If ever a director had the perfect show with the perfect cast, Bo Thorp has it with the staging of Encore: 50 Years. Encore is retrospective of the past 50 years of theater at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre. The show is comprised of some of the best music to ever be performed on the stage, along with a cast of 60 performers who have given their hearts and souls to the CFRT.
As much as Thorp and company hope the community enjoys the show, putting the show together has been its own reward. To stage the show, Thorp invited back some of the founders of the CFRT, as well as some members of early casts and put them together with the talented actors who walk the stage today. What she has made is theatrical magic.
“Encore celebrates 50 years of fabulous theatre. It is a retrospective of what we have peformed and a reunion of talented people,” explained Thorp. “In my opinion, it’s the best of each. We have picked the best songs and have gathered a grand group to perform them with us.”
The cast of 60 is made of some old faces and of the future of the theatre in its youth performers. Thorp has managed to gather an eclectic cast including Reggie Barton, a former board member who spearheaded the ﬁ rst renovation of the theatre and later was bitten by the acting bug, Josh White Jr., an international performer who has followed in his father’s footsteps performing African-American folk songs, Dirk Lumbard, who has performed at the theatre off and on throughout its history and Ray Kennedy.
To put the show together, Thorp brought Grady Bowman, who has just ﬁnished the show Billy Elliott on Broadway, to choreograph the musical. Bowman, who has been working on Broadway since he graduated from college, grew up on the CFRT stage under Thorp’s direction.
“Seeing Grady helping direct the show rather than be in it is really seamless,” said Thorp. “Of all the people that I have seen over the years, he was the one person that I knew would have a professional career in theatre, and I knew he would one day come back and direct us. Grady was just 5 years old when he performed in Encore: 25 Years.”
Thorp said the reunion of so many talented performers has been a homecoming, but it has also been nostalgic. “In the show, we have an In Memoriam section to honor some of the great talents we are missing,” she said.
Leonard McLeod, Pat Reese, Lee Yop and Herbert Thorp are just some of the people whom Thorp pays tribute to in the show. “Leonard, Pat and Lee were just tremendous talents,” she said. “I put Herbert (Thorp’s husband) in there because he was the one who stood by, and if we couldn’t get something to work, he would ﬁ nd a way to make it work for us — even if it meant calling the President of the United States. He wanted the theatre to be successful for us and for the community, and he wanted me to be happy.”
Looking back over the past 50 years, Thorp acknowledges that she has found happiness and a second family at the theatre. This season is her last as a member of the theatre’s staff, but she hopes to come back often as a performer or a director.
“Very few people get to orchestrate their exit, and I’ve done that,” she said. “I’m hoping that will let me in the doors now then so I can watch a rehearsal and maybe they will let me perform. I hope people will see me as available and capable of performing.”
She noted that while the show has brought a sense of nostalgia, and while there is some sadness at the end of her career with the theatre, she can leave the theatre knowing it’s in good hands. “I’m happy with what we have accomplished here,” said Thorp, giving a nod to the caliber of performances at the theatre, which is manifest in Encore. “What more success could you want than to leave a legacy like this? I know that I have left my corner of Haymount better than what I found it.”
And she knows she has touched the lives of countless performers, but more speciﬁ cally, children in the community who have become a part of the theatre family.
“I love that the most,” said Bo. “That the children will always remember Ms. Bo.”
Bowman is living proof of that. He ﬁrst walked the boards at the CFRT at the age of 5. “I had one line in the show, and the only thing I can remember is that I had to stand behind my godfather, Leonard McLeod, for the big reveal. I was the younger him, and he was remembering his life. I remember sticking to him like glue.”
Bowman says the roots for his successful career on Broadway were created at the CFRT. “I did 25 to 30 shows here, and I had the opportunity to work with so many talented, even legendary people,” he said.
That experience has served him well over the years on the stage. At this point in his career, he is transitioning from the role of performer to choreographer. So it seemed ﬁ tting that he come home and choreograph this historic show.
“I’ve always wanted to come home, and luckily my schedule lined up so that I could do this show,” said Bowman. “It’s more than a retrospective, it’s really a changing of the guard — the end of an era. I am proud to be here and be a part of this because it was such a huge part of my life.”
Like the majority of the performers who have returned for the show, Bowman sees it as a reunion. “There are so many old faces, as well as new ones, and they are all so talented,” he said. “When I ﬁrst got here, I went up and sat in the seats that have my name and Leonard’s name on them. I just sat and took it all in — all the memories.”
If the walls could talk, the memories that would ﬂ oat through the air are the stuff theatre magic is made of.
Linda Riddle came to Fayetteville in June of 1969, and immediately immersed herself in the theater. “I was sitting in the Dixie Diner in Spring Lake, when I saw an advertisement for a summer workshop at the Little Theatre. The workshop was taught by Pat Reese, so I went down and took the class. My ﬁrst show was in the summer of 1969 — Sweet Bird of Youth — and I’ve been involved ever since.”
Riddle said that she is proud to have been invited to perform in the show.
“I’m so grateful to see so many faces of people who are coming home just for the show,” she said. “It’s been wonderful. But as much as I love seeing the old faces, I am just in awe of the all the young talent that is here in Fayetteville and that is showcased in the show.”
Having “grown up” with the theatre, Riddle said that she is proud of what the theatre has accomplished over the years. She recalls affectionately the pranks that she and Pat Reese played on each other on stage. During the world premier of Raney, Reese, who played a character who committed suicide, wound up in the casket dressed in drag. Riddle was the only person who could see him. To pay him back, she dumped ice out of her handbag into the casket and made sure the majority of it landed on his crotch.
“He was having the worst time trying to stay still,” recalled Riddle. “It’s those kinds of moments that keep coming back to me.”
For Halley Sullivan, 14, it sounds odd, but she is also returning to her roots. Sullivan was tapped for a role in the Lion King on Broadway when she was just 9-years-old.
“I just love Bo and the theatre, and getting to be a part of something that is so important to them, is very important to me,” she said.
While the community can watch the performance, they can’t really hear all of these memories, but they will have their chance to live and breathe them during the theatre’s gala on Feb. 11.
“It’s a party, not a peformance,” said Thorp. “There will be bands, music, great food and libations all over the theatre. It’s going to be a big to do. We have been planning this for months. It’s our Golden Gala and it’s a cause to celebrate.”
The event is spearheaded by Debbie Lallier and Jenny Beaver and runs through Feb., 5. Tickets for the event are available to the public at $75 per ticket. For tickets to Encore or to the Gala, call the CFRT Box Ofﬁ ce at 323-4233.