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.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Best Shows of 2011

I'm not going to name the "Best show of 2011."

For several reasons:

1) I hate applying the "Best of" label to community theatre shows - every single show was created after a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and while some are better or more accomplished or had a bigger budget than others, they were all a labor of love.

2) It's apples and oranges. Unless you're comparing different productions of the same show, there's no way to compare different shows made with different casts, different budgets, different conditions, etc.

3) I didn't see all the shows that hit the stage in the Tri-State area in 2011. I saw lots of shows, but I missed many, many more (this was a year in which life got in the way of shows). I have friends who see lots of shows, more than I see - but I don't think there's anyone who sees every show.

4) I can't be impartial, because I'm the President of First Stage Theatre Company - obviously, I love every show they stage.

What I will do is talk about some of the shows I saw and enjoyed, and invite you, gentle readers, to make comments about shows you liked, too. Send your comments to the link at the bottom of this post, or email them to me at TheMinskers@aol.com and I'll share them.

Brag on shows you worked on, rave about shows you saw, but no negative put-downs, please. (I don't believe in "Worst of the Year" lists, either.)

So, here's my quick recap of shows I saw:

I'll start with First Stage, since it was an excellent year for the children's theatre, with three shows - each one very successful and lots of fun to watch, including: Rugrats: A Live Adventure, with local actors doing an amazing job of imitating the voices and characteristics of the Nickelodeon cartoon kids; Schoolhouse Rock Live, one of my all-time favorites, with a terrific cast bringing the classic educational cartoons to life; and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a co-production with Marshall's Theatre Alliance that was a sweet, funny and touching holiday tale - it's quickly becoming a holiday staple, and I thought this cast was fantastic!

ARTS presented a couple of outstanding shows this year, including the fast and funny hit The Fantasticks, and the dark musical Jekyll and Hyde, which provided a star vehicle for Ryan Hardiman and an outstanding cast.

Ryan was busy this year, rocking out on stage in HOT's July show, The Wedding Singer with a talented cast that brought the '80s to life!

Fifth Avenue Theatre tackled a couple of big shows - the popular Titanic: the Musical, based on the tragic voyage, and (at the other end of the drama scale), the hilarious Noises Off, which was without a doubt the funniest show I saw this year, thanks to an outstanding cast and an amazing set!

Marshall's Theatre Alliance had several excellent productions this year, including: the terrific musical Working, which was loaded with amazing performers; the fantastic New Works Project; and an awesome production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was a showcase for a talented cast, an incredible set and an ingenious adaptation of the original script - it was one of the most impressive shows I can remember seeing in years.

I'm not going to name a best show, of course - but the one that probably managed the best mix of music and comedy, and would certainly be in contention if I were to name the top show, would have to be the Charleston Light Opera Guild's production of Hairspray, which was a pure delight from beginning to end.

Outstanding work by one and all!

So, another great year of theatre - and hopefully another great one on the way!

Happy New Year, theatre fans, and thanks for joining us here at the Tri-State Theatre blog!

So let's hear it - what were your favorite moments?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year's Concert with Ryan Hardiman

Here's a fun way to spend New Year's Eve - enjoying music by Ryan Hardiman (and friends) - and what a great price:
Charleston Community Music Association and Goodnight 2011 present two FREE 45-minute New Year's Eve performances - 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Ryan Hardiman - Moonage Daydream: The Bowie Songbook

Special guest vocalist: Madeline Gourevitch

... with pianist Mark Scarpelli and a string quartet featuring Molly Lynn Page and Kristi Holstein (violin), Alasha Al-Qudwah (viola) and Shawn Simms (cello)

New Year's Eve, Saturday, December 31
Two 45-minute performances, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Trinity Lutheran
1600 Kanawha Boulevard East
(Corner of Kanawha Blvd and Elizabeth Street)

Featuring the songs of David Bowie:

Moonage Daydream
Space Oddity
China Girl
The Prettiest Star
Life on Mars?
Wild is the Wind
Absolute Beginners
Under Pressure
Lady Grinning Soul

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

No silly songs today - just a heartfelt wish, from all of us at the Tri-State Theatre blog, for a Merry Christmas to one and all!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Must Be Santa Claus

Here's another favorite, and a truly odd video - Bob Dylan singing "Must Be Santa Claus." Lots of fun:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

The late great Burl Ives puts us in the spirit with a beloved song from the animated feature "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Christmas Song

As a break from the usual silly songs I post at this time of the year, here's a classic - the incredible Mel Torme singing a song he composed - "The Christmas Song." You'll recognize it at once:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

All I Want for Christmas Is You

Here's a clip from the movie "Love Actually" (which is actually quite good), and my favorite version of this song. A bit silly, but fun:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

News, Notes, and the Seussical Cast!

Hope everyone's having a great holiday season!

The Christmas shows are over and the stages will be dark for a couple of weeks - so what shall we do in this space? That's easy - starting tomorrow I'll post some Christmas-related videos for you to enjoy! (It's a tradition and I'm sticking with it!)

There is one last bit of business, as First Stage has announced the cast list for its spring show, Seussical the Musical, which will be staged in April at the beautiful Keith-Albee Theatre!

So here's the cast (and a talented bunch it is):

The Cat in the Hat - Jack McGee
Horton - Levi Kelley
JoJo -Arman Karimpour
Gertrude - Meg Barbour
Mayzie - Maggie Donahoe
Sour Kangaroo - Sarah Bryan
Baby Kangaroo - Braylan Balandra

Bird Girls - Alli Bartram, Elizabeth Schmitz, Catherine Dennison, Sam Young

Cat Girls - Emily Underwood, Becca Stevens, Kathryn Booth, Bailey Sanders, Madalein Jackson, Becca Gaunch

Wickershams - Andrew Edwards, Nick Wood, Salem Carlton, Samuel Collins
General Schmitz - Jessie Donahoe
Mayor - Josh Moore
Mrs. Mayor - Rileigh Smirl
Yertle the Turtle - Sarah Metz
Marshall/Lorax - Katie Fulks
Sam I Am - Jalen Nicely
Intro Cat - Lindsay McKelvey
Vlad Vladicoff - Ian Carlton

Seuss Rockettes

Taranee’ Karimpour (Dance Captain)
Olivia Roberts
Lindsay McKelvey
Shannyn Kyle
Erika Turner
Brynne Kyle
Mary Bolano
Savannah Sakkai
Kathryn Jennings
Olivia Johnson
Abby Mandt
Abigail Parks
Hayley Spurlock
Jalen Nicely
Maleea Roy
Emily Branam

Mini Rockettes

Chloe Mayo “Mitsy Godiva”
Cali Ellis “Teeny Godiva”
Piper May “Tizzy”
Emma Pittman “Tizzle”
Sophie Haddox “Kweety”
Elizabeth Blake “Preep”
Cheyenne Ferrell “Proo”
Ellie Reynolds “Foona”
Olivia Roberts (Martha Road) “Yeps”
Natalie Jane Eastone “Yottle”


Griffin Conaty “Bipper Fuddnudler”
Abigail Eplin “Skipper Fuddnudler”
Ian Carlton “Bud Fuddnudler”
Zoe May “Jipper Fuddnudler”
Hannah Sparks “Dinwoodie Fuddnudler”
Jacob Gross “Jeffery Fuddnudler”
Ethan Lovejoy “Chief Yookeroo Fuddnudler”
Luke Lovejoy “Frederick Fuddnudler”
Nathaniel Fornash “Slinky Fuddnudler”
Jameson Reynolds “Hendrix Fuddnudler”
Jacob Paul Haddox “Zooks Fuddnudler”
Teddy Haddox “Yooks Fuddnudler”
Patrick Dempsey “Horatio Fuddnudler”
Scotty Ferrell “Stuart Fuddnudler”
Avery Jackson “Zower Fuddnudler”
Hunter Morrison “Wocket Fuddnudler”
Zachary Kincade “Zax Fuddnudler”


Emma Davis “Aunt Annie”
Macenzie Simmons “Violet Vinn”
Zoie Fornash “Vera Vinn”
Lauren Wills “Zooie Catz”
Ashtan Fraser “Kooie Catz”
Makenzie Chapman “Katy Klopps”
Katherine Savageat “LuLu”
Paula Ames “Dapples Thidwick”
Sarah Phillips “Misspecket”
Hadley Massie “Parcifal Thidwick”
Maggie Kayt Franks “Cindy Lou Who”
Jensen Bird “Gussey Headwig”
Samantha May “Lola Lee Lou”
Elisabeth Ross “Spritz Stroodel”
Hallie Trader “Mrs. Umbroso”
Claire Aulick “Dr. Spreckles”
Raven McClintock “Mitsy Von Krandall”
Brooke Ferguson “Jill Ikkajast”
Emily Belcher “Nixie Knox”

Baby Whos/Zoo Animals

Brody Reynolds “Vug”
Amelia Westbrook “Chookie”
Cameron May “Ish”
Mace Owens “Sneedle”
Owen Jennings “Spazzim”
Sophie Eastone “Thing Two”
Jack Eastone “Thing One”
Macy Murdoch “Kitty O’Sullivan”
Caden Chapman “Max the Dog”

Friday, December 16, 2011

On Stage This Weekend - Four Shows!

You have one last weekend to stock up on Christmas cheer! Here are the shows taking a stage near you:

- The Santaland Diaries - Portmouth Little Theatre presents the play Dec. 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m.

- The Story of My Life - Charleston Stage Company presents the play at the Capitol Theatre Dec. 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m.

- Black Nativity - Kanawha Players presents the play Dec. 15 - 18.

- It's a Wonderful Life - The Paramount Players will present the classic holiday tale on the Paramount stage in Ashland Dec. 16 and 17, with a matinee at 3 p.m. Dec. 17.

So check one (or more) out, and take a loved one. Theatre tickets make great Christmas presents!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tri-State Theatre News and Notes

Thanks to my pal Sarah Diamond Burroway for sending along some theatre notes to share:

- Murder and Merriment presents Silent Night, Deadly Night. A murder mystery dinner theater event. Now taking reservations, make yours today! An eclectic group of characters are vacationing at a mountain ski lodge. An avalanche closes the only road off of the mountain, stranding all the guests and causing a power outage. Then people start disappearing and turning up dead... Come join us for a murderously good time! The murder mystery takes place at Heritage Station Jan, 20, 21, 27 and 28. The show begins at 6 p.m., with catering provided by A Taste From Above Catering. The cost is $35 per person - make your reservations now by calling Event Solutions at 304-523-7526.

- ACTC Children's Theatre auditions for Cinderella are coming up Jan. 3 and 4 at 4 p.m. at the J.B. Sowards Theatre. It's part of an enrichment class for students in grades 3 through 9, and the cost is $125. Shows will be presented Feb. 17 - 19, with school shows Feb. 15, 16 and 17.

- Stay tuned for details from Ashland's Company of Dreams Theatre - auditions coming this spring for The Curious Savage under the direction of Jim Maggard.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Seussical" Auditions - A Note

This past Saturday I helped sign up a mob of young actors who were auditioning for the upcoming First Stage Theatre performance of Seussical the Musical, and I witnessed something that reminded me why I support children's theatre.

At one point, a couple of very young girls were at the audition - but they were nervous, they were getting upset, worried about auditioning. One girl was on the verge of tears. (I could sympathize - as a kid I would have been absolutely terrified of auditioning, too, and I've seen many kids similarly struggle over the years.)

Immediately a half-dozen girls, all veterans of local shows, gathered around the new girls, talked them through it and encouraged them. It was a kind, gracious thing to do - I was so proud of them!

In no time, the new girls were smiling, laughing and having fun.

And that, my friends, is what theatre - especially children's theatre - is all about!

Friday, December 09, 2011

On Stage This Weekend - Four Holiday Shows!

Lots of great holiday shows on tap this weekend, including:

- White Christmas - 5th Avenue Theatre Company presents the holiday musical Dec. 9 and 10 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 11 at 2:30 p.m. at Huntington's City Hall auditorium.

- The Littlest Angel - The Children's Theatre of Charleston presents the play at the Charleston Civic Center Little Theatre Dec. 8 - 11.

- The Santaland Diaries - Portmouth Little Theatre presents the play Dec. 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m.

- The Story of My Life - Charleston Stage Company presents the play at the Capitol Theatre Dec. 8 - 10 and 15 - 17 at 7:30 p.m.

So get out there and get in the spirit of the season!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

"White Christmas" Pre-Show - and a Correction

My pal Dave Lavender wrote a nice story in today's Herald-Dispatch about the pre-show that's part of the local White Christmas production - but there's a big error in there, which I'll address in a moment.

First, the story:
Last weekend, Stacy Richardson-Bond got the best birthday present ever. Through some early Christmas miracle, all of her elves somehow remembered their lines, songs and dance steps.

By day, Richardson-Bond is the children's librarian at the Cabell County Public Library in downtown Huntington, and by Christmas nights, she's been writer, director and den mother, of sorts, for the children's pre-show, "Santa's Surprise," which will be performed 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 original pre-show is the appetizer for the main show, 5th Avenue Theatre Company's Irving Berlin's White Christmas musical, which is in its last weekend. Accompanied by a 13-piece live orchestra under the direction of Chris Bowling, White Christmas will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets are $15 and $12 for children 12 and under.

Richardson-Bond, who is on the board with Fifth Avenue Theatre Company, said she got involved with the troupe a few years when her niece was in A Christmas Carol, and got hooked.

"It was a lot of fun and I remember (director) Mary Smirl said you'll be back, and I was like 'I don't know about that' but she was right, I kind of got sucked into it and now I'm on the advisory board, and I asked if we were doing anything with the kids and they said 'you can if you want.'"

Richardson-Bond, who wrote "Santa's Surprise," for last year's Christmas pre-show, also wrote, "Titanic Comes to Town," another 30-minute pre-show for last year's "Titanic."

She said the idea was to create short (under 30 minutes-long) pre-shows giving small children and first-time children actors a chance to get on stage, learn lines, simple choreography and singing on a small scale and simple format.

"Other theaters like First Stage really reach the older kids, and so we can take the younger kids and let them get their feet wet so they'll be ready for the other play companies," Richardson-Bond said. "One thing that we do is that every kid wants a line, and so I have found that writing a play was something easier to do on my own. I can go back in and change the script as more kids come and I always have to revise it. This year, I've had four re-writes so every rehearsal almost there's been a new script."

This year, Richardson-Bond is wrangling lines and stage time for 22 children ages 4 to 14 in the 25-minute-long production whose storyline is Santa's elves teaming up to throw him a surprise party for when he gets back from delivering gifts since everyone likes to receive once in a while.

"I know how much my nieces love it and they're in it, so I just want to give all the kids the opportunity to do this," Richardson-Bond said. "It's a lot of work but it is so rewarding. They all think they are an actor and actress now and I love to see how excited they are about it."

Go online at www.cityofhuntingtonfoundation.com for more information.
OK, I'm back.

So the big mistake is where Stacy says, "Other theaters like First Stage really reach the older kids, and so we can take the younger kids and let them get their feet wet so they'll be ready for the other play companies."

Since I'm on the board of First Stage, I have to point out that First Stage does shows for all ages, not just "older kids." The group just wrapped The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which used kids of all ages, and is holding auditions on Saturday for Seussical the Musical, and it's open to kids from pre-school to high school seniors.

First Stage has done shows that focused on older kids, and it's done shows that focused on younger kids. Most of its shows are open to all ages. That's all I'm saying.

Sorry for the rant, I just wanted to set the record straight.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

This Saturday: "Seussical" Auditions

This Saturday, First Stage Theatre Company, Huntington's long-running children's theatre, will hold auditions for its spring show, Seussical the Musical!

The auditions will be held Saturday, Dec. 10, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. (auditioners are welcome anytime between 10 and 5).

They'll be held at the First Stage Building at 222 Seventh Avenue in Huntington (the old Electronics Supply building).

Auditions are open to students from Pre-School age to seniors in High School. There is no charge to audition or participate in the show.

Auditioners should arrive ready to sing about 30 seconds of a song demonstrating range and ability. Script excerpts will be provided for reading. Wear shoes you can dance in - auditioners will be taught a short dance to perform.

The show will be staged at the Keith-Albee Theatre April 20, 21, 22, 26, 27 and 28.

The director is Mary Smirl and the producer is Tommy Smirl. For more information, call Mary or Tommy at 304-525-2557 between 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Good luck!

Monday, December 05, 2011

"It's a Wonderful Life"

Here's a show I somehow missed: It's a Wonderful Life by the Paramount Players!

"Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings," and this time it will happen on the Paramount stage in Ashland during the performance of It's a Wonderful Life. This heart-warming story is a Christmas classic that follows the saga of George Bailey as he discovers what life would be like for his friends and family if he had never been born.

There are three evening performances by the Paramount Players, Thursday through Saturday, December 15 through 17, with a matinee at 3 p.m. Dec. 17.

Tickets are $15 adults, $12 kids.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Last Chance to Catch "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!"

Today's your last chance to catch The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!

The First Stage Theatre Company, Huntington's children's theater, and the Marshall Theatre Alliance have teamed up to present the rollicking show.

Co-directed by the husband and wife team of Justin and Sydnee McElroy, the one-hour play will be presented at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4.

Tickets are $12 and $8 for children. Call the box office at 304-696-2787 for more information.

Based on the best-selling 1972 book by Barbara Robinson, "Pageant" tells the story about the six wild urchins in the Herdman family who come to church just for the snacks and stay to take all the roles in the Sunday School's Christmas play, giving the show a little bit of a twist.

It's a fun show and really captures the meaning of Christmas. Don't miss it!

Friday, December 02, 2011

On Stage: "White Christmas"

Back again by popular demand is the holiday classic White Christmas:
Like an extra helping of mashed potatoes and gravy at Thanksgiving, who's going to turn down seconds of a White Christmas?

Last year, Huntington's 5th Avenue Theatre Company was one of only 20 community theater companies in the nation to get the first crack at putting up the Broadway musical, Irving Berlin's White Christmas: Musical.

They had such a good time swinging into the holidays 1940s style that Fifth Avenue is back dreaming and tap dancing again into the holidays.

Director Eddie Harbert, a cast of more than two dozen actors and a 13-piece orchestra present White Christmas at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 and Dec. 9-10, as well as matinee performances at 2:30 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 4 and 11, at the Jean Carlo Stephenson Auditorium located in Huntington's City Hall.

Tickets are $15 and $12 for children 12 and under.

Harbert, who had just finished up a successful October run of Jekyll and Hyde, said White Christmas was such a tremendous success last year that they made a rare move and decided to stage the production again.

They've actually also got it on the calendar for 2013 as well.

"We're thinking about playing it annually," Harbert said. "It's a story that everybody loves, and everybody loves the music and so everybody loves the songs and it's just a feel good show. It's kind of like Wizard of Oz you know what is going to happen but you don't care because you feel so good in the end. Here in this rush of Christmas we hope White Christmas will become that Christmas tradition that everyone takes their families to see."

Based on the classic 1954 movie that starred Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and regional native starlet Rosemary Clooney (who hails from Augusta, Ky.), White Christmas follows Army buddies Bob Wallace (George Snider) and Phil Davis (Greg Kiser), first on the Western Front in World War II and then in their travels as performers on tour in the U.S.

They run into the talent-laden Haynes sister act, Betty and Judy Haynes (played by Jane Modlin, Brittany Adkins, respectively). When Judy and Phil fall in love, they conspire to reroute the guys to the Vermont lodge where the Haynes sisters were booked.

Although at first reluctant, Bob, gets on fire to create a fresh show with the ladies to help save the Vermont ski resort inn owned by General Waverly (Michael Byrd) by having a show in the barn of the inn. The new collaboration sets off sparks on stage and off as the two pairs of singers find their soulmates.

Kiser and Modlin are two of the only returning major cast members, although Modlin played a different role last year.

Assisting Harbert is musical director Chris Bowling, who directs a 13-piece orchestra, choreographer is Josh Meredith, and producing the show is Maxine Loudermilk, who is responsible for reeling in the hard-to-get rights for the show.

Loudermilk, who was just voted onto the Huntington Wall of Fame earlier this year and who heads up the non-profit City of Huntington Foundation, was applying every six months or so to get the rights to the musical of her favorite holiday movie.

Harbert said the dance and music-packed show is infused with new energy yet benefits greatly from having a year of experience - not to mention costly custom costumes and sets with which to work.

"Different people always make it different and we were able to come up with better things," Harbert said. "We have more snow, and the snow works better this year and so experience helps a lot. For me, last year was learning the show, and I think this year I have a better understanding of the show and I think that's helped us choreographically with new routines. This is also the biggest costumed show we have ever done and at this point will probably ever do. Having those things taken care of has helped me to be more creative about different ideas."

The wheeled set spins from New York to a train to an office in New York to the inn, and then barn in Vermont, as the actors stay on stage while the set revolves behind them.

While veteran choreographer Coni Anthony has done 20 shows with Harbert, she doesn't do Christmas shows, so young dancer Josh Meredith, who was taught to tap by Coni's husband Gene, is taking his first crack at choreographing a show.

"White Christmas in itself is such a dance show, I mean people watch it to see Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney, so I watched the movie a lot to gather inspiration," Meredith said.

Of course, front and center throughout the show are the timeless classic songs of Berlin.

The sisters swoon and sway with super-sized sky-blue ostrich feather fans to "Sisters," the entire cast frolics about on the number, "Snow," both songs from the original movie.

The musical is beefed up by other Berlin hits ("I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," "I Love a Piano," "Let Yourself Go") and, of course, "White Christmas," one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time - written by Berlin for the 1942 movie musical, "Holiday Inn," softly crooned in the movie by Bing Crosby.

That song has sold more than 100 million copies, making it the best selling record of all time, and one that Crosby sang again in "Blue Skies," in 1946 as well as the classic movie, "White Christmas" in 1954.

To add to the holiday magic, White Christmas has added live musical entertainment downstairs in the city hall lobby (where folks buy tickets), as well as a cute, original Christmas children's pre-show that starts about 45 minutes before show time, and written by Stacy Richardson-Bond, who works in the children's department at the Cabell County Public Library.

With Paramount Players set to put up It's a Wonderful Life in a couple weeks, Harbert said it's an exciting time in the Tri-State as fans of the greatest holiday movies can see them come to life on stage.

"This year with us and the Players doing 'Wonderful Life' you have your choice of these perennial favorites and instead of just seeing them on TV you can go and see them live and let that become a tradition."

All in the Family at "Best Christmas Pageant Ever"

My pal Dave Lavender files this excellent story about The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which runs tonight and this weekend:
While Marshall University students are prepping for finals, the younger kids in the area have commandeered the bright lights of the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center.

The First Stage Theatre Company, Huntington's children's theater, and the Marshall Theatre Alliance have teamed up to present the rollicking show, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

Co-directed by the husband and wife team of Justin and Sydnee McElroy, the one-hour play will be presented at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2 and 3, as well as 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4.

Tickets are $12 and $8 for children. Call the box office at 304-696-2787 for more information.

Based on the best-selling 1972 book by Barbara Robinson, "Pageant" tells the story about the six wild urchins in the Herdman family who come to church just for the snacks and stay to take all the roles in the Sunday School's Christmas play, giving the show a little bit of a twist.

Robinson adapted the book to the stage, and since 1982 it has been a solid community theater holiday hit around the world. The book was made into an ABC movie in 1983 starring Loretta Swit, of MASH fame.

The McElroys, who also co-directed the play back in 2005 for First Stage when they weren't married, said although they're both super busy, they couldn't pass up a chance to have another go at "Christmas Pageant."

"It takes about six years to wash away any bad memories, so we thought wasn't that a lot of fun," Sydnee McElroy said.

"Yeah, you know survivors of disasters are often drawn together," said Justin McElroy.

Seriously, though, both said they were drawn to the play for the fun of it and the chance to work with the First Stage family, which includes family of their own since Justin McElroy's dad Clint McElroy, and Sydnee's mom, Mary Smirl are the producers. Sydnee's sister Rileigh Smirl is also in the play.

"It's easy to get lost in everything you have to do, all the stress of the holidays but being around all of these kids they are just so excited and being out there and having fun celebrating Christmas is kind of refreshing and that is what it is all about," Sydnee McElroy said. "Everybody being together and sharing this time of year and it's kind of been a family affair for us."

In her third year of residency through Marshall University's School of Medicine at Marshall Family Practice, Sydnee McElroy had to not only direct, but had to step in to play the role of the Mother when someone dropped out.

"Strangely enough this is probably my biggest role and the most lines to do ever, which I didn't plan to do but I was going there every night any way and it's so rewarding and such a nice break," she said. "My job tends to be very serious so getting to go play with 50 kids every night is a great stress reliever. That is the best part for me. The kids are just little comedians, and since it's based on a children's book, it's their kind of humor and it's really hilarious and parents will think it is hilarious too."

Clocking in at just about an hour, the one-act "Christmas Pageant" is a great show to bring the family since it is fast-paced and has a nice message tucked in as well, Justin McElroy said.

"It's just a great show for people who don't see a lot of plays because it's structured a lot like a TV show with quick cuts and 30 seconds here and there and James (Morris-Smith) and the lighting has a lot to do with making that work," he said. "It's also only a one-act so it's good for smaller kids who maybe can't sit through a whole play."

Justin McElroy, who graduated from Marshall with a theater degree, said they've felt blessed to be able to come back to the home turf and get to utilize the professional talents of MU's award-winning staff such as Morris-Smith and Deborah Carder-Deem.

Clint McElroy seconded that emotion.

"When Mary Smirl and I, the co-producers, were putting together the deal with Marshall we were blown away that we would be able to use what is one of the best facilities and most creative theater programs in the region," he said. "Our kids are loving the experience, and there's a lot of connections inside the school too. Chris Crawford - one of the crew in the theater department - started out with First Stage and now he is in theater because he fell in love with it doing First Stage. It's fun to see it come full circle."

Thursday, December 01, 2011

On Stage in December

Holy cow, it's December already?

Here are a list of the shows taking the stage this month - as always, if I missed any, let me know by clicking the comment link below, or email me at TheMinskers@aol.com.

Now, on to the list:

- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever - First Stage Theatre Company presents the one-hour play at Marshall University's Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 1, 2 and 3, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4.

- White Christmas - 5th Avenue Theatre Company presents the holiday musical Dec. 2, 3, 9 and 10 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 4 and 11 at 2:30 p.m. at Huntington's City Hall auditorium.

- A Christmas Carol: Scrooge and Marley - Ashland Community and Technical College presents the classic holiday tale Dec. 1, 2 and 3 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 4 at 2:30 p.m.

- Mary - CYAC presents its annual musical about the mother of Jesus at 8 p.m. Dec. 1, 2 and 3 at the WVSU Capitol Center at 123 Summers Street in Charleston.

- The Littlest Angel - The Children's Theatre of Charleston presents the play at the Charleston Civic Center Little Theatre Dec. 8 - 11.

- The Santaland Diaries - Portmouth Little Theatre presents the play Dec. 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m.

- The Story of My Life - Charleston Stage Company presents the play at the Capitol Theatre Dec. 8 - 10 and 15 - 17 at 7:30 p.m.

- Black Nativity - Kanawha Players presents the play Dec. 15 - 18.

- It's a Wonderful Life - The Paramount Players will present the classic holiday tale on the Paramount stage in Ashland Dec. 15 through 17, with a matinee at 3 p.m. Dec. 17.

So lots of great shows to check out - Happy Holidays, everyone!

"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!"

My lovely wife and I had a wonderful time last night at the first performance of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever! (Not counting the sold-out school show earlier in the day.)

I admit to being prejudiced - I am on the board of the First Stage Theatre Company (although I wasn't directly involved with this show) - but the show is a pure delight, and guaranteed to get you in the Christmas spirit.

The play is a co-production with the Marshall Theatre Alliance, and it's what we call a "small" show, with minimal sets and costuming, but the army of young performers put on a terrific show.

It tells the story of the attempts by a church to stage its annual Christmas pageant - but things go terribly wrong when the world's "worst" family, the Herdmans, decide to take part. Will the show be a disaster - or can the holiday work its magic and make this the best pageant ever?

The show will make you laugh and may even bring a tear to your eye (as it did for me). Special kudos to the choir that provides songs that bridge between scenes - they're terrific!

You have several more chances to catch the show - it runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Marshall's Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center.

Go see it - you can thank me later!