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Spot On British Silliness Lifts Market Theatre's "The 39 Steps"

By Paul Hyde/Anderson Observer

If you’re in the mood for a frothy comic melodrama, “The 39 Steps” at the Market Theatre is just the ticket.

British-style silliness and vaudevillian hijinks propel director Drew Whitley’s high-energy staging of this four-person play, which opened Friday.

Matt Groves is Richard Hannay, a world-weary Canadian who, in search of some excitement, finds himself mixed up in international intrigue in England and Scotland.

Liza Hunter plays three roles (ranging from ingenue to femme fatale) and Matt Groves is Richard Hannay in the Market Theatre’s production of “The 39 Steps,” continuing through Sunday. (Photo: Escobar Photography)

Liza Hunter plays three characters while Jessie Davis and Savvy Thompson fill in dozens of other roles in this spy caper, which has been produced widely throughout the U.S. - including two fine stagings in Greenville in the past decade.

Underneath the giddy proceedings, there’s a story of an organization of spies trying to steal British military secrets. But don’t worry too much about the plot: Laughter is this play’s real raison d’etre.

The comedy’s episodic storyline closely tracks the script of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film noir of the same name, which in turn is based on a novel by John Buchan. Patrick Barlow adapted both the film and novel to come up with this stage version. (Both Hitchcock and Barlow improved upon Buchan’s rather tedious novel.)

Granted, you have to be in the right mood for this stylized and cheerfully over-the-top play, which includes amusing allusions to other Hitchcock classics such as “North by Northwest,” “The Birds,” “Rear Window” and “Vertigo.” Catch ’em if you can.

Much of the humor emerges from watching the Etch-A-Sketch clowns Davis and Thompson shift identities, often in the blink of an eye, with the quick change of a hat and accent. They’re cops one moment, secret agents or dotty women’s underwear salesmen the next. Usually, these two roles are played by men. Whitley’s casting of women was a bold and inspired choice. 

Whitley sets a breathless pace and stuffs the play with an abundance of comic bits. This staging succeeds best when it’s most flamboyant. One caveat: The scene changes slowed things down a little too much on opening night.

Groves plays Hannay as a young everyman - suave, confident and game for whatever fate may toss in his direction.

Hunter brings a winsome appeal to three vivid roles: the femme fatale Annabella, the wistful Glaswegian farm girl Margaret and the plucky ingenue Pamela.

Davis and Thompson take on more than a dozen roles with nimble comic versatility. My favorites include a pious Scottish clod with a thick brogue and the fact-spouting Mr. Memory. 

Cameron Woodson’s scenic design, which includes a marvelously nostalgic proscenium arch and set of footlights, is superb. 

This effervescent production of “The 39 Steps” continues at the Market Theatre through Sunday. For tickets, call 864-729-2999 or see the website

Paul Hyde, a longtime Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Anderson Observer. Follow Paul on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.


Anderson Bluegrass Festival to Feature Top Talent Oct. 24-26

Anderson Observer

A who's who of bluegrass will visit Anderson later this month, for the 3rd Annual Anderson Bluegrass Festival, scheduled from Oct. 24-26 at the civic center.

The three-day event, sponsord by Adams Bluegrass, will run from noon-10 p.m. Oct.24-25, and 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Oct. 26, and features the top artists in the field. 

On Oct. 24, bands include Tiger Town Roots, Deeper Shade of Blue, Cane Creek Bluegrass Band, Sons of the South, Sideline and Rhonda Vincent (Queen of Bluegrass) with her band The Rage.

The Oct. 25 lineup of talent features the King James Boys, Tugalo Holler, The Little Roy & Lizzy Show, Carolina Blue, The Grascals and Carson Peters and Iron Mountain. 

The Oct. 26 show brings Mike & Mary Robinson & Friends for a gospel jam and goes until 10:00 p.m. featuring The Marksmen, Larry & Karen Stancil, Backline, The Malpass Brothers. As a grand finale, Dailey & Vincent (Stars of the Grand Ole Opry) will perform one 90-minute show at 8:00 p.m.

VIP seating and general admission tickets are still available as 3-day passes or daily passes.  VIP is closer to the stage and is $5 more per ticket. 

Adult VIP, 3-Day passes are $95.00 ($50 for children 7-15); General Admission 3-day passes are $90.00; Adult VIP Daily passes are $45.00 ($25 for children 7-15) ; Adult General Admission Daily tickets are $40.00 ($20 for children 7-15).

Children under 7 are admitted free with parent holding ticket. 

For more information

Tickets can be ordered by phone at 706-864-7203 or online

Camping (no hook ups) is available for $20 per night.


Still Time to See Foothills Playhouse "On Golden Pond"

Anderson Observer

Foothills Playhouse has two more weekends of their opening show of the season "On Golden Pond."

Shows are Friday and Saturday nights, Oct. 4-5 and Oct. 11-12 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday manitees Oct. 6 and Oct. 13 at 3 p.m.

“On Golden Pond” is being directed by Anne Robards, who is no stranger to the Upstate Theatre Community. She recently won the 2019 Southeastern Theater Conference’s Outstanding Achievement in Acting award for her role as Lady Capulet in the Mill Town Players’ production of “Romeo & Juliet”, and she was last seen on stage at Foothills as the lovable Granny in “The Beverly Hillbillies.


Cast members for this production are: Maurice Reed (Norman Thayer, Jr.); Rose Waaser (Ethel Thayer); Derick A. Pindroh (Charlie Martin); Evan Baldwin (Billy Thayer); Sheri Taylor (Chelsea Thayer Wayne); and Jay Perfater (Bill Ray).

Tickets for the show are $12 for General Admission, and $10 for Students, Senior Adults, Active Military, and First Responders. Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office, or by calling the main Theatre Office at 864-855-1817. They can also be purchased online at the website:


MTP Homespun "Bright Star" Lives Up to Name

By Paul Hyde/Anderson Observer

The Mill Town Players pull out all the stops for the South Carolina premiere of “Bright Star,” the homespun, tear-jerking musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.

This is a dream production with an outstanding leading cast, an ensemble that creates glowing harmonies,Hannah Thompson is dynamic in the leading role of Alice in the Mill Town Players’ “Bright Star.” photo credit: Escobar photographyand an onstage band that gives the show an exuberant spirit and momentum.

You’ll want to get your tickets soon, so you can return for a second time before it all concludes on Oct. 6. It’s that good.

Mill Town always does fine work, but Mary Nickles’ staging of “Bright Star” takes the Pelzer-based theater to the next level. In addition to the superb cast and onstage band, the choreography (credited to Nickles, Mark Spung-Wiles and Terrie Poore) reaches new heights in inventiveness and polish.

One other thing you should know: The Broadway cast recording of the show, with the toe-tapping sounds of fiddle and banjo prominent, won the 2017 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. It’s easy to see why: The catchy music by Martin and Brickell – a combination of bluegrass, country, southern gospel and rockabilly – is irresistible.

The story centers on Alice, a tough-minded editor of a Southern literary journal in 1940s Asheville, North Carolina. Flashbacks to the 1920s show Alice as a spunky teen, a dreamer with a rebellious streak and a love for literature and Jimmy Ray Dobbs, the son of a small-town mayor.

The heart of the show is the rough road Alice traveled in between and the heart-wrenching sacrifices she made.

Ultimately, it’s a story of redemption, of lives torn apart and made whole again. It aspires to the best sort of hopeful, three-hankie ending.

The show enjoyed a respectable stint on Broadway but deserved a longer run. Perhaps it was too heartfelt for New York, which prefers gaudy spectacle or edgy irreverence. In the South, the land of Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers, a sentimental and emotionally wrought yarn like “Bright Star” is not at all unfamiliar.

Nickles brings energy, focus and clarity to a musical that could become confusing, toggling between the 1920s and 40s.

The four young leading characters are vocally and dramatically superb. 

Hannah Thompson, as Alice, is a dynamic and sympathetic presence, shifting easily from ingenue to commanding adult, her voice soaring on such tunes as “At Long Last.”

As Jimmy Ray, John Mark Elliott is a young, lanky, likeable leading man with suave vocals.

Seth Crawford radiates earnestness and youthful hopes as Billy, a solder returning from World War II. Kelsey Crews is charming and irrepressible in the role of Billy’s friend Margo. Both sing appealingly.

Will Ragland, the Mill Town Players’ executive artistic director, plays the scheming small-town mayor, and Ragland has never been fiercer on stage. Dressed like a cross between Colonel Sanders and Tennessee Williams’ Big Daddy, Ragland is the very picture of the bombastic, self-serving and self-righteous politician of southern lore.

And then there’s some pleasing comic relief provided by the nimble Aaron Pennington (as Daryl), Mark Spung-Wiles (Max) and Hannah Morton (Lucy). Morton shines in the song “Another Round.” 

Rod McClendon is warmly endearing as Billy’s well-meaning father.

It’s nice to see former state Rep. Phyllis Henderson in the cast. She and Ken Thomason offer fine contributions as Alice’s parents.

Music director Joshua C. Morton elicits shimmering harmonies from the ensemble and a buoyant performance from the onstage band.

Ragland has outdone himself in his scenic design – a wooden raked stage and a bucolic backdrop of stars and the Blue Ridge mountains.

Danae Harris’ period costumes could hardly be better. Tony Penna’s lighting design is pitch-perfect.

My one caveat about the production is that Brickell’s graceful lyrics are not given their full justice. The best model of how it should be, however, is Ragland, the veteran actor, making every word count.

Quibbles aside, “Bright Star” is a must-see production. For tickets, call the Mill Town Players at 864-947-8000 or visit the

Paul Hyde, a longtime Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Anderson Observer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.


Mill Town Players Hit Bullseye with "Annie Get Your Gun"

By Paul Hyde/Anderson Observer

Before the summer of 2019 slips away, Mill Town Players is offering a sunny, rip-snorting production of “Annie Get Your Gun.”

Sarah Greene stars as Annie Oakley in the Mill Town Players’ “Annie Get Your Gun,” continuing through Aug. 4 at the Pelzer Auditorium. (Photo by Escobar Photography LLC).Irving Berlin’s classic 1946 musical really is a perfect summertime treat, as sugary and refreshing as a tall glass of sweet tea.

Director Lauren Imhoff’s blithe and breezy staging features a dynamite cast led by Sarah Greene and Bradley Lucore as the two sharpshooters Annie Oakley and Frank Butler who toggle between comic rivalry and blissful infatuation.

Annie and Frank fall in love as stars of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show but their fierce competitiveness forces them apart. Will love triumph in the end? Need one ask?

A host of beloved musical standards propels the show -- “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” “Anything You Can Do,” “They Say It’s Wonderful,” and the boisterous curtain-raiser “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” among other favorites.

Imhoff, assisted by Lucy Southwell, brings to the production a pleasing clarity and comic inventiveness that reaches sublime heights in the competitive duet “Anything You Can Do.” 

The principal cast and chorus of almost two dozen make a bountiful sound in the Pelzer Auditorium on “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and other big ensemble numbers.

Greene and Lucore are terrific as Annie and Frank. Greene’s irrepressible Annie has a sparkling smile and a lovely voice. Her rendition of the divine “Moonshine Lullaby” is sweetly rendered. But Greene also has some powerful pipes that she unleashes when needed.

Lucore exhibits a resonant baritone that’s also capable of a warm, expressive croon. 

It’s easy to overplay “Annie Get Your Gun.” Greene and Lucore opt for understatement, delivering the show’s sometimes corny jokes naturally. The musical’s humor still hits the mark: The opening night crowd seemed to have a grand time.

Will Ragland, the founder of the Mill Town Players, returns to the stage as Buffalo Bill Cody, a role Ragland embraces with gusto.

A romantic subplot involves Drake King (Tommy Keeler) and Waverly Speranza (Winnie Tate), who make a fetching and spirited young couple.

Laura Beth Beckner, as Frank’s assistant Dolly Tate, is appropriately catty and sarcastic. Joe Welborn plays Chief Sitting Bull with comic stoicism. 

It’s great to see self-assured Upstate stage veterans like Bud Shevick (Pawnee Bill) and Tom Holahan (Foster Wilson) in this production. 

Other fine contributions are offered by Alex Robinson and the beaming, energetic children Alice Johnson, Daisy Bates and Riley Fincher-Foster.

One caveat: On opening night, Annie and her siblings were too well-scrubbed at the beginning of the show. They’re supposed to be hillbillies at the outset: References are made to their comically grubby appearance, but Greene’s Annie was gorgeous when she first stepped foot on stage. That shortchanges the “Fair Lady”-arc of her character.

Imhoff’s production follows Peter Stone’s 1999 version of the show, which updates the musical in a thoroughly appealing way, eliminating some cringe-worthy songs and scenes, and giving Annie greater self-assertion. She’s a forward-looking character, anticipating changes in women’s status. Frank, meanwhile, is stuck in the privileges of his gender – but he seems to have the capacity to change.

There’s a subplot that touches on prejudice against Tommy, who is half-Native American, and though the subject is treated lightly, it resonates against the backdrop of today’s political climate.

Musical director Julie Florin deserves credit for the superb vocal preparation. Kudos to Florin particularly for emphasizing clarity in diction. 

Stacey Hawks’ costumes – including some sumptuous ballroom gowns -- are outstanding.

Ragland, scenic artist Abby Brown and graphic designer Ryan Bradburn created the excellent big top setting for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. 

This peppy production of “Annie Get Your Gun” continues through Aug. 4 at the Pelzer Auditorium. For tickets, a bargain at only $10-$12, call 864-947-8000 or visit the website

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Anderson Observer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7. Follow the Facebook page Upstate Onstage for the latest in arts news and reviews.