Craft an entire day around tree shopping

19Though retailers may begin playing holiday tunes as soon as Thanksgiving is over, for many people, no date on the calendar marks the beginning of the holiday season better than the day they pick up their Christmas tree.

There are many different ways to acquire a Christmas tree. Some people prefer artificial Christmas trees that can be stored and taken out each year. Others make a yearly expedition to a tree lot or a Christmas tree farm to find the perfect fir or spruce.

Historians believe a man named W.V. McGallard planted 25,000 Norway spruce seedlings at his Mercer County, New Jersey farm in 1901, essentially establishing the first commercial Christmas tree farm.

By 1908, customers could visit the farm and choose trees for $1 each. McGallard helped create an entirely new industry that now accounts for 350 million trees being grown and sold in the United States every year.
Selecting a Christmas tree may not take more than an hour or two, but there are ways for families and other tree shoppers to maximize their time spent looking for a tree.

Bring refreshments. Couple Christmas tree shopping with picnicking if the weather is amenable. Pack some foldable chairs into the vehicle (sitting on the ground on a blanket may be too cold) and bring along thermoses of coffee or hot cocoa. Snacks like granola bars, Christmas cookies or other filling treats can keep everyone satisfied and energized while they shop for a tree.

Pair tree shopping with a trip to see lighting displays. Find the tree lot or tree farm and then scope out potentially scenic spots to view holiday lighting displays nearby. Up & Coming Weekly is a good resource to learn about light displays in Fayetteville and Cumberland County. Read about the Cape Fear Botanical Garden light display on page 12 of this issue. For decorating ideas, take A Christmas Tour of Homes presented by Heritage Square Historical Society on Dec. 4. One of the stops is the MacPherson House Bed & Breakfast. Read more about it on page 13 of this issue.

Plan a night out. Everyone may be tired and hungry after a long day of Christmas tree hunting. Plus, it’s typically a good idea to wait some time for boughs to open before decorating. Use this opportunity to dine out and return home ready to decorate. Make it a regular occurrence that Christmas tree shopping is followed by a family meal at a favorite restaurant.

Watch a classic film. Many different holiday movies are broadcast this time of year and each enhances the Christmas spirit. There are also countless movies available through streaming services. While putting up the tree, play a favorite film in the background. What better way to enjoy decorating your own tree than by watching Charlie Brown adorn his meager evergreen at the same time?

Make a day of selecting and putting up the Christmas tree each year. Doing so can enhance the holidays and make for an entertaining way to spend time together as a couple or family.

Gilbert Theater brings classic musical to holiday audiences

16dThe Gilbert Theater invites audiences to enjoy one of the greatest musicals of all time this holiday season. From Nov. 25 to Dec. 18, Maria and the entire Von Trapp family will grace the stage for the theater’s production of “The Sound of Music.”

Since its theatrical release in 1965, the multi-award-winning musical collaboration between Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II has become a beloved fixture on the cultural landscape. Spawning hit songs like “My Favorite Things,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” and the infectious “Do-Re-Mi,” it’s a show that’s sure to delight audiences of all ages.

The musical tells the story of handsome but gruff widower Captain Georg Von Trapp and Maria, the governess who comes to teach his seven children. Through music and song, Maria brings light and love into the Von Trapp home as the realities of war threaten to destroy the idyllic life they’ve created.

It’s an enduring story of family, hope, and the power of love — perfect for the holiday season.16b

“This show speaks Christmas to so many people. I know it does to my family and me,” said actor and director Chris Walker, who’ll be playing Captain Von Trapp.
Co-director Brian Adam Kline also attributes the show’s feel-good themes to its enduring popularity. “It’s a musical of hope,” Kline stated. “It’s a story that gives us hope in a dark time.”

One challenge with a show as recognizable and as grand as “The Sound of Music” is the need to scale back. While there might not be rolling green hills or the Von Trapp’s palatial family home as a backdrop, Kline, and co-director Robynne Parrish have sought to create a show that is still large in feel.

“It’s a big show, written for a big stage, and the challenge comes in putting it in a black box setting,” Kline explained. “You have to get creative with space and movement.”

According to Jean Jamison, who’ll be playing the Mother Abbess, the result is an “intimate show that really works.”

16cUp & Coming Weekly spoke with the production’s star, Helen Steffan, about playing Maria Von Trapp, a role made famous by iconic actress Julie Andrews.

“This is a dream role for a lot of people,” she shared. “It’s so fun to do it with a great cast. I grew up in this theater; it’s really sweet to work with the same people who have helped me throughout my career.”

The show’s three-week run will provide a great opportunity for families who want to end a day of holiday shopping with a night at the theater. An 8 p.m. show is available on Friday and Saturday, and a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday and Sunday. The show has a run-time of two hours with an intermission — perfect for a day out with the family or a cozy holiday date night.

The Gilbert Theater is located at 116 Green Street in downtown Fayetteville.

General admission tickets are $20 for adults, with discounted tickets available for students, teachers, and the military. To purchase tickets, visit https://www.gilberttheater.com/.

Photos by Sheila D. Barker

Dance Theatre of Fayetteville to perform 'The Nutcracker'

15cThe Dance Theatre of Fayetteville will perform "The Nutcracker" at Methodist University on Dec. 2, 3, and 4, starting at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Sunday will be a 3 p.m. matinee.

"We do the whole Act One with the party scene [and] with the mice and soldiers,” Artistic Director Leslie Dumas said. “Act Two is when Clara is in her dream, and the Land of Sweets.”

"The Nutcracker" is a beloved two-act Christmas ballet created by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1892 and has been synonymous with the North American Christmas season since the 1960s.

“We try to keep it Victorian as much as possible,” Dumas said. “We try to keep costumes looking older, not modern.”

The Dance Theatre of Fayetteville has been performing "The Nutcracker" for over 20 years. As a nonprofit, the studio gets children involved with other duties, like passing out fliers or putting fliers up.

“We are a children’s Nutcracker,” Dumas said. “We take any dancers [in the Nutcracker production as long as they’re in a dance class somewhere].”

Behind the production, there are a lot of dedicated parents who dress, monitor and help the kids on stage.

“Our Nutcracker is fun for the kids,” Dumas said. “We make it very kid-oriented, [and] small children come because they see other small kids dancing.”

This Nutcracker production will be slightly different from others because there will be some tumbling during the Russian Dance. The Dance Theatre of Fayetteville is inside Countryside Gymnastics.

The Russian Dance is in the second act, Dumas said.

“There’s lots of ballet stuff in it, so I work with the gym [and] the boys help me out with tumbling because my dancers aren’t tumblers.”

Tickets can be purchased in advance, $12 for adults and $7 for students between grades K-12. Tickets at the door will be $15 per adult and $7 for K-12 students. Kids under 5 get to watch the show for free.

“We have five different dance studios in the area, and we’re always welcoming new dance studios,” Dumas said.

Anne Clark founded this rendition of "The Nutcracker" in the 1970s, and when she retired, Dumas took over.

“I’ve been working [The Nutcracker] since she retired," Dumas said. “We have all of our performances at Methodist.”

The Dance Theatre of Fayetteville is located at 330 McArthur Road, inside Countryside Gymnastics. For more information about "The Nutcracker" and Dance Theatre, visit www.dancetheatreoffayetteville.org

"The Nutcracker" is a beautiful way to start December, according to the Dance Theatre of Fayetteville, and this will be the first year since the pandemic began that there will be no COVID-19 protocol.

The Dance Theatre of Fayetteville’s performances are scheduled Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2 and 3, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. in the Huff Concert Hall at Methodist University. Methodist University is located on the north side of town at 5400 Ramsey Street.

Charlotte Blume to perform traditional version of 'The Nutcracker'

16aOn Saturday, Dec. 10, and Sunday, Dec. 11, the North Carolina State Ballet and Charlotte Blume School of Dance will present "The Nutcracker" at the Crown Theater at 3 p.m.

“We’ve changed bits and pieces of our choreography to add some excitement and fun [this year],” Dina Lewis, Charlotte Blume's Studio Manager, said.

Charlotte Blume’s Nutcracker is the “oldest grandfathered production” at the Crown Theater.

“It’s fun. We’ve been rehearsing all summer,” Lewis said. “Right now it’s a seven-day-a-week job, and we can’t wait to get this thing on stage.”

Originally from Texas, Charlotte Blume started the school in the mid-1950s, bringing artistic professionalism to the Fayetteville region by teaching ballet, her own top-flight training pedigree and her insistence on high standards and authenticity.

“The dance studio is [the] Charlotte Blume School of Dance, but we also have a ballet company,” Lewis said. “North Carolina State Ballet ... and it’s been around forever.”

According to the dance studio, no other local dance studio used mirrors or bars before Blume's arrival.

“We are as close to a pre-professional company as you can get without going professional,” Lewis said.

For many, participating in Blume’s productions and studying at her studio has helped win admission to top colleges. She taught Fayetteville’s prominent families as well as the less fortunate. Within the studio, all were treated equally.

The Charlotte Blume School of Dance presents more of a traditional Nutcracker than other productions in the area.

Blume’s absolute devotion to merit made her somewhat of a de facto civil rights pioneer. In Fayetteville, the first students were Black. White families quietly boycotted her integrated operation until their daughters insisted that they, too, wanted to receive the finest instruction.

In the South, Blume welcomed white and Black students equally. There was never any question that they would learn together in the same classes and that the prime dancing parts would go to those students who worked hard and showed talent.

Blume passed away in 2016, but the studio continues to produce similar, traditional ballet studios with "classically-trained students."

"If you go to New York and you’ve seen our production, you’ll see something very similar,” Lewis said.

“All of the girls you see on stage are literally working seven days a week to prepare for this Nutcracker performance, Lewis said.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the Crown Complex Box Office or online at CrownComplexNC.com.

“We’re different than other dance studios in Fayetteville,” Lewis said. “I’m very firm, and the girls are so precious because they know my motto: it’s ‘we,’ not ‘me.’”

Charlotte Blume is located at 1312 Morganton Road, “literally in the heart of Haymount.” For more information, visit BlumeSchoolOfDance.com or www.facebook.com/charlotteblumeschoolofdance.

“[Ballet] is a dying art,” Lewis said. “There’s a lot of reverence for that stage, [and] we teach the girls that you have to respect each other ... the stage, and when you hit it, you’re going to nail it every single time.”

‘Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ returns to CFRT

15bIt’s time, once again, for the Cape Fear Regional Theatre's beloved production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” The annual show, now in its 31st year, will open on Saturday, Dec. 3, and run every Tuesday through Sunday until Dec. 18.

The classic Christmas story based on the 1971 novel of the same name by Barbara Robinson tells the story of a couple desperate to put together the church Christmas pageant despite the involvement of the notorious Herdman kids. Through mischief, mayhem, and absolute chaos, the Herdmans teach the whole town about the season’s true meaning — with plenty of laughs along the way.
Adapted as a play by Robinson in 1982, the show has been a popular production for schools and community theatres ever since. This year’s production will be directed by the CFRT’s Education Associate, Jennifer Sell.

Up & Coming Weekly spoke with CFRT’s Education Director, Marc de la Concha, about what makes this show so special for audiences.

“It’s a big tradition here in Fayetteville; people love the story,” he shared. “The kids love to do it every year. They love playing the parts. It’s classic. Many kids come to see this play as a field trip for school and then want to be a part of it later on.”

Having only skipped one year due to COVID-19 restrictions, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is a holiday tradition that waits to greet children, their parents and other community members every year. Parents who may have once graced the stage as children can now cheer on their own children as the enduring story of the Herdmans comes around to delight families.

In a casting shift different from what it was prior to COVID, children and older teens now make up the bulk of the cast, even filling roles traditionally written for adults. De la Concha sees it as a great move that gets more children interested in the arts, an endeavor extremely close to the theater’s heart.

“We have a good mix of kids from the area,” de la Concha stated. “We’re excited to see more schools join us, and we love seeing kids in the building around the holidays. We’re excited to have students come and see people their age on stage. We let them know they can come audition next year.”

To that end, de la Concha encourages children of all ages to audition when the time comes. “We have roles for as young as six all the way up to college — all are welcome.”15a

The theatre offers shows throughout the week, making “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” a holiday must-do for the whole family. The play is a wonderful field trip opportunity for the city's large home school population and would also make a fun outing for a playdate as the weather gets chillier.

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is an hour of Christmas magic suitable for all ages. It’s the perfect opportunity for families and the Fayetteville community to come together and celebrate the most wonderful time of the year.

CFRT is located at 1209 Hay Street. For tickets or more information, contact the box office at 910-323-4233 or visit www.cfrt.org/. Performances are Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets range from $13.50 to $18.50.

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