know when you're going to have to cover up a problem like that!

Monday, December 15, 2008

First Stage's Spring Shows

As I've mentioned before, First Stage Theatre Company had the rights pulled to the two shows it was planning to present in the Spring.

So with Junie B. Jones and the Monkey Business and A Year With Frog and Toad taken away, the First Stage board has scrambled to find two replacement shows.

One has been chosen, and an announcement should be coming soon about the second show. Replacing "Junie" is Charlotte's Web, a non-musical play based on the popular book.

It's a great show, one First Stage tackled 12 years ago (my youngest son played one of the Young Spiders in the show). The director is Amy Browning, and the producer is Jeanette Bills.

Auditions are scheduled for the second weekend in January 2009.

The other show (if we can get the details worked out) will be directed by me - hopefully we'll have an answer later this week. Stay tuned!

Two Great Shows in One Day!

It was a busy Sunday today! I caught the final performance of The 1940s Radio Hour at the Renaissance Theater in Huntington, and then I had to race to catch a performance of The Messiah at Pea Ridge United Methodist Church (my wonderful wife and her sister were singing in the chorus)!

I hope you all got to see "1940s" - what a terrific show! I've long been a fan of the Big Band sound, and it was brought to life on stage by a group of the area's top performers!

I'll write up a full review in the next day or two, but kudos to everyone involved!

The Messiah was awesome, too - so it was a very entertaining day!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Interview With The Actors - "The 1940s Radio Hour" #5

Here's the last of our e-interview with the cast from The 1940s Radio Hour, which wraps up this afternoon at 3 p.m. at the Renaissance Theatre in Huntington.

Our question for this entry: Why would you recommend this show to our readers?

Linda Reynolds: Theatre is designed to give you an experience you wouldn’t normally have. Come down and get in our little time machine and we will take you back, just for a little while, to a time and place that most of us have only read about in books or seen in old movies. There is great music, incredible dancing, a cast of characters that make up a funny family, a little pathos and a lot of heart. Great fun!

Joshua Jannotta: It has a little bit of history, a little bit of fun, and some great historic musical pieces that will live throughout the ages!

Stephen Vance: If someone is looking for a walk down memory lane, or even just to have a good time, I think The 1940s Radio Hour is the perfect show for them. The whole gang has had a blast getting this show together. We have had fun just putting this show on stage, and we trust that will translate to the audience. To be honest, if I weren't in this show, I would still be rushing to get in the door. The music and comedy are timeless. The cast is second to none and there really is an underlying tone of respect and honor for our veterans. What better way to kick off the holidays?

David Vickers: I believe that everyone can relate to a character in the show. It's the tale of how working class people with talent did their best to help bring joy and hope to the citizens and soldiers of America. The songs are fun and familiar. There's singing and dancing and a real sound effects table for a radio play. You'll look at your watch at the end and say, wow, that was the fastest two hours I've ever spent. If I weren't in it, I'd see it at least twice!

Amy Knell: I would recommend this show because it really is a sweet, funny, heartwarming piece of theater that will put you in the Christmas spirit, make you proud and thankful to be an American and it is just full of great music that you don't hear anymore. I promise you will leave the theater tapping your feet with a "warm fuzzy" feeling in your heart.

Bil Neal: This play is one of the best directed plays that I've ever been in. The choreography (by Gene & Coni Anthony) even makes an old fat guy like me look like he's got moves worth seeing. The lighting (Lang Reynolds and staff) sets mood and tone like I haven't seen in community theatre in a while. Some of my best friends are playing characters that are honest and endearing. People I had never gotten to meet or work for the first time are better than I heard they were.

If you've served our country, please be our guest (admission is free to any Veteran).

You'll want to meet these people. You'll end up really loving most of them. You'll snicker, maybe groan, and probably tear up. For one evening you may even remember.

Interview With The Actors - "The 1940s Radio Hour" #4

Our e-interviews continue with the cast from The 1940s Radio Hour, which wraps up this afternoon at the Renaissance Theatre in Huntington.

Our question for this entry: Is the music challenging or just plain fun?

David Vickers: The music is incredible. It's passionate, fun and very recognizable. I believe everyone will be singing along! I remember my mom singing some of these songs when I was a kid. Because it's so fun, you work through the challenge. The whole cast and the featured vocalists are very good. I watch them while I'm on stage and think, I can't believe I'm surrounded by such great talent! It's very humbling.

Joshua Jannotta: The music is plain fun, although living up to Frank Sinatra's standards has been a little tough.

Linda Reynolds: The music is fun and challenging but I love the familiarity of it. These are songs you hear in old movies, romantic or just plain fun movies made when the country was truly united in fighting for freedom and the very survival of the American way of life. This was the music of my parents’ generation, the greatest generation. I feel quite privileged to be able to help take theatre goers back to such an important time in our history.

Amy Knell: Both, I think it is some of the most fun music ever made, but there are differences in the style as compared to music made today and that can be difficult at first.

Stephen Vance: For me, the music is just plain fun. The first show I ever saw was Guys and Dolls, so I have a soft spot for any music in that era. Bruce Rous has done a great job teaching us the style and the sound of the era. Gene and Coni Anthony have taught us some wonderful dances that blend so well with the story and song. Whether a big band aficionado or not, I think the audiences will be surprised how many of these songs they remember or have heard.

Bil Neal: The music just about killed me. Now, I'm no stranger to four or even eight-part harmony. There are times when (especially the back-up singers) seemed to just sing notes on top of each other. This has been some of the most challenging stuff since I sang with the Janice Gold as a member of Renaissance. Bruce Rous has done an amazing job with the cast as well as getting 12 wonderful instrumentalists from Marshall to serve up the big band sound. That alone is worth the price of admission in my book. John Galloway is our lead trombone and does a beautiful job in what I think is also his first on-stage role. The stuff he does as an actor is as fine as the sound coming from his trombone. Heck, these kids all impress me.

The soloists? Really great. Mary Olson belting "Old Black Magic." Josh Jannotta crooning "I'll Never Smile Again," - just lovely. Our good friend Stephen Vance is hysterical as the comic who ends up with "Blue Moon." My dear friend Amy Knell tears out my heart each night with "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good." Scott Burner has grown so much over the years that you and I've known him - he really sells "You Go To My Head." And don't even get me started talking about Sarah Hayes as Cute Little Connie Miller singing "Daddy" in pig-Latin and tap-dancing. She's a doll.

The music is familiar, yes, but deceptively tough. The right people make it look oh, so easy.

On Stage This Afternoon - "1940s Radio Hour"

There's only one show on tap today, and it's your last chance to catch the excellent musical, The 1940's Radio Hour, which combines comedy, swing dancing and a Big Band sound.

The show will be presented with a preview at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Renaissance Theater, located at 900 8th St. in Huntington. Tickets are $15 and veterans are admitted free.

The two-hour show centers on a small radio station in New York City in 1942 as the employees rally to help the soldiers overseas know that all is well back home.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On Stage Tonight - Four Shows!

You have four shows to choose from tonight, including:

- The 1940s Radio Hour
- (ARTS) at the Renaissance Center in Huntington tonight at 8 p.m.

- Miracle on 34th Street
- the final performance is tonight at the Portsmouth Little Theatre.

- The Santaland Diaries - (Charleston Stage Company) the final performance is at the WVSU Capitol Plaza Theatre tonight at 8 p.m.

- A Christmas Carol - (Kanawha Players) at the Charleston Civic Center Little Theater tonight at 8 p.m.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Interview With The Actors - "The 1940s Radio Hour" #3

Our e-interviews continue with the cast from The 1940s Radio Hour, which wraps up this weekend at the Renaissance Theatre in Huntington.

Our question for this entry: What's it like to work on a period piece like this?

Linda Reynolds: This is some of the greatest music ever! That Old Black Magic, Kalamazoo, Blues in the Night, Ain’t She Sweet, and the others are great old standards that will live forever. I guarantee you will leave the theatre singing some of these songs. The dancing – jitterbug – is quite a workout. It really moves!!!!

Amy Knell: With a period piece I almost think it is easier to transform into a character because you are really taken to another time in history. You get to dive into research and think about situations from a completely different perspective. Being in this show and watching this show takes you back to a time that is so different but yet so similar in ways to where we are today in America.

Bil Neal: The show is placed in the 1940s, and "performed" for the "boys over there." The feeling of sending literally "boys" to fight in a war is brought home in a very understated and poignant way. It made me realize that over 60 years later we're still doing that. It's one of the reasons that ARTS decided that any of our U.S. service people (active or veteran) can see this show with our gratitude. My personal goal is to see the theatre packed with military each night. Naturally, there's also the aspect of character development in dealing with a different period. People seemed simpler then. Some of the humor could seem schmaltzy (is that even a word?), but we always laugh at the humanity. Sentiments are heart-felt, and relationships were more straightforward. These aren't glamorous folk - they almost all have day jobs of their own.

Stephen Vance: As an actor, period pieces are always fun. You have to learn about an era you may not be familiar with and often discover stuff you never knew. We've had a great asset in Charlie Woolcock who is in the show and a veteran. He has been able to tell us about so many of the things that happened and has convey what the attitude of the 1940s was. As a set builder/decorator, it has been a challenge. Finding period set pieces and props are always a bit of a hassle, but thanks to Helga and members of the community, we have been able to recreate an authentic set.

Joshua Jannotta: It's great fun. A show like this is very laid back, and easy on the brain, but nice on the eyes and ears!

David Vickers: Besides the music, it tells you how strong the American spirit really is during times of war. The volunteerism. The unselfishness. The respect for our soldiers. I can only imagine the spirit for World War II being somewhat equivalent to the spirit of America on September 12, 2001. Unified and determined. Having a father who was a veteran and a brother who is currently an active member of the Army for 16 years, it's been a humbling and sobering experience! I am really proud of ARTS doing this for our Veterans!

Interview with the Actors - "The 1940s Radio Hour" (#2)

Here's the second round of interviews with some of the actors from The 1940s Radio Hour, which wraps up this weekend at Huntington's Renaissance Theater.

In this entry we get to learn more about the character in the show. Our question is: Tell us about the part you play.

Linda Reynolds: Ginger Brooks is a waitress by day, a big band singer by night and a ditz all the time. She is very involved in her makeup (“thick and perfect”) and has a thing for Lou.

Bil Neal: Lou is the second banana in a tiny radio station. He's where he wants to be, and enjoys his job and food. He sings backup to just about everyone else, and handles some of the sound effects. (I get to play with noisemakers onstage with Eric Newfeld while eating Hostess SnoBalls and Baby Ruths. If I could figure out a way to work in a ham sandwich it would be the role of a lifetime.)

David Vickers: I play Clifton Feddington who is the producer and chief bottle-washer of the show. He is an overly anxious person who bursts into tirades occasionally and possibly suffers from ulcers from the stress of dealing with his cast. However, when the show hits the air, he becomes a lovable emcee of the show. Radio entertainment is his passion and he sells it out to any sponsor that will flash him a nickel! (I especially enjoy him plugging a sponsor at the conclusion monologue). He sees the radio show cast as an extended family. He is wanting to use the show as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Joshua Jannotta: Johnny Cantone is the featured Vocalist for the radio show. His "real world" problems affect him more and more throughout the show, until he falls apart at the end. He's a hard guy to like, but it's also hard not love him.

Stephen Vance: I play Neal Tilden, taxi driver by day, comic and wannabe balladeer by night. Although Neal has some of the best comedic bits in the show, he always is striving for his chance to be the featured vocalist. He is nearly a Danny Kaye type.

Amy Knell: I play a nightclub singer named Ginny Lee Browne. She is from Kansas City, MO, and she came to NY to follow her dream. She works at the WOV Radio Station as one of her many "gigs." She is a flashy and sassy girl from the '40s and I love getting to play her in this show.

On Stage Tonight - Five Shows!

You have five shows to choose from tonight, including:

- The 1940s Radio Hour - (ARTS) at the Renaissance Center in Huntington tonight at 8 p.m.

- Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach - (Backstage Players) at the Paramount Arts Center tonight at 7:30 p.m.

- Miracle on 34th Street - tonight at the Portsmouth Little Theatre.

- The Santaland Diaries - (Charleston Stage Company) at the WVSU Capitol Plaza Theatre tonight at 8 p.m.

- A Christmas Carol - (Kanawha Players) at the Charleston Civic Center Little Theater tonight at 8 p.m.

Make it a Merry Christmas for your community theatre groups - see a show!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Photos of The 1940s Radio Hour

There's an excellent photo gallery of shots from The 1940s Radio Hour right here at the Herald-Dispatch's web site. Did I mention this is your last weekend to catch the show?

The photos, like this one, were shot by Therese Kirby.

Actors (from left) Sarah Hayes, Scott Burner, Eric Newfeld and Mary Olson are in rehearsal.

Interview with the Actors - "The 1940s Radio Hour" (#1)

For the latest round of e-interviews, we have quite a few comments from some of the talented actors who are part of the musical The 1940s Radio Hour, which wraps up this weekend.

I'll be running these posts over the next few days (collect all the interviews in the series!), starting with this question:

Why did you want to be part of The 1940s Radio Hour?

Joshua Jannotta: To have the opportunity to work with Bruce Rous and Gene and Coni Anthony again, after 10 years.

David Vickers: When I heard that ARTS was doing a musical show set in the 1940s and it involved a radio show, I was eager to take part. I love the music from that era and the radio copy is just golden! Then at the first reading I found out that Sarah Hayes and Mary Olsen were involved, I knew it was going to be great, having admiring their work when I was fortunate to be on the cast of 5th Avenue's production of ANNIE 5 years ago. I have just moved back to the Huntington area and wasn't familiar with Bruce Rous but I'm a big fan of his now! He's done a great job! I have also seen Bil Neal in recent productions and welcomed the opportunity to be on stage with him! He's great! The whole cast is!

Linda Reynolds: I love working with Bruce & Coni & Gene and the actors involved are all very talented friends so it was a no-brainer. Wait till you hear Mary Olson sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” WOW!

Amy Knell: The first thing was I love ensemble pieces and this is a great ensemble piece, I love the music from that era and I enjoyed working with Bruce Rous so much during The Odd Couple that I wanted to do it again.

Bil Neal: I didn't want to be a part of the cast - this is the craziest time of year for me in my "day job," and I committed to produce the show. Once we finally got the ensemble together, we were still missing the role of Lou, the Stage Manager. On one hand I didn't want to scratch a project I believe so strongly in, on the other I (selfishly, I admit) didn't wanna miss out on the opportunity to work with these people. I mean, really - getting to dance with Linda Reynolds (and a gigantic boa)? Can you even call that a decision?

Stephen Vance: When Bruce first presented this show as an option about this time last year, we were all a little skeptical because it was an "unknown." After I got my hands on a copy of the script and finished the first read-through, I realized he was really on to something. First of all, the characters are all people we know. Each of them are rushing from their "day jobs" to put on a show. Sound familiar? Second, I love this era. The songs are still in the original arrangements that the big bands played back in the 1940s. Finally, and probably most importantly, I thought it would be a huge opportunity to honor the veterans. With the "show within the show" being dedicated to the boys, what greater thing could we do than honor the boys who have grown up and made our country what it is?

On Stage Tonight - Two Shows

Two shows are getting the jump on the weekend by presenting shows on Thursday night! They are:

- The 1940s Radio Hour - (ARTS) at the Renaissance Center in Huntington tonight at 8 p.m.

- The Santaland Diaries - (Charleston Stage Company) at the WVSU Capitol Plaza Theatre tonight at 8 p.m.

Check 'em out!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One More for the Kids

My pal Mary Smirl, who directed the young performers who appeared in last night's production of The Wizard of Oz, sent this comment along, and I wanted to share it with you, gentle reader:
I have to brag about these Munchkins, Chuck!

They have been such a dream to work with and the cast and crew of OZ thought so too. They went in (Monday) night for their first time with the rest of the cast to be "put in" the show.

They were feeling pretty good about what they had learned and were ready to take the stage when they found out they were to learn new blocking and movement due to stage/set adjustments. Now we know this happens a lot at load-in, but we also usually have a solid week of tech to work out the bugs. Not the case for the Munchkins of First Stage!

They had two hours to re-learn (their blocking) last night and then they were fed a wonderful dinner and sent home. They were to be put in the show, fit for costumes, makeup, hair, and learn curtain call (Tuesday) morning. Their call was 7:15 a.m. with the show starting at 9:30.

They have basically had a full week of tech in about three hours! They adjusted beautifully, as to be expected of First Stage kids, and you could not tell the difference between the local kids and the adult pros, they never missed a beat!

The cast and crew were very complimentary of their behavior both on and off stage and I have to say the same in return for the company itself. They were amazing to our kids! What a wonderful gift The Marshall Artists Series has given this group of kids short in size but long in talent.

It is one I know they won't ever forget:)
Thanks, Mary! Readers, you can see a few photos from last night's show (like the one above) right here on the Herald-Dispatch photo gallery.

"The Wizard of Oz"

I was really hoping to see the touring production of The Wizard of Oz that performed at the Keith Albee Performing Arts Center tonight, but other obligations had me tied up.

Then, at the last second, my plans changed and I was able to go - and I'm so glad I did! It was one of the best professional (touring) shows I've seen locally, with terrific performers, outstanding costumes and set, some amazing stage effects, and an outstanding performance by about a dozen local young actors from First Stage Theatre Company (not that I'm prejudiced or anything).

The production did a great job of re-creating the original movie. There were a few changes made for the stage, of course, and the show even added in one of the songs (and parts of others) that were cut from the original film, including "The Jitterbug."

The local actors managed to blend in with the professionals, appearing as Munchkins and as the Winkies (the guards of the Wicked Witch). It's great that they got the chance to take part in a professional production like this, and the Tri-State can be proud of their work.

On a humorous note, it's kind of heartwarming to note that even a professional production like this can run into problems. In the climactic scene when the Wicked Witch confronts Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, for some reason the witch was delayed and didn't make her entrance on time, leaving the rest of the cast frozen in place. They made a few game attempts at covering, and finally the witch was able to make her entrance (I'm assuming there was a technical glitch forcing them to hold - there were a lot of stage effects in the show). But hey, those are the things that makes live theatre so exciting!

All in all, a fantastic performance, and the virtually sold-out audience enjoyed a top-notch production. Kudos to the Marshall Artists Series for making the production available to theatre-goers in the Tri-State!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

On Stage Tonight - "The Wizard of Oz"

The Broadway touring production of The Wizard of Oz takes the stage in Huntington tonight, and if you want to see it you'd better hurry - my sources tell me the show is almost sold out!

You can read an excellent preview of the musical right here in a story by my pal Dave Lavender. Here's a sample:
Just when we need it most, there's a tornado blowing through town to whisk us all away to where skies are blue and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

At least on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, you're back on your own.

At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 9, the Marshall Artists Series welcomes in the touring Broadway production of the beloved musical adventure, The Wizard of Oz into the historic Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center.

Tickets are $55, $50 and $45. Youth tickets (17 & under) are $27.50, $25 and $22.50.

Out since Oct. 23, this tour of The Wizard of Oz has been one whirlwind of a musical love fest for one of America's best road-trip stories, said Chris Kind, the Minnesota native who plays the Tin Man.

"I think it is such a universally loved movie and such a universally loved story that it's very strange to come across someone who does not like The Wizard of Oz," Kind said. "It's wonderful to be a part of any production of 'Wizard of Oz,' but this one in particular, it has been something to see the care they took in getting it right and getting the cast together."

The musical follows the stage adaptation of the blockbuster movie, prepared originally for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and includes that stream of sing-a-long songs such as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" and "The Merry Old Land of Oz."
The above photo is courtesy of Joan Marcus, and shows Dorothy and her friends (from left to right: Noah Aberlin, Cassie Okenka, Snickers, Jason Simon, Chris Kind).

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Munchkins of Oz

This is what I get for not seeing the paper this weekend - the Herald-Dispatch ran an article about the Munchkins in the upcoming production of The Wizard of Oz. The chorus is made up of local young actors.

Here's the story from my pal Dave Lavender:
The First Stage Theatre Company production of Peter Pan may be over, but a handful of kids refused to leave dreamland.

Of course, they have exchanged Neverland for the wonderful world of Oz.

A dozen local grade school and middle school students, many whom were in Peter Pan, were hand-picked to perform as Munchkins in Tuesday's traveling Broadway production of The Wizard of Oz.

Showtime is 7:30 p.m. at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center in downtown Huntington. The show is part of the Marshall Artists Series 2008-2009 season.

Tickets for The Wizard of Oz are $55, $50 and $45.

The kids will perform Tuesday morning a full-length, sold-out school show. Then they'll perform again Tuesday night at a regular Marshall Artists Series show that is also looking like a sell-out.

Jack Cirillo, professor in Marshall University's Department of Theatre, said since First Stage was in production for Peter Pan at the time, he checked with "Pan" director Mary Smirl to see if she thought they could gather enough kids (no taller than 5 feet and no more than 100 pounds) to play Munchkins.

Armed with a DVD, a background music CD, and the expertise of a range of First Stage personnel including Lara Donahoe, Smirl, and even Mary Kate Young, who played Peter Pan, the group has gotten its Munchkinness down to a fine art with two rehearsals a week.

"Parents very quickly realized what a great experience this is, and the kids they're thrilled to be a part of it," Cirillo said. "They've done a terrific job and have really paid attention. I mean they know this is a professional company that is reliant upon them."

Cirillo said it's some pretty extensive stage time with the Munchkins singing such songs as "Follow the Yellow Brick Road," and "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead" in addition to roles as The Winkies, the Wicked Witch's guards.

Rose Colclough, 9, a fourth grader at St. Joseph Elementary School, and Franklin Norton, 11, a sixth-grader at Beverly Hills Middle School, are two of the kids in the show.

Both said they love the spirit of the Munchkins.

"They are the kind of merry character that anything they do is jolly and filled with excitement," Norton said.

Interestingly, as excited as the kids are to be on stage with the 20 or so cast members of this traveling Broadway production, the feeling is mutual, said Chris Kind, who plays the Tin Man.

"With any kids going into that environment there always is that wonder that is still there and that adults tend to lose when they work on stage," he said. "There is that sense of awe and it is really good to have that around. It's a constant reminder of how honored we should feel to be out there on the stage."

(Pictured top row left to right: Rose Colclough, William Beverage, Meg Barber, Franklin Norton and Nathaniel Porter. Middle row: Maggie Donahoe, Sarah Bryan, Rebecca Craig, Salem Carlton. Front row: Rileigh Smirl, Lindsey McKelvey, Mary Bolano.) Photo courtesy Angela Jones.

On Stage Tuesday - "The Wizard of Oz"

It's one of the best children's books ever written, and it was made into one of the greatest movies of all time.

The Wizard of Oz (the film) was long ago adapted for the stage, but few of us have seen a Broadway-style adaptation of the show - but that all changes on Tuesday, when the musical visits Huntington, courtesy of the Marshall Artists Series.

Even better, the show will feature some local performers! The show includes about a dozen local children appearing as Munchkins, and they were recruited from First Stage Theatre Company and its recent production of Peter Pan! It's a great opportunity for those young performers to be part of a professional show.

Here's the press release:
The Wizard of Oz will be presented 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 9 at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center.

Based on the best-selling novel by beloved author L. Frank Baum and the film classic released in 1939, The Wizard of Oz is a delightful and imaginative production that will bring the audience’s childhood fantasies to life!

The musical includes the iconic song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” amazing special effects and breathtaking sets so complex they must arrive in five semi-trucks!

This special, one-night-only performance is sure to please Huntington audiences, and will feature a dozen local children as the adorable Munchkins, directed by Huntington’s First Stage Theatre Company.

Follow Dorothy’s exciting journey to find the Emerald City and the Wizard as she makes friends with the unforgettable Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow.

This powerful and unendingly entertaining musical will appeal to the entire family!

Tickets are $55, $50 and $45. Youth tickets (17 and under) are $27.50, $25 and $22.50. Tickets can be purchased through the Marshall Artists Series box office, located in the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center, or by calling (304) 696-6656 or (304) 523-5757. The box office is open Monday - Friday from noon - 5 p.m.

Tickets can also be purchased online at www.ticketmaster.com.

The Wizard of Oz is also sponsored by Touma Foundation, WKEE, WTCR, WSAZ, The Herald Dispatch, Marshall University, and the College of Fine Arts.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

From Seven to One?

What the - ?

Yesterday there were seven community theatre shows being offered, and today (Sunday) there's only one? Go figure!

That show is The Polar Express, which will be presented at The Jeslyn Performing Arts Center (the old Camelot Theater) in Huntington today at 2:30 p.m.

For more information, visit www.jeslyn.org or call 304-697-0602.

Oh, and I recommend going early - I drove by yesterday and there was quite a crowd outside waiting to get in.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Shows for a Saturday Night!

Once again, you have lots of community theatre shows to choose from tonight, including:

- The 1940s Radio Hour - (ARTS) at the Renaissance Center (the old Huntington High School) in Huntington tonight at 8 p.m.

- The Polar Express - at The Jeslyn Performing Arts Center (the old Camelot Theater) tonight at 6:30 p.m. There's also a matinee this afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

- The Diary of Anne Frank - will be presented at Cabell Midland High School tonight at 7 p.m.

- Mary - (CYAC) at the WVSU Capitol Plaza Theatre at 123 Summers Street in Charleston tonight at 8 p.m.

- Babes in Toyland - (Children’s Theatre of Charleston) at the Civic Center Little Theater tonight at 7 p.m.

- Joytacular - (The No Pants Players) at the Labelle Theater, 311 D Street in South Charleston tonight at 8 p.m.

- Miracle on 34th Street - at the Portsmouth Little Theatre tonight.

Seven shows in one night - what a deal!

Friday, December 05, 2008

On Stage Tonight - Lots of Shows!

Hokey smokes, do you have loads of shows to choose from this evening! Here's the holiday rundown:

- The 1940s Radio Hour - (ARTS) at the Renaissance Center (the old Huntington High School) in Huntington tonight at 8 p.m.

- The Polar Express - at The Jeslyn Performing Arts Center (the old Camelot Theater) tonight at 6:30 p.m.

- Mary - (CYAC) at the WVSU Capitol Plaza Theatre at 123 Summers Street in Charleston tonight at 8 p.m.

- Babes in Toyland - (Children’s Theatre of Charleston) at the Civic Center Little Theater tonight at 7 p.m.

- Joytacular - (The No Pants Players) at the Labelle Theater, 311 D Street in South Charleston tonight at 8 p.m.

- Miracle on 34th Street - at the Portsmouth Little Theatre tonight.

So get out there, enjoy the holiday spirit and support your commuity theatre efforts!

It's a "Joytacular" Holiday!

Nothing says Christmas like a Joytacular, right?

Here's the latest press release from the No Pants Players:
The No Pants Players will be having their annual Joytacular Dec. 5 & 6 at 8 p.m. at the Labelle Theater at 311 D Street in South Charleston.

For the first time ever, the shows will be totally improv, but with a holiday theme. Also, for the third year we will be having the annual "Pants Drive," a benefit for the Covenant House of Charleston. Bring a new clothing item to the show, and in return you get entered to win a great prize donated by local businesses. Bring the entire family! Great family fun. Tickets are only $6 each! Hope to see everyone at the shows!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Another Show for December - "The Diary of Anne Frank"

Here's one I missed, until I saw this story in today's Herald-Dispatch:
The students in Cabell Midland High School's Theater I class will be
performing The Diary of Anne Frank as its fall production this weekend.

The show is 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, and will be held in the school's auditorium. The school is located on Route 60 between Barboursville and Milton.

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door.

It is the first-ever fall production for the Theater I class at Cabell
Midland. The student will perform Friday morning at Village of Barboursville Elementary and for its own student body Friday afternoon.

An Interview With the Director of "The 1940s Radio Hour"

For our latest e-interview, we caught up with Bruce Rous, the director of the ARTS production, The 1940s Radio Hour, which starts this evening with a preview performance at 5:30 p.m. at the Renaissance Center in Huntington.

Here's what he had to say:

Q: For those who aren't familiar with the show, tell us the basic story behind
The 1940s Radio Hour.

A: Dec. 1942. America is at war. Economic times are bad, the country's morale is low. A small radio station WOV-New York City airs alive radio show for a studio audience, which is being broadcast by short wave to "the boys over there," as a way of helping improve morale. We are introduced to a dysfunctional radio family, and look at a slice of their lives as they scurry about to get ready for the performance of "The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade," a musical radio show with great music from the Big Band era, funny commercials (you won't believe the commercial for Phillip Morris cigarettes - "recommended by doctors for cigarette hangover" - seems funny now, but it was an actual commercial), a comedy sketch with sound effects guys, swing dancing, and an onstage big band. There is the Frank Sinatra-type, but his sadness has resulted in drinking more than he should (played by Josh Janotta), the bobby-soxer (Sarah Hayes), and her boyfriend, who goes to Yale and commutes down to do the show (Scott Burner) and they are the featured dancing couple, the grumpy doorman (Charlie Woolcock), the stressed-out station producer (David Vickers), the high strung stage manager (Bil Neal), the jazz singer (Amy Knell), the comedic vamp (Linda Reynolds), and the female Balladeer (Mary Olsen), the comedian-turned ballad singer (Stephen Vance), the delivery boy from the Picadily Drug store who wants to be in show business (Eric Newfeld), and the trombone-playing soldier who is going off to war (John Galloway).

Q: You must like this show - you've worked on it before, and now you're directing it. Why are you a fan of it?

A: This is my fifth production. I adore the show because it melds great music, dance, and interesting characters.

Q: What's the biggest challenge in tackling a period piece like this?

A: I really love the period. The nostalgia and emotion of the time is represented in the music, props and costuming. The problem we've encountered here, vs. say, the Northeast is it has been a really difficult show for which to find certain specific props and costumes. Stephen fabricated replica facades of 40s-style mics, using Schoch Donohue's fancy condensor mics. There is supposed to be a coke machine in the studio. We found only one, and the man would not lend it to us. I basically cut it, and then Stephen found a period Coke cooler, which works fine. The Huntington theatrical community is amazing, as ever, and Helga, you know our dear friend and props mistress, and Jeanette, you know our dear friend and costume coordinator found great assistance from Helen Freeman of HOT, and James Morris Smith of MU Theatre - everyone sort of came through with stuff. What a terrific community! So appreciative of all the loaning.

Q: Tell us about your talented cast.

A: The cast is quite simply put, terrific. Perennial favorites, mixed with a few new faces. They have had an extremely short number of hours to put this show together, we've had to juggle schedules more than anything else I've done around here, but they've just dug in and made the work about quality, not quantity of hours. I've named them already (above), but may I say here, I really did not want to do this show without the right cast. I have way too many fond memories of the show, I have the ghosts of "40s" past living in my memory. I've worked with a few of the original cast members from Broadway and the Yale-Rep days, and I refused to do the show unless the cast was special. We auditioned and auditioned, and could not find some of the right key players, who I felt would not be the right blend in the ensemble ('cause it's a total ensemble piece). Not that the people who auditioned weren't wonderfully talented, they were (!), just maybe not right in the mix of people. What we've ended up with is a way talented group of folk.

Q: Why would you recommend this show to our readers?

A: Good material, good cast, the Marshall student Big Band, only area Christmas show that I know of, and, I must toot the horns of three friends who have worked on the show: Gene and Coni Anthony - their swing dancing and tap is the best of any "40s" I've done - and what fun it has been to work with them again. Dance rehearsals were sheer joy for everyone. And must mention Lang Reynolds here. He graciously agreed to be the lighting designer. I can't believe he agreed. Lights
are so important to this show, and I really don't know any designers around here yet, but have gotten to know Lang recently. His work is amazing. When I saw the first light cue, I said, "it looks like a 1942 Christmas card." Beautiful.

Q: ARTS shows are different because the person attending can also get dinner with the show. How does that work?

A: They serve a yummy dinner in the Ballroom across the hall from the theatre. Book in advance, bring a bottle of wine, and make a night of it!

Q: Tell us when and where the show will be presented, and how much tickets will

A: Shows are Dec. 5 and 6 at 8 p.m., and Dec. 11, 12, 13 at 8 p.m. The final show is Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15. Dinner is another $15. Veterans are admitted to this show, free of charge, with the appreciation of ARTS, for all they have done for our country.

Thanks, Bruce! We'll have more comments in the days ahead from some of the cast members in the show. In the meantime, make sure you make time in your holiday schedule to check out The 1940s Radio Hour!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Dial Up "The 1940s Radio Hour"

Tomorrow a musical takes the stage in Huntington. It's set during World War II - but as you'll see in this story by Beth Hendricks in today's Herald-Dispatch, it's a fun show for all ages:
If just a dab of Christmas cheer will do you, Arts Resources for the Tri-State has your number.

The 1940's Radio Hour, a musical Christmas card light on Santa, reindeer and elves in toy workshops, will tickle your funny bone and your ears - with comedy, swing dancing and a Big Band sound.

The show will be presented with a preview at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, as well as Dec. 11-13. All shows will be at the Renaissance Theater, located at 900 8th St. in Huntington. A matinee performance at completes the slate at 3 p.m. Dec 14. Tickets are $15 and veterans are admitted free.

The two-hour show centers on a small radio station in New York City in 1942 as the employees rally to help the soldiers overseas know that all is well back home.

"This is my favorite show ever and it's my fifth time to do it. Every time I do it, I just love it more," said director Bruce Rous. "I think it's especially fitting for where we are now in our country. Times are tough, everybody's broke and there's a war going on.

"I think Tri-State audiences will be as thrilled as I am with the talented bunch of people working on this project."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Yours Truly is Bummed Out

It's true - I was hit by some bad news the other day.

After all these years of never having a problem with the shows it planned to present, First Stage Theatre Company wasn't able to get the rights to Junie B. and the Monkey Business, so the group had to select a different show - and should be naming that replacement in a matter of days.

Then the double whammy hit - we just found out the other day that the rights to our other Spring show, A Year With Frog and Toad, have been pulled, too - so we won't be doing that, either. It's especially sad because I was going to direct the show, and I've spent quite a bit of time and energy planning for it.

Apparently both shows are going to tour the country, being performed by professional groups - so local audiences may get a chance to see the shows - but it's still a bummer.

So now First Stage is looking for two shows - again, we hope to have the other substitute show selected soon. But if you see me looking a little glum these days - now you know why.

(Oh, I'll be fine - we have some other fun shows we'll tackle, and hopefully I can direct Frog and Toad next year.)

Monday, December 01, 2008

On Stage in December

Who says there's not much to see in December? (Well, I did, but I was way off base.)

Here are the shows you should be watching for in the month ahead:

- The 1940s Radio Hour - (ARTS) at the Renaissance Center in Huntington on Dec. 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 14 at 3 p.m.

- Mary - (CYAC) at the WVSU Capitol Plaza Theatre at 123 Summers Street in Charleston, Dec. 4, 5, 6 at 8:00 p.m.

- Babes in Toyland - (Children’s Theatre of Charleston) at the Civic Center Little Theater on Dec. 4, 5, 6 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 6 at 2 p.m.

- Joytacular - (The No Pants Players) at the Labelle Theater, 311 D Street in South Charleston on Dec. 5, 6 at 8 p.m.

- Miracle on 34th Street - at the Portsmouth Little Theatre on Dec. 5, 6, 12, 13.

- The Wizard of Oz - (Marshall Artists Series) at the Keith Albee Performing Arts Center in Huntington on Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m.

- The Santaland Diaries - (Charleston Stage Company) at the WVSU Capitol Plaza Theatre on Dec. 11, 12, 13 at 8 p.m.

- A Christmas Carol - (Kanawha Players) at the Charleston Civic Center Little Theater on Dec. 12, 13, 19, 20 at 8 p.m.

UPDATE: Here's one I missed:

- The Polar Express - Will be presented at The Jeslyn Performing Arts Center (the old Camelot Theater) in Huntington at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5, and Saturday, Dec. 6, with matinees at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 6 and 7. For more information, visit www.jeslyn.org or call 304-697-0602.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Interview With An Actor from "Mary"

Here's the third (and final) of our e-interviews about the holiday musical Mary, now playing in Charleston.

Melanie Larch is an actor who's appeared in quite a few shows, and here she talks about Mary:

Q: Tell us the basic story of the show and the part you play in it.

A: On the surface, it's easy to say that it's a musical version of the Christmas story as told in the book of Luke. But as told through the eyes of the archangel Gabriel - little heads up to the purists, our Gabriel is played by a woman (Tonya Dillon-Page) - Mary is the story of a young girl (Molly Means in the title role) coming to terms with her destiny as the mother of Jesus Christ. I play Mary's cousin, Elizabeth, who is pregnant at the ripe old age of 80, with a son destined to be John the Baptist.

Covering the nine months leading up to the birth of Christ, it not only tells the story of these two very different women, but their men (Jonathan Tucker as Joseph and Donnie Smith as Zechariah) and Herod (Eli Chambers), whose power and position ultimately plays into the fate of the two children.

What I really love about this show is the humanity of these biblical figures. Sometimes I think we tend to see Mary, Joseph, etc. as completely flawless people who accepted their fate happily and without pause. As Dan Kehde and Mark Scarpelli have written them, there are emotions people can identify with - Mary's trepidation at being chosen for such a great task, Joseph's dismay when he first learns of her pregnancy, Elizabeth's sorrow over her childless state and Zechariah's skepticism at finding out his 80-year-old wife is going to have a child... you get the idea.

But there's also great faith, humor, love, and strength there, too. Combine all that with some beautiful songs and I'll just say bring your Kleenex! You will need them at some points in the show, trust me!

Q: The show has been around for more than a decade - do you feel any pressure stepping into a show that's become a tradition?

A: Oh, definitely. Probably the most pressure I felt was coming into the first read-through, knowing that there were two current cast members who'd played Elizabeth before! (*LOL*).

One of the biggest challenges for me in playing this role is that I've never given birth to a child. So there are things like 'what is it like to feel your baby move in the womb' or how you convey giving birth. Tonya is a mother of two who played Elizabeth in the 2006 production and she's been a big help to me with that aspect of the part.

Maddy Gourevich is another previous Elizabeth who's been a source of help as well. I can't thank her and Tonya - as well as the rest of the cast - enough!

Q: How have rehearsals gone - fun, or lots of hard work?

A: Both. Even though most of the cast members have done this show before and are very familiar with the material, you've still got to put in the time and effort to make a great production happen.

Dan and Mark are always very encouraging and respectful of their actors' time and talent. It's the kind of rehearsal setting where we can have our fun along the way, but check ourselves and say 'ok, we've had our laugh for the moment, now we've gotta get down to business.'

The people who've done Mary before are also a key part of why the rehearsal process has been so much fun. CYAC is full of intelligent, very talented, and fun young performers who are full of enthusiasm for this company and the shows it produces. If they ask me if I've seen a particular production and I say, "No, I haven't," they can't wait to tell me all about it!

And they've been very supportive of people like me and Jonathan who are performing the piece for the first time.

It really is a great atmosphere to work in as an actor. As I said a few weeks ago, Jack The Ripper was my first show with CYAC, but hopefully it won't be the last.

And hopefully this won't be my last Mary! Elizabeth has some wonderful songs and I love singing Lord of Mercy (The Trio) way too much for my own good.

Thanks, Melanie! A reminder that Mary is at the WVSU Capitol Plaza Theatre at 123 Summers Street in Charleston, WV, Thursday - Saturday, Dec. 4,5,6 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are available at the door - $9.50 Adults, $5.50 Students and Seniors. Call (304) 342-6522 for more information.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

An Interview With The Composer of "Mary"

The musical based on the life of Jesus' mother Mary continues tonight in Charleston, and here's the second of three e-interviews with the creative people behind the show.

Today we'll hear from composer Mark Scarpelli, who wrote the music and directs the orchestra in the show:

Q: We know who Mary is, but tell us about this show and the basic story behind it.

A: This is the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus Christ through the eyes of the mother. It is an opera and focuses on the emotional struggle of a virgin girl accepting to give birth to the son of God. Major characters are Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah, Herod and the angel Gabriel who weaves the story from the Immaculate Conception through the birth.

Q: Was writing music for a story based on the mother of Jesus intimidating?

A: This was initially written 12 years ago and at that time I was a different composer. I really don't like the term "Rock" opera, but that is what it has been labeled. When I first thought of providing music to such a historic, biblical story, I thought of the effect to be more of a contemporary new age-like sound. At the time I was highly influenced by the musical score of the Last Temptation Of Christ by Peter Gabriel. Our opera has evolved into a contemporary 21st century opus that focuses more on the emotions of the characters rather than the story itself. Everyone knows the story but you really don't think or relate to the relationships and the human feelings one encounters. i.e. Joseph finding out about his betrothed being pregnant and the baby is not his. His struggle with the acceptance of this makes for great thematic stuff. It's like a modern day soap with some added miracles.

Q: This is the 12th time you've staged the show, so it's safe to say that audiences have responded well to it. How is the 12th show different from the first?

A: Even though this is the 12th year we've performed the show, there have been unique subtleties to each perennial run. Just this morning I rewrote the ending of the show. (Writer) Dan Kehde had an idea of ending the performance with an empty manger (center stage) with a string quartet playing through this final scene. Typically we end with a full cast gradually entering the manger scene. While everyone positions themselves, the music swells into a chorus of "Life Begins Again." We have performed this both vocally and instrumentally but always with a strong, dynamic ending. It seems to me it is the one part of the show that is always open for change. This year instead of a big ensemble musical sound we're going for a more serene, contemplative type ending. Will it work? Only time will tell.

Q: You have a big orchestra for this show - does you prefer working with a bigger group of musicians, or does that make it even more challenging?

A: Working with a larger ensemble of musicians makes for more tone color. Again this piece has orchestrally evolved over the years. The first year we performed this in 1996 there was a guitar, bass, keyboard and drums. I guess that's how it got labeled as a "Rock" opera. Our current pit orchestra consists of a full string section trumpets, trombone, tenor sax, alto sax, guitars, bass keyboards and drums. There is also a chorus of singers.

Q: I was surprised to see the show started the day after Thanksgiving - is it tough to stage a show on Black Friday?

A: Black Friday, Green Friday, Blue Friday???? it's just another day to me. This is great theatre and it's a story, although seasonal, that could be enjoyed throughout the year.

Q: Tell us the basics - when the show starts, where it is, ticket prices, etc.

A: Mary is at the WVSU Capitol Plaza Theatre - 123 Summers Street, Charleston, WV - tonight at 8:00 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 30 at 2:00 p.m. and Thursday - Saturday, Dec. 4,5,6 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are available at the door - $9.50 Adults, $5.50 Students and Seniors. Call (304) 342-6522 for more information.

Thanks, Mark! Tomorrow we'll talk to one of the actors in the show!

Friday, November 28, 2008

An Interview With The Writer Of "Mary"

The musical Mary, based on the life of the mother of Jesus, takes the stage this evening in Charleston, and over the next couple of days we'll share some email interviews with the writer, musical director and one of the actors from the show.

We start with Dan Kehde, who wrote and directed the show:

Q: We know who Mary is, but tell us about the show you've written about her.

A: It's an interesting show. We paralleled the story of Mary with the story of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. Mary was a young woman, in her
early to middle teens, and Elizabeth was in her 80's or so. In Biblical texts, both were visited by the angel Gabriel, and were pregnant at the same time, Elizabeth giving birth (after having still born many other babies) only a month or so before Mary gave birth to Jesus. It's very much a story of faith and love on many different levels: Mary's love of God, her love for Joseph and her willingness to sacrifice her life and the life of her first born son. It was a tough piece to write.

Q: Was doing a story based on the mother of Jesus intimidating?

A: It's funny, Mary has always seemed the most accessible member of the holy family: the object of the prayers of the truly desperate, the conduit to the
almighty used by those of us unable or unwilling to pray to God or Jesus for whatever reason. Mary was always terribly and wonderfully human.

Q: This is the 12th time you've staged the show, so it's safe to say that audiences have responded well to it. How is the 12th show different from the first?

A: Our first Mary lasted about 45 minutes. We had nerve enough to hold an intermission just to stretch the thing to an hour. We added 16 new songs for
the second year. We're still refining it, in fact, Mark Scarpelli's finishing up a new composition for the final moments even as we speak. Our casts are bigger than that first one - I think we had 14 that year. But their hearts were enormous.

Q: You have a big cast for this show - are they veterans from past shows or is this new to them?

A: A little of both. Jonathan Tucker, the actor playing Joseph is new to the company. Molly Means, who plays Mary, has done several pieces with us, as has Tanya Dillon Page (Gabriel), and this is the second piece with us for Melanie Larch (Elizabeth). A lot of the kids have come back from past years for this, and others have come in new. It's a good cast.

Q: I'm surprised to see the show starts the day after Thanksgiving - is it tough to stage a show on Black Friday?

A: We started out on these two weekends (Thanksgiving and the week after) because it was the only time when the theater was available. Now it's become tradition. And no, we don't generally set attendance records on opening night, but Mary is one of those shows that you're either going to come to see or you're not, so it really doesn't matter when during the season we perform it. Although one year we closed two days before Christmas - that was harder.

Q: Tell us the basics - when the show starts, where it is, ticket prices, etc.

A: We open today and run 8 p.m. curtains on Nov. 28, 29, Dec. 4, 5 and 6 and have a Sunday Matinee at 2 p.m. on November 30. Tickets are $5.50 for students and seniors, and $9.50 for adults. Tickets are available at the door the evenings of the performances. For large group reservations you can call the box office at 304-342-6522 during regular business hours. All performances are on the stage of the WVSU Capitol Center Theater, 123 Summers Street, Charleston.

Thanks, Dan! Tomorrow we'll talk to composer Mark Scarpelli!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Trouble for Local Theatres?

OK, I said I was taking the day off, but then I saw this story, which is too important to wait.

When the economy struggles, it usually hits the theatre community hard. On Broadway, we've seen quite a few shows announce a closing date, including perennial hits like Spamalot, Hairspray, Spring Awakening, Legally Blonde and others.

Now the problem seems to be hitting closer to home, as we see in this story from the Herald-Dispatch:
BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) _ A $100,000 cut in state funding may mean the final curtain for Beckley's Theatre West Virginia, a cultural staple for more than four decades.

Funds from the Division of Culture and History amount to only 10 percent of the theater's budget. Still, general manager Gayle Bowling says the theater cannot trim spending or productions of shows like Honey in the Rock, the nation's oldest Civil War drama, without harming quality.

Bowling said Tuesday the board of directors has given her two weeks to decide how to dispose of the company's assets, its offices in Mabscott and an amphitheater at Grandview Park. She expects total shutdown within a month.

"As far as we're concerned now," she said, "we're no longer open for business."

Theater officials learned of the cut last month but hoped the funds would be restored.

Beckley received more state aid than any of the four state-funded drama groups, said Gov. Joe Manchin, but everyone needs to make adjustments in a tough financial climate.

He suggested the company meet with other theaters that have survived on small budgets and look for ways to innovate.

"Are there other things they're doing that TWV is not? We're willing to help facilitate and bring people together to find the best solution," Manchin said. "It's not like the budget's cut in half. Everyone's making adjustments. It's not that they're not being treated fair."

But Bowling refuses, citing concerns about the possible accumulation of debt and a decline in quality of productions including Hatfields and McCoys, Seussical and High School Musical.

When the company faced a budget cut in the early '90s, "the reduction showed on stage," Bowling said, "and the board is adamant — and I totally agreed — that we are not going to cut the quality of what we do just to get by."

Its website says Theatre West Virginia, whose founders included former Gov. Hulett C. Smith, has entertained more than 1 million people since 1955. The theater formed the Acting Company in 1971, and it remains the state's only professional touring and historical outdoor theater company.
Hopefully they can work out the funding problem, but it's a problem many theatre groups are facing. Stay tuned!