Take a chance on ‘Mamma Mia!’

09 Donna Dynamos GuysThere is a party happening here in Fayetteville that you do not want to miss! Rising to the challenge yet again, Cape Fear Regional Theater, under the auspices of Artistic Director Mary Kate Burke, kicked off the 2019-2020 theater season with “Mamma Mia!” easily rivaling last year’s “Music City” opener.

Among the night’s outstanding performances were those turned in by Scenic Designer Sarah Harris and Scenic Artist David Rawlins, who managed to make an entire Greek island resort, including the surrounding sea, come breathtakingly alive. The movie version’s soundstage didn’t do it any better. And the movie version didn’t offer theatergoers an onstage bar, which really got the party going.

 With music and lyrics by Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Stig Anderson and a book by Catherine Johnson, credit the able direction of Suzanne Agins, along with the choreography of Ryan Migge, and the sterling performance of Zeek Smith and his orchestra for keeping the show fast-paced, lively and fun. Along with the accessible bar, using the theater’s aisles to help stage several dance numbers further engaged the audience as active party participants. And those ABBA songs never grow old, some of them being a party unto themselves.

“Mamma Mia!” tells the story of Sophie, a 20-year-old who invites three men from her mother’s past to her wedding with the hope of discovering which one of them is her father. Alexa Cepeda, making her CFRT debut, played Sophie, and hers was consistently the strongest voice of the evening. In addition to her vocal talent, she infused her character with sparkling charm.

Joanne Javien played Donna, Sophie’s mother, with the dramatic passion one would expect from the lead of Donna and the Dynamos, her throw-back 70s trio. Her rendition of “The Winner Takes It All” was superb. Heather Setzler played Tanya, the seductive member of the trio, and had fun with her “Does Your Mother Know” number. Nicki Hart played Rosie, the third Dynamo, and managed to be funny, sexy and a little bit vulnerable as she propositioned Bill, one of Donna’s former lovers, to “Take a Chance on Me.”

Graham Stevens, Brent Schraff and Jock Brocki, playing Donna’s past loves and Sophie’s prospective fathers, worked well in the backup male roles as did Simon Schaitkin, who plays Sophie’s fiancé. The Ensemble, composed of multitalented players, delivered stellar vocal backup and dance moves.

The entire production consistently drew cheers and thunderous applause, and the finale had the entire theater audience up and dancing in their seats.

“Mamma Mia!” runs through Oct. 6 with both evening and matinee performances scheduled. Also, there will be bonus preshow features such as Greek Night, 70s Nights and discounts for Military and Teacher Appreciation Nights. For bonus and discount details, as well as a schedule of performance times, dates and ticket prices, visit www.cfrt.org.

New champions guaranteed in 51st CCGC

11 CCGOLFCLASSICLOGO2019RichardsonlogoOne thing is certain about this year’s 51st edition of the Cumberland County Golf Championship. New winners will be crowned in both the men’s and women’s divisions of the tournament. That’s because last year’s champions, Spencer Oxendine for the men and Angelique Seymour for the women, are competing at the college level. Congratulations to 2018 Cumberland County Golf Championship champion Spencer Oxendine, who has good reason for being unable to defend his title this year. Oxendine, a freshman on the golf team at North Carolina State, has earned a spot on the Wolfpack’s traveling team in his first year playing golf there. Oxendine is at North Carolina State and Seymour is at UNC-Pembroke. Both have commitments the weekend of the tournament, Sept. 13-15, that will prevent them from defending their titles.

But the golfers who were closest to them in the final scores all return to hopefully face a challenge that was denied last year’s field when bad weather forced the tournament to be rescheduled and cut to two days.

This year’s three-day event will open at Fort Bragg’s Stryker Golf Course for the first time and conclude with two rounds at Gates Four Golf and Country Club. “Everybody is excited about going out to Stryker,’’ said Up & Coming Weekly publisher Bill Bowman, the tournament’s director since 2016. “It is going to be at Stryker this year, and we hope it will be at other courses next year.’’

Bowman said work is continuing to build participation in the women’s division, which attracted eight participants last year.

To help boost the women’s field, Bowman said play was cut to 36 holes again, while adding a separate age division for more experienced golfers and shortening some of the holes. “The important thing is we carry on the tradition of recognizing the best golfers in Cumberland County,’’ he said. “I would say very few communities in the country can brag on the fact they’ve got a golf tournament that’s 51 years old.’’ 


Stryker Golf Course professional Jeff Johnson said the Fayetteville community has always been welcome to play at the course on Fort Bragg, but adding it to the Cumberland County Golf Championship will make the course and its regular players feel like a part of the golfing community in Fayetteville.

Johnson said he hopes the tournament will showcase the Stryker course and encourage people to play it and Fort Bragg’s other course, Ryder.

For those not familiar with Stryker, the course is a 1946 Donald Ross layout that plays about 6,625 yards normally. It features Cumberland County’s longest hole, the 625-yard par-five fourth hole, which Johnson said won’t play that long for the tournament.

The biggest difference for golfers at Stryker will be the greens, which are Bermuda, compared to the bentgrass at Gates Four.

Johnson said the speed of the Stryker greens will be slower than what golfers experience at Gates Four. They will also have to take grain into consideration when chipping and putting.

For those who have never been to Stryker, Johnson said you head north on Bragg Boulevard and keep going until you dead end in the Stryker parking lot on your left.

There are no security gates to pass through to enter the course, Johnson said, as the Army intentionally left the golf course and the Fort Bragg Fairgrounds outside the containment area when security was tightened after 9/11. 

Gates Four

 Gates Four general manager Kevin Lavertu agreed with Johnson that moving from the Bermuda to the bent grass greens at Gates Four will require the players to make adjustments.

“More than 50% of the strokes in a round of golf are taken on the greens,’’ Lavertu said. “The ball reaction speed of the greens and adjusting will be key.’’

He said the players who adjust the quickest will be the ones moving up the leaderboard.

After a hot July, Lavertu said Gates Four is in excellent shape for the tournament. He added the course has undergone few changes in recent years and has been kept in a maintaining mode. He’s hopeful the course will be dryer and not as tough as it was for last year’s tournament.

“The course will play a little bit shorter day one and day two at both places,’’ Lavertu said. “That’s just a product of trying to set the same yardage at both courses for round one and two to get a good baseline of players.’’

Last year, Oxendine won the men’s division with a two-day score of 74-72-146. Lavertu is hopeful this year’s winner will be able to shoot from 6 to 8-under par if the weather is good. 

Men’s Championship

 Familiar names were among the top contenders for last year’s men’s title, and they will return again this season to see if they can continue to be among the best in the field.

Gary Robinson and Thomas Owen tied for second place behind Oxendine last year, both shooting a 151 total for the two-day tournament. Billy West was alone in fourth one shot 

back at 152.

Owen has finished second for two years in a row. If he has a concern about this year’s tournament, it’s his lack of familiarity with Stryker. “I haven’t played Stryker since I was 10 or 12 years old,’’ he said.

He likes the idea of competing on two different courses, calling it a tougher test that will see the best players rise to the top.

“Two different courses might test different parts of your game and how you can manage around a different golf course,’’ he said. “It makes you make adjustments, and usually the better players make those adjustments.’’

Owen said he hopes to borrow a page from former champion Billy West, who consistently avoids making bad decisions early in the tournament.

“You begin conservative and make smart plays,’’ Owen said, “not always whipping out your driver and trying to hit the miracle shot. Just kind of plug away being smart, and you’ll find a chance to win.’’

Gary Robinson, like Owen, hasn’t played Stryker recently, going back some 30 years to his college days at Fayetteville State. “I’m not familiar with the grass, but I’m familiar with the layout,’’ he said. “Going from Gates Four to Stryker to Gates Four would be more of an adjustment than playing Stryker the first day.’’

He said it could be a challenge for people not familiar with Bermuda grass to make the switch from Stryker to Gates Four.

Robinson is normally upbeat about the county championship but said he’s only played about four tournaments this year compared to 15 most years. “The hardest thing for me is when you’re expected to do well,’’ he said. “A lot of times when I’m not expecting things is when I do better.’’

Billy West has played amateur golf at the local, state and national level, but the Cumberland County Golf Championship remains his annual favorite. “At the gas station the next morning or at work, everybody is congratulating you or saying, sorry to see you lost by a couple of shots,’’ West said. “I think that’s one of the things that makes it special.’’

Now 45, West has been playing the CCGC since he was a teenager. He likes the challenge of playing on multiple courses over three days and thinks it produces the best champion.

He has played Stryker some but never in a tournament. “It’s got some shorter holes,’’ he said. “There are some places where it can be kind of tight off the tee, and you can get into trouble.’’

He said there’s a definite contrast between this year’s two courses. “At Gates Four, they’ve got larger greens, but they are kind of undulating, and they can do a lot with pin placements,”  he said. “With it being in September, hopefully we get a little cooler weather and the greens are a little firmer and faster.’’

He added putting and wedge play around the greens will be critical. 

Women’s Championship

Toni Blackwell has enjoyed a brilliant high school career for the Cape Fear girls’ golf team. With Angelique Seymour not playing in this year’s tournament, Blackwell is the top player back from 2018.

“I’m looking forward to playing with the different women,’’ Blackwell said. “I get to learn from them and what they do. They enjoy the game.’’

While there are a few holes at Gates Four that can be challenging, Blackwell thinks she’ll fare okay this year.

“I think I can win,’’ she said. “I’ve got to play one hole at a time and stay focused.’’

Dee Dee Jarman thinks the addition of a senior division for women 50 and over is a positive for the tournament that will help draw players.

“Women’s golf is declining in this region,’’ she said. “It’s just hard to find women to play golf. Hopefully, this will help the numbers.’’

Jarman said her game is not good right now, but she plans to play to support women’s golf in the county. “It’s all about keeping women involved in the game of golf,’’ she said.

Patricia Joyce has been playing golf some 50 years she said, and winning also isn’t her No. 1 concern. “I play golf for the camaraderie and the fun,’’ she said. “I like to compete, but I like the socializing, too, and I think the other women do, too. It’s a fun, fun time.’’

Joyce thinks the two-day format for women is good because the tournament is limited to the weekend and no one has to take time off from work. 

She also was glad the holes were shortened at Gates Four.

Joyce said she’s fairly consistent with her driver and irons but has problems with putting. “I’d like to break 90 both days,’’ she said. “I think I’ve got a chance in both divisions.’’

Win or lose, Joyce will enjoy the weekend. “It’s nice to meet people, see people and maybe make connections you’ll play with down the line,’’ she said.

For more information, call Bill Bowman at 910-391-3859 or visit https://www.cumberlandcountygolfclassic.com/.

Experience the Greek isles, right here in Fayetteville

 12 Greek FestThe Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church present the 29th Annual Greek Festival Friday, Sept. 13, through Sunday, Sept. 15, at 614 Oakridge Ave., in the heart of Haymount. 

The festival will take place Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.-10 p.m., and Sunday from noon-6 p.m. 

 Greece is a country that is rich in history, culture, traditions and religion. Greeks are proud of their rich culture and take pride in the contributions they have made to the world. “The purpose of the Greek Festival is to share our Greek culture with Fayetteville — it is our way of giving back to the Fayetteville community,” said Dina Goodson, co-chair of the Greek Fest. “We have a long relationship with the Fayetteville community that has been phenomenal, and they have been very supportive of our church and every endeavor we’ve ever undertaken.” 

 12 02 Greek festival copyGoodson added the festival is a way for the Greek Orthodox congregation in Fayetteville to share their faith, food, culture, music and everything that is Greek. And it is a way for the community to learn about and enjoy Greek culture, food, traditions and more.

 “We believe so strongly in making the most of every day, of enjoying life to the fullest and sharing with one another whatever it may be,” Goodson said. “I am going back to simple times of my parents’ generation of sharing a glass of water, a piece of bread and when people believed in helping one another through life.” 

 She continued, “We enjoy good times, and we are with those when they are going through difficult times. We are just a loving and warm community that wants to lend a helping hand when needed.”

 Easter is the biggest and most important holiday in the Greek tradition. “Our church is the center of our life. That is how important our church is to us,” said Goodson. “The two main things that are important to us are religion and the family unit, so we instill those values in our children’s lives.” 

 The Greek diet is one that nutritionists have touted as healthy. It’s delicious, too. 12 03 20180909 144946And there will be plenty of it at the Greek Festival. The most popular Greek food is the gyro. Greek food and drinks are known for both their quality and taste.

 “We can enjoy our food and have a glass of wine or beer without it being a problem,” said Goodson. “People are most familiar with our fun food such as gyro sandwiches, Greek lamb plates, chicken lemonato plate with Greek rice, spanakopita, eight different pastries and foods you have not heard of. Nearly one half of one side of our church hall is going to be devoted to our Greek pastry area.”

 The Greek community loves to dance and perform traditional dances. This is a fun a lively component of the Greek Festival each year. “Two children’s dance troupes will be in full authentic Greek costumes and they will perform the traditional Greek dances,” said Goodson. 

Authentic Greek music brings the island atmosphere to the event. “We are going to have our outside band, Nick Trivelas and A Night in Athens Trio, perform this year,” said Goodson. “They are a dynamic, exciting and energetic band who puts on a good performance. They will be outside in the main tent.”

 The most famous musical instrument from Greece is the bouzouki. “Inside there 12 04 Greek Festival cooking copywill be a bouzouki player,” said Goodson. “He has his own band, but he is coming by himself to be a soloist.” 

 The festival will host church tours led by Father Alexander Papagikos. There will be a raffle for two round trip tickets to Greece and cash prizes. There will be various vendors as well as a children’s area called the Athenian Playground, featuring a train that will travel around the perimeter of the church parking lot. There will also be bounce houses and more. 

Gusts over 21 can enjoy authentic Greek wines and beers. Another favorite that Goodson is excited about is the ever-popular cooking classes If Greek cuisine is something you want to learn more about, there will be one class on Friday evening, two Saturday and one Sunday afternoon.

If shopping sounds like a good time, don’t miss the vendor area. “There will be many vendors, and we will have a nationally known Greek artist who does beautiful paintings of the mainland and especially the islands,” said Goodson. “A lot of us have his paintings in our homes because his pictures are phenomenal. We are so excited to have him back.” 

 Goodson also noted that on the church patio, which is known as the plateia, there will be an alternate dining area for individuals to enjoy from 6:30-10 p.m. “So people can choose to take their food from the main tent,” said Goodson. “This is an area where we will be serving appetizer plates and the music is quieter.” The appetizer plates include spanakopita, feta cheese, dolmades, tzatziki, Kalamata olives, tomatoes and pita bread points. 

 “We will also have a Greek grocery store called a bakaliko,” said Goodson. “We are going to sell all kinds of items. We have added about 20 new items to the store.”

 Goodson added they will also have icons for sale such as the Saints, Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary. “Every year, we normally have three Greek vendors inside. This year, we have doubled it to six vendors,” said Goodson. “We are going to have a lot more going on inside. People will see  jewelry, paintings, cards and all types of Greek souvenirs.” 

 The proceeds from the festival will be donated to various organizations. “Among the charities that we give to (are the) Autism Society, Boys and Girls Club, The Red Cross, Operation Inasmuch, The Vision Resource Center and The Salvation Army,” said Goodson. “Some of our proceeds will also go towards our building renovation project, which is currently underway.

 “We encourage everyone to come out and enjoy our Greek festival,” said Goodson. “We just want to give back to the city of Fayetteville.” 

 The festival is free and open to the public. For more information, call 910-484-2010. 

CFRT presents ‘Mamma Mia!’

 08 Mamma Mia 2Get ready to have those upbeat ABBA disco ditties rollicking around in your head once again as Cape Fear Regional Theater brings “Mamma Mia!” to town … with a twist. Opening Sept. 12, and running through Oct. 6, the production promises to be a party for all. With music and lyrics by Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson and the book by Catherine Johnson, “Mamma Mia!” will be directed by Suzanne Agins and choreographed by Ryan Migge. 

 Audiences can look forward to a few twists — and some bonus content — in CFRT’s production of the story of a soon-to-be-married 20-year-old who writes to three men from her mother’s past, inviting them to her wedding to find out which one is her father. “When ‘Mamma Mia!’ was first performed in 1999, 20 years ago was the 70s,” said Agins. “Twenty years ago now is the 90s.” 

 This will be Agins’ third time directing a CFRT production, having previously directed “Dreamgirls” and “Memphis.” “It is such a joy to form these relationships over time,” Agins said of her experience working with CFRT casts, which also include many local actors and actresses. 

Migge is a self-styled “Cape Fear virgin” as this will be his first time choreographing a CFRT production. “I am especially excited to be teaching Waterloo,” Migge said, referring to Megamix Night Sept. 9, from 6-7 p.m., when theatergoers will have the opportunity pre-show to learn the choreography for the show’s finale so that they can “dance in the aisles with the cast.”

 “We are bringing back the onstage bar featured in ‘Music City,’” said Agins. “It was such an immersive experience with the audience, which made the energy level so high, and it carried over to the show.”

 Joanne Javien will play Donna, the bride’s mother. She studied opera in college in New York and has been acting for over 15 years. Nicki Hart will play Rosie, Donna’s friend. Hart came to Fayetteville as a military spouse in 2000 and has appeared in CFRT productions ever since, her most recent appearance being in “Music City.” Heather Setzler will play Tanya, another friend of Donna’s. Although she worked in TV news for 20 years and has appeared in Wilmington and Raleigh theater, this will be her first appearance on the CFRT stage. 

 Sarah Harris, costume designer for “Annie,” will design the set for “Mamma Mia!” Costumes will be designed by Claudia Stephens, who was CFRT Artistic Director Mary Kate Burke’s professor at Southern Methodist University and previously designed the costumes for “Sense and Sensibility.” Costume associate, Janice Rabian will assist Stephens. Zeke Smith will direct the same band of local musicians who played for last season’s “Memphis.” 

 In addition to Megamix Night, there will be other events associated with “Mamma Mia!” For Greek Night on Sept. 12, from 6:30-7:15 p.m., patrons are encouraged to wear their letters and enjoy complimentary wine tasting before the show. For 70s Night, on Sept. 13 and 27, from 6:30-7:15 p.m., come dressed in 70s attire and enjoy the onstage bar and some groovy tunes. Opening Night Dance Party takes place on Sept. 14, beginning after the show at 10 p.m. Sept. 18 is Military Appreciation Night and Sept. 20 is Teacher Appreciation Night; both feature a 25% ticket discount with appropriate ID. 

 Don’t miss “Mamma Mia!” — the party that kicks off CFRT’s 2019-2020 season. For performance dates, times and ticket prices, visit the CFRT website at www.CFRT.org. 

Blind Boys of Alabama open Givens’ season

11 blindboysSeptember is a busy month at the Givens Performing Arts Center in Pembroke, with two first-rate performances. The 2019-2020 season opens with the Blind Boys of Alabama on Sept. 12 followed by Extreme Illusions & Escapes Sept. 20.

The Blind Boys of Alabama have been singing together for seven decades. In that time, America has experienced World War II, the civil rights movement and the Summer of Love; the moon landing, Vietnam and the fall of the Berlin Wall; John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X; the invention of the jukebox, the atomic bomb and the internet. And the Blind Boys have been there through it all, influencing music in the South and helping to shape musical culture that bridges two millennia. 

The original band members met as children at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind and performed their way to the White House, entertaining three different presidents. The Blind Boys  released their debut single “I Can See Everybody’s Mother But Mine,” in 1948. Since then, they’ve won five GRAMMY Awards, plus another recognizing them for their lifetime achievement. 

According to the band’s website, The New York Times said that they “came to epitomize what is known as jubilee singing, a livelier breed of gospel music,” adding that “they made it zestier still by adding jazz and blues idioms and turning up the volume, creating a sound … like the rock ‘n’ roll that grew out of it.” TIME Magazine raved that “they’re always hunting for - and finding - the perfect note or harmony that lifts an old tune into the sublime,” while The Washington Post praised their “soul-stirring harmonies” and “range of cross-genre collaborations,” and The New Yorker simply called them “legendary.”

“When the Blind Boys started out, we weren’t even thinking about all these accolades and all that stuff,” founding member Jimmy Carter told NPR. “We just wanted to get out and sing gospel and tell the world about gospel music.” 

The Blind Boys of Alabama will be at GPAC Sept. 12. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Call 910-521-6361 or visit https://www.uncp.edu/resources/gpac/professional-artist-series/blind-boys-alabama for tickets and information.

Extreme Illusions and Escapes fist came to GAPC in 2017. A raving hit two years ago, Josh Knotts and Lea are back with brand new acts. Winners of the 2016 Merlin Award and the 2016 Fair and Festival Entertainers of the Year Award, the pair will bring Las Vegas-style performances to the Sandhills.

The high-energy shows, skillful escapes and large-scale illusions keep audiences spellbound.

The Sept. 20 show at GPAC starts at 8 p.m. VIsit https://www.uncp.edu/resources/gpac/professional-artist-series/extreme-illusions-and-escapes to purchase tickets.

Season tickets are available. Go for an upgrade and join the Act 1 Diner’s Club. The Diner’s Club includes dinner before specific performances, for just $35. 

Menus include dinners like port wine poached pear, petite beef medallions with shrimp risotto, grilled asparagus and a red wine demi-glace, and New York- style cheesecake.

The dinners are served in the Chancellor’s Dining room in the James B. Chavis Center. Order meal tickets at tickets.com, or call 910-521-6361. 

Visit https://www.uncp.edu/resources/gpac/act-1-diners-club to learn more about Act 1.

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