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Foothills Playhouse Kicks Off New Era with Divine "Godspell"

By Paul Hyde/The Anderson Observer

Easley's Foothills Playhouse is beginning a bright new era with a spirited production of "Godspell."

This high-octane account of Stephen Schwartz's 1971 musical spotlights a talented young local cast withDrew Whitley, foreground, is featured as Jesus in "Godspell," continuing through Oct. 21 at Easley's Foothills Playhouse. (Photo Credit: Escobar Photography)  bountiful vocal power. 

The show, with a pop-rock score, is a contemporary retelling of parables from the Gospels, concluding with scenes from the Last Supper and Crucifixion.

The 12-member ensemble, under the creative direction of Noah Taylor, gleefully embraces the show's over-the-top thrust.

Taylor's joyfully rambunctious staging often boasts the freewheeling exuberance of improv or sketch comedy.

Taylor's actors offer self-assured, committed performances. They occasionally veer off script to toss in local references, some of which got the biggest laughs at Friday's opening night.

This production marks the first show under the playhouse's new executive artistic director, Will Ragland, who hopes to revive the theater's fortunes after a recent period of declining attendance.

Ragland designed the excellent set for "Godspell"-- an abandoned cotton mill, in keeping with the musical's theme of hope in a time of decay and uncertainty.

"Godspell" has always been iconoclastic. Book writer John-Michael Tebelak provides a zippy modern take on familiar biblical stories. The irreverence has a reverent purpose, underscoring that Jesus' ideas, focusing on love rather than money, are ever-young, always challenging and always revolutionary. (An improvised reference to Occupy Easley drives the point home.) 

The show is episodic, exploring one parable after another, with Jesus serving as teacher, and the rest of the ensemble portraying disciples and characters in the stories.

It's remarkable to recall that Schwartz was only in his early 20s when he wrote the music and lyrics for "Godspell" and the equally experimental "Pippin." ("Wicked," his brilliant if more conventional Broadway blockbuster, was 30 years in the future.)

Schwartz's songs hold up well, and this cast delivers them with zest.

When the 12 voices combine as an ensemble, the sound is full and rich.

As Jesus, Drew Whitley balances a commanding presence (he's taller than the rest of the cast) with a gentle voice. He applies honeyed vocals to "Save the People" and but pointedly declaims "Alas For You."

Austin Smith, as Judas and John the Baptist, is nimble in action and voice, offering a sweetly intoned "On the Willows."

Kellsey Vickers provides a lovely account of "Day By Day," one of the show's big hits. Hannah Morton brings a powerhouse voice to "Turn Back, O Man."

Ben Otto Sunderman delivers "We Beseech Thee" with gusto.

Cristin A. Brown sings a warm "By My Side" against the shimmering harmonies of the ensemble.

Also vocally strong are Drew Kenyon ("All Good Gifts") and Nathan Oliver ("Light of the World").

Maggie McNeil and Sims Hall soar on, respectively, "Bless the Lord" and "Learn Your Lessons Well." 

Solid contributions are also offered by Ryvers Martin and Bradley Miller.

Julia Miller and Joshua C. Morton are responsible for the superb musical preparation. Ashley Bingham created the energetic dances.

This production uses recorded music, but the sound is good -- and not too soft in volume. (A rock musical has got to rock.)

This dynamic "Godspell" continues through Oct. 21. For tickets, call 864-855-1817 or visit the website

And don't forget to check out the rest of the Foothills Playhouse season: "Elf Jr.: The Musical" (Nov. 30-Dec. 16), "Steel Magnolias" (Feb. 8-24), "Charlotte's Web" (March 29-April 14), "Willy Wonka" (May 31-June 16) and "9 to 5" (July 26-Aug. 18).

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Observer. Write to him at Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.


AU's “Hazel Louise” a Love Letter to Grandmother with Alzheimer's disease

Observer and AU Reports

Anderson University’s Dr. Deborah McEniry will star in the one-woman show “Hazel Louise,” Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the Daniel Recital Hall.  

McEniry, chair of the South Carolina School of the Arts at AU, co-wrote the  play “Hazel Louise,” with her cousin Dr. Alicia Corts as a tribute to their late grandmother Hazel Louise Corts.

The play is a love letter to their grandmother, who died in 1998, following her life from the days as a child in Illinois during the Great Depression to her final days in West Palm Beach, Florida.

“Gramz practiced kindness until it became a habit,” McEniry said. “She never spoke harshly to anyone. I think her kindness and thoughtfulness was so habitual that even though she didn’t always know much about what was happening those last few years, she still knew how to be kind and polite.” 

The play is more than a love letter, though.  

Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and the only one for which there is no cure or effective treatment, with more than five million suffering from the ailment. It is both progressive and incurable.  

Cindy Alewine, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of South Carolina, has spent nearly 30 years of her life fighting the disease. 

“The hardest part, I think, is a patient losing their memories,” Alewine said. “Families tell us it’s like losing their loved ones a little bit at a time. They are still there, of course, but they lose their ability to communicate and they lose their personality. They forget who their children and grandchildren are. And that’s so painful.”

It’s a pain McEniry knows well.  

“Even at the very end, she never got that combative spirit that can be common in Alzheimer’s patients,” McEniry said. “She didn’t know my name at the end, but she knew that I was someone she loved and so she just called me ‘sweetheart,’ and that was good enough for me.” 

McEniry hopes her performance will generate awareness that will help lead to a cure. 

“The disease has been around for a long time; Dr. Alzheimer’s discovery took place in 1906,” McEniry said. “The National Institute for Aging was formed in the 1970s. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America was formed in 2002. Significant progress has been made, but more research is needed — particularly with an aging Baby Boomer population. My hope is that the more we can make our public aware of the disease and what it takes from the person and the person’s family, the more we can increase medical research and funding.” 

McEniry will also perform the play (under her stage name, Deborah Colleen White) Oct. 14 at the United Solo Festival on Theatre Row in New York City.


Anderson University Stages Bold “Enemy of The People"

By Paul Hyde/Anderson Observer

Does the truth still matter?

It’s a question Americans seem to be mulling a lot these days.Anderson University stages bold “Enemy” about truth

And it’s an issue at the heart of Arthur Miller’s bold and strikingly relevant adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People,” which opened Thursday at Anderson University’s Belk Theatre.

An all-student cast, under the deft direction of AU theater professor Robert Homer-Drummond, offers a powerful production of this drama about the fate of truth in a society ruled by fear, self-interest and hyper-partisanship.

Ibsen’s “Enemy” is set in 1882 although Homer-Drummond has moved the play up to the 1950s, when Miller wrote his adaptation.

The play centers on an honest, public-spirited man, Dr. Thomas Stockmann, who has discovered an inconvenient truth: that the water in his spa town has been poisoned by industrial pollution. 

The water threatens the health and lives of the people who journey to enjoy the touristy baths.

But the town’s fortunes depend on the income from the springs. It is, as one character says, “a gold mine.”

As always in the case of big environmental threats (think Flint, nuclear waste and climate change), fixing the problem of the polluted springs will cost a lot of public money. And the springs will have to be shut down for two years.

It matters little that Stockmann has the strength of scientific evidence on his side. It’s a fact that people are being poisoned by the springs. But the town’s self-satisfied leaders, notably Stockmann’s authoritarian brother, Peter, who happens to be the mayor, are much less concerned about the welfare of others than about their own wallets. 

It’s an age-old conflict: truth versus mammon.

For speaking truth to power and trying to save his town, Thomas Stockmann is branded “an enemy of the people.” (It’s a chilling phrase, of course, that has been hurled recently at the American press by a current elected official at the highest level of government.)

It was a gutsy decision for Anderson University to produce this play only a few weeks before an election. “Enemy” takes a dim view of fat cats, conservative conformity, and government complacency and secrecy.

The play’s heroes are the free press and truth-telling liberal reformers.

Miller wrote this extensive adaptation of Ibsen’s drama during that remarkable eight-year period when the playwright produced his other great morality plays: “All My Sons,” “Death of a Salesman,” “The Crucible” and “A View from the Bridge.”

“Enemy” shares with those plays Miller’s glowing sense of decency, love of freedom and sympathy for the underdog.

Miller’s prose often breathes righteous fire. It’s a wonderfully rich text, certainly melodramatic at times. Thomas Stockmann, for instance, is both a doubting Thomas and a Christ figure, persecuted for telling the truth and repeatedly tempted by leading citizens – or as he puts it, “all the ambassadors of hell” -- to compromise his principles.

He is, however, a man who can’t be bought.

Homer-Drummond, the director, and assistant director Megan Rosener lead a dynamic production in AU’s intimate Belk Theatre. The actors deliver the text with clarity and force, even if the play on Thursday night never quite reached its full rafter-shaking potential. There were a few awkward pauses on opening night and sight-line problems as well, although continued performances should tighten things up.

Homer-Drummond and Rosener, much to their credit, identify several opportunities for humor in what is otherwise a serious drama. Moving the 19th century play to the 1950s was a clever idea, likely to put the audience in mind of the repressive McCarthy era that ensnared such great talents as Arthur Miller. What happens in Ibsen/Miller’s Norwegian town certainly is akin to a Red Scare in miniature.

Nick Holland and John Leggett contribute strong, standout performances as, respectively, the hero Dr. Thomas Stockmann and his blunt brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann. Their pitched confrontations are highlights of the play.

Kelly Lee is a sympathetic Catherine Stockmann, Thomas’ wife, the family peacemaker.

Cami Walters is a winning Petra Stockmann, Thomas’ daughter, a teacher who represents Ibsen’s clear-eyed, independent-minded woman of the future.

Tyler Rabideau does a nice turn as the doddering old publisher Aslaksen, Ibsen’s symbol of the complacent bourgeoisie, with his constant shouts of “moderation!”

DeAndre Weaver plays the sailor Captain Horster with the right note of devil-may-care gusto.

Maggie McNeil steals a scene as the forthright town drunk.

Other fine contributions are offered by Griffen Poore, Tyler White, Adam Hobbs, Aaron Fletcher, Eli Stone and Alexis Morehead.

The set by Dalton Cole and Cami Waters is excellent, foregrounded by a misty water stream: a suggestion of the poisoned waters and a potent reminder that empirical truth is hard to deny. 

Three performances remain of this compelling “An Enemy of the People”: 2 and 7:30 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, see the Anderson University website or call 864-231-2080.

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about everything under the South Carolina sun. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.


Wonderettes Sock Hops into Music, Nostalgia

By Paul Hyde/Anderson Observer

The Mill Town Players has enjoyed great success recently with nostalgic jukebox musicals. In July, the irresistible "Beehive" took audiences back to the pop songs of the 1960s.

"The Marvelous Wonderettes," which opened Friday, journeys back further -- to the 1950s -- with charm and feel-good glee.

Terrie West Poore directs a quartet of talented local actresses in this blithe and peppy production that evokes a simpler time, tugging ever-so-lightly at the heartstrings as it puts a smile on your face.

"The Marvelous Wonderettes," written by Roger Bean, focuses on four high school students who are called on to perform at their 1958 senior prom as a last-minute replacement. That setup allows for some cutesy high jinks and comic awkwardness as the girls entertain their "classmates" (the audience, that is) with songs in close four-part harmony.

The story is told through more than two dozen familiar pop tunes from the 1950s and 60s, such as "Lollipop," "Dream Lover," "Stupid Cupid," "It's My Party" and "It's In His Kiss."

Act II finds the girls 10 years later, returning for their class reunion. The easy cares of their teenage years have been replaced by bigger real-life issues, particularly romantic disappointments.

But in this joyful musical, it's a pretty safe bet that love will find a way.

The show makes considerable demands on its four actresses, who never leave the stage -- well, except to interact with the audience.

There were a few rough patches at Friday's opening, but continued performances should tighten things up.

Poore, the director, has assembled a winning cast. As an ensemble, the four produce some lovely sounds. To mention one episode: The shimmering, yearning harmonies of "Dream" which morph into "Dream Lover" are pure magic.

Poore's spirited choreography evokes 1950s and 60s social dances. She elicits vivid performances from her four actresses. Each enjoys a few solo moments in the spotlight.

Amy Blom, as Cindy Lou, is marvelous as the would-be high school princess, perfectly coiffed and with perfect teeth always beaming. She seems to channel Amy Adams from the film "Enchanted." Blom has a ballet dancer's arms, which she puts to graceful use in her pretty "Allegheny Moon." In Act II, she sings a heartfelt "Maybe."

Laura Bennett plays Betty Jean, the delightful cutup of the quartet. Vocally, Bennett soars on "That's When the Tears Start."

Kelsey Crews, as Missy, delivers an assertive "Wedding Bell Blues" and follows that with "You Don't Own Me," knocking it out of the park.

Laura Beth Cannon, as Suzy, closes the revels with a dynamite "RESPECT."

Chase McAbee is responsible for the fine musical direction -- and he also serves as stage manager and light board technician.

The show makes use of recorded music, which is not as appealing as live music, but it works.

Will Ragland designed the pleasing, heart-themed set.

This crowd-pleasing "Marvelous Wonderettes" continues through Sept. 30: Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 3 p.m. For tickets, call 864-947-8000 or visit the website

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about everything under the South Carolina sun. Write to him at Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.


Market Theatre Announces Ambitious 9-Show Season

By Paul Hyde/Anderson Observer

Before a packed crowd Thursday night, Anderson’s Market Theatre Co. announced its most ambitious season ever, with a total of nine shows planned.

On tap for 2019 will be two free outdoor productions, two children’s shows and seven Broadway musicals.

Two big Upstate premieres are scheduled: “Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical” and “Heathers: The Musical.”

The Market Theatre’s season runs on the calendar year. Here’s the full fourth-season lineup:

  •  “Our Town” (Feb. 8-17). Thornton Wilder’s classic 1938 play, a slice of nostalgic Americana, focuses on the ordinary and beautiful events in the lives of people in a small town. (Directed by Robert Fuson) 
  •  “How I Became a Pirate” (March 22-April 7). The children’s show is based on the book by Melinda Long with music and lyrics by the veteran creative team of Janet Yates Vogel and Mark Friedman. (Directed by Aaron Pennington) 
  •  “Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical” (May 17-June 2). The Depression-era outlaws mix crime with romance in Frank Wildhorn’s 2009 show. “Bonnie & Clyde” was the most-requested show in a recent survey of Market audiences.
  •  Free Shakespeare in the Park (June 21-24). Shakespeare in the Park will be "The Adventures of Pericles," an epic journey of myth, magic and adventure. One storm at sea brings love, and another takes it away. Pericles, Prince of Tyre journeys to find redemption in one of Shakespeare's hidden gems. The free performances of a play by Shakespeare return for the fifth year in Anderson’s Carolina Wren Park. 
  • “Heathers: The Musical” (July 19-Aug. 4). Based on the 1989 cult film by John Waters, “Heathers” looks at the joys and anguish of high school, with a provocative message about bullying. (Directed by Christopher Rose) 
  • “The Sixth Annual 24-Hour Musical” (August TBA). The Market Theatre partners with a charity to put together an entire Broadway-style musical in 24 hours. (Directed by Drew Whitley) 
  • “Into the Woods” – a free production in Carolina Wren Park (September 5-15). Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning musical offers a modern take on familiar fairy tales. (Directed by the Noah Taylor)
  • “The 39 Steps” (Oct. 10-20). The fast-paced spy caper is based on Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, in turn based on a John Buchan novel. (Directed by Drew Whitley) 
  • “Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” (Dec 5-15). The irrepressible Junie and her first-grade classmates return in a holiday show to delight children and their parents. (Directed by Jessica Wayland)

“Our goal is to offer quality, affordable entertainment and something for everyone,” said Noah Taylor, executive artistic director of the Market Theatre.


The Market Theatre in 2018 has enjoyed a banner year, with ticket sales likely to break previous records, Taylor said.

Even as the Market Theatre makes plans for its 2019 season, two shows remain this year: “The Addams Family” (Oct. 12-28) and “Annie” (Nov. 29-Dec. 16).

Though Market performances take place mostly in the theater’s warehouse-style space, the theater has never shied away from big musicals such as “Legally Blonde” and the recent edgy hit “Cabaret.”

“That gives us the courage to take on challenging and bold shows in the future,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s “dream project” for 2019 is the production of “Into the Woods” to be presented admission-free in Carolina Wren Park, thanks to the support of the City of Anderson.

“The City of Anderson has been thrilled with the success of Shakespeare in the Park, so when I took the idea of taking ‘Into the Wood’ outside under the stars, the city said ‘absolutely.’ There was no hesitation,” Taylor said.

The Market Theatre has staged one children’s show every year but Taylor decided to up that to two children’s shows in 2019.

“Kids shows are so popular,” he said.

A children’s show based on the beloved “Junie B. Jones” books sold out its entire run in the Market’s first season, so the theater will present another account of the young heroine in “Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” in December 2019. 

Taylor founded both Anderson’s Shakespeare in the Park and “The 24-Hour Musical,” but those projects were not part of the Market Theatre’s operations. That changes in 2019.

“Now they’re going to officially be under the same brand,” Taylor said.

The overall aim of the Market Theatre is to please as many tastes as possible, Taylor said.

“I’m excited to announce a bigger season and to offer more in terms of diversity and opportunities for people to be involved,” he said. “We want to be a place that unifies the community.”

For tickets to the 2019 Market Theatre season, see the website or call 864-729-2999.

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about everything under the South Carolina sun. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7. Write to him at