Arts

'We Sing to Remember' at First Baptist Church

09COSWell into the 2017-18 concert season, the Cumberland Oratorio Singers are set to bring a choral Christmas performance to the Sandhills. Saturday, Dec. 16, don’t miss “We Sing to Remember” at First Baptist Church.

This is the first year for Jason Britt as the group’s director. “We are doing final preparations on ‘Messiah.’ We have one more rehearsal before the performance, and it is all going according to plan. I am holding on tight and enjoying the ride,” he said.

Two other groups are singing. One of them is the Campbellton Youth Chorus. “They are doing a couple of things – ‘Sing We Now of Christmas’ and an arrangement of ‘Christmas Time Is Here,’” Britt said. “The Cross Creek Chorale, which is an auditioned group within the Cumberland Oratorio Singers, is doing ‘O Magnum Mysterium,’ a Latin piece by Morten Lauridsen, and we are also performing Chesnokov’s ‘Salvation Is Created.’” And, of course, ‘Messiah.’”

 

Every year at Christmas, choral organizations across the country present part one of “Messiah.” It is an oratorio in three parts, Britt said. “It celebrates the birth, death and resurrection of Christ. Typically, about this time of year, we do the first section. The other two parts, they do around Easter. It has been done this way since the 1700s.”

This performance of “Messiah” is significant for Britt on several levels. “This is my first time directing ‘Messiah,’” he said.

Perhaps just as significant is that right out of college, he was asked to do a tenor solo for the piece. “Now 27 years later, I am directing the whole thing. It is surreal. Time has flown, and here I am now at the head of this wonderful organization. It is gratifying, and I am very excited to participate.”

As in years past, people can walk on the day of the performance. “All they need to do is have a score and to be dressed in all black for ladies and dark suits for men,” Britt said.

It is an early concert. “We could be done around 6:30 p.m.,” Britt said. “I hope people choose to stay downtown and make it a compete evening. There are so many nice restaurants downtown; it really is a nice way to complete the evening.”

The Cumberland Oratorio Singers’ spring concert is set for April 27 at Haymount United Methodist Church and is called “We Sing to Experience.” “It is made up of works every choir should perform,” Britt said. “They are works that, if you are in any chorus across America, you have probably performed. It includes pieces by Handel, Haydn, Copland – they are standard works. Good, traditional choral music.” That concert starts at 7:30 p.m.

For the Dec. 16 concert, tickets are $27 at the door for non-season ticket holders. Members and groups of 10 or more are $20 as are walk-ons. The performance starts at 5 p.m. Find out more at www. singwithcos.org.

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'The Nutcracker' for everyone

12NutcrackerProductions of “The Nutcracker” ballet are holiday staples around the world. Local nonprofit The Dance Theatre of Fayetteville, however, has a goal that reaches beyond entertaining its audience. TDTF exists to enable every young dancer to perform in “The Nutcracker” regardless of their family’s income level, regardless of race, regardless of disability, and regardless of fitting into the stereotypical image of what a ballerina looks like. Its production runs Dec. 8-10 at Methodist University’s Huff Concert Hall.

Ann Clark Crummie founded TDTF in the 1950s. She opened up board positions to parents of dancers attending any studio in Cumberland County. Her goal was to connect and support young, local dancers. In the ’70s, Crummie found her passion project for the group with “The Nutcracker.” Though she passed away this May, her legacy is alive and well.

 

 

The only requirement for participation in “The Nutcracker” is that the child be enrolled in a dance class somewhere in the county. “We just accept people from everywhere,” said TDTF Artistic Director Leslie Dumas. “We buy all the costumes for the kids. … A lot of kids don’t get to participate in a recital or something (like that) because costumes cost so much. … But if they’re in a dance class, they have shoes and tights already, so they come to The Dance Theatre of Fayetteville and don’t have to buy anything else.” The TDTF board pays for everything by holding two fundraisers each year.

Fayetteville native Tara Herringdine, owner of Cumberland Dance Academy in Hope Mills, is the lead choreographer. She began dancing with Crummie at the age of 5. “I am now 44 and still teaching and trying to expose children to the art of dance,” she said. “I began dancing in ‘The Nutcracker’ at age 6, back in the ’70s. I started as a mouse and ended up dancing all the major roles. Now, teaching and choreographing for the company is my way of continuing its legacy.

“The unique quality with our ... performance is that The Dance Theatre of Fayetteville uses no guest artists. Every role in our (show) is performed by locally raised dancers that attend our local dance studios.”

Also unique to TDTF’s “The Nutcracker” is that many of its local dancers are also gymnasts. Dumas owns Leslie’s Dance Academy, which is located within CountrySide Gymnastics. The young gymnasts, some of whom have qualified for and won national competitions, are required to take two dance classes per week to supplement their training. Dumas provides those classes. “Adding unique elements such as gymnastics and tumbling ... brings more dynamics to our show,” Herringdine said. “For some of the more lively dances, such as the Soldier Doll and The Russian Trepak, gymnastics makes for a high-energy, fun, crowd-pleasing performance.”

This year, there are about 80 dancers in the production. The bulk of them come from Dumas’ and Heringdine’s studios. The homegrown talent is comprised of 7 to 18-year-olds as well as college students who return to dance in their favorite show. Primary roles include Jadyn Spitler as Clara, Brandon Turner as the Prince, John Fleshman as Drosselmeyer, Mikela Singleton as the Snow Princess and Ashlyn Williams as Dew Drop.

This year’s production is dedicated to Crummie and will feature some of her original choreography. Beth Heisel, Becca Fazekas and Thomas McGill also contributed choreography. “(Crummie) was a traditional dance teacher; however, she always thought out-of-thebox,” Herringdine said. “She was very creative in her work and brought a unique flair to her choreography. … She made people fall in love with the art of dance.”

Showtimes at Huff Concert Hall are Friday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 9, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 10, at 3 p.m. Tickets cost $10 in advance or $15 at the door for adults, $5 for those 18 and under and free for children 4 and under. Call (910) 850-6363 to reserve your seats.

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'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever' review

09bcpeSome things just go together – like popcorn and movies or a cup of coffee and the morning - but nothing quite compares with the holiday season and “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” Both wholesome and zany, the story has been around since 1971, with its own ABC television special to boot. Yet the 27th annual stage production of the story at Cape Fear Regional Theatre still manages to tease out laughs, cuteness and the power of generosity – everything that makes “BCPE” so special.

Narrated under the straight gaze of Beth (Megan Steenbergh), whose mother is hoodwinked into directing the church’s annual Christmas pageant, we learn everyone is apprehensive to do the show this year because the misfit Herdman children will participate. There’s Ralph (Josiah Burkhardt), Imogene (Briana Fewell-Johnson), Leroy (Curtis Holst), Claude (Sophia Rosado), Ollie (Devin Tandon) and Gladys (Annika Benander) Herdman.

 

To borrow words from “Home Alone,” Benander as Gladys has “a certain je ne sais quoi.” The part inherently gives her an advantage, it seems, as she’s in the wackiest and most physically demanding role – not to mention she has her own catchphrase to capitalize on – “Shazaam!” But I don’t think anyone quite anticipated her ability to wrap the whole play in a Christmas bow and thoroughly steal the show. Gladys is kooky and hilarious, but the showmanship Benander possesses is shocking for someone so young.

The storyline of Imogene, though, stitches the themes of the show together. I only wish she had a more equal narrative footing in the production. In the story, she’s the one who smokes the cigars, bullies the other children and dares to question the nativity story – in a church, no less. If the Herdmans are a bunch of rotten apples, then Imogene is the queen that presides over them.

By the end of the pageant, however, it’s Imogene who demonstrates a near reverence for her role of Mary. She weeps over it, even. A solo monologue for Imogene might have brought this character development home for the audience. This is just as true for the story on which it is based.

Still, the theater breathes life into the presentation of the story in other ways. Everything from snow flurries to smoke to alternating mood lighting create an indelible ambiance. The set itself is newly built specifically to invite the audience into the story. By design, it is simple: a church façade with steps and a vaulted window with a biblical stained glass image. In one scene, the lighting hits the window from behind to reflect the stained glass onto the stage. It is lovely and unexpected.

But some moments disarm you with the intensity of their tenderness – like when a nameless little girl sidles up next to Beth’s mother, Grace (Donna Jo Mangus), on a bench. Grace despairs because the pageant is turning into a fangled, chaotic mess. The little girl looks up at her and says, “I’ll help you.” It’s silent, but then you hear growing echoes of the other children saying, “Me, too.” It’s enough to make you want to cry on the spot – because the spirit of children is the spirit of Christmas itself. Not presents. Not trimmings or candy. Just the selfless acts of kindness and generosity. That’s what “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is all about, and the red cast at CFRT charmingly embody it.

Performances will continue to run at CFRT until Dec. 17. For tickets and information, visit www.cfrt.org.

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