Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 3, 2007

The reviews are in.

4 &#8220Two thumbs up. If I had a third thumb, I'd give it three!” - Colin MacGuire.

4 &#8220Fabulous!” - Dr. Betty Ruth Speir.

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4 &#8220Outstanding! I am amazed at all the talent Greenville has!”

– Francine Wasden.

4 &#8220This was one very fun showŠall I can say is, ‘Encore!'” - Bob Glasscock.

They are all talking about the musical extravaganza that debuted at the historic Ritz Theatre downtown last weekend.

&#8220Puttin' on the Ritz,” a two-night benefit performance for the Greenville Area Arts Council (GAAC) and the Ritz Restoration Project, drew near-capacity crowds for both performances. Fifty-plus cast members sang, danced and hammed it up through 18 songs from Broadway and the movies.

&#8220We had 375 people in attendance Friday night and 425 people Saturday night. The theater holds 450,” said Roberta &#8220Bobbie” Gamble, membership chair for the GAAC.

&#8220One of our goals with this was project to get people through the doors to see all this talent, and we certainly achieved that.”

POTR Director Nancy Idland said she was &#8220 absolutely thrilled” to hear there were lines down Commerce St. as attendees waited for the box office to open last weekend.

&#8220We were very, very pleased with our attendance last weekend and, of course, that made it a successful venture for us financially,” Idland said.

&#8220We still have expenses to take care of, but we will certainly clear a very nice amount for our show budget and to help the marquee project.”

Idland said her first time directing was &#8220a wonderful learning experience.”

&#8220It seems everyone involved with the show is still excited and enthusiastic, and I really hope this is the beginning of a great community theater,” Idland said.

That's a sentiment echoed by Gamble.

&#8220We would love to see a community theater established here, with an even broader cross-section of the community involved,” Gamble said.

&#8220The black performers in our show all did such a wonderful job, and there is so much more talent out there in the community we want to tap into.”

POTR was truly a family affair for some of its cast members. For the Russell family, everybody was a part of the show in one way or another, said Marianne Russell.

&#8220It was a wonderful thing for my family as a group. Four of us were onstage (dad Mack, mom Marianne, daughter Rosemary and son Patrick), and our oldest, MacDonald, videoed the performance for us to share with the cast. My niece was also in the parade. Now that's what I call a family memory,” Russell laughed.

&#8220We had a phone call on Sunday and one of the comments about the production was, ‘it just makes you feel proud to be a Greenvillian.' Wow!”

Cast member April Lowery, who grew up in Centreville and moved to the Greenville area in 2000, said she truly feels like Greenville is home now that she's been a part of POTR.

&#8220I love the stage and had so much fun working on this and meeting new people. I really feel like a part of the community and wouldn't want to go anywhere else,” Lowery, who performed as Christine from &#8220Phantom of the Opera” and Dolly from &#8220Hello, Dolly!,” said.

Chorus member Harriet Foshee, who was Dolly Levy as an original Old Gym Player in 1970 at Greenville High School, said the entire cast &#8220wowed” her.

&#8220Many of the acts I did not have the opportunity to see until Saturday night when viewing the film at Nancy Idland's home after the show,” Foshee said.

&#8220 Mack Russell and Steve Norman just killed me in ‘O Brother.' Jill Stallworth was delightful in ‘Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend.' As an aging Dolly Levy, it was wonderful to see a fresh, beautiful new Dolly in April - and what a voice!”

Stallworth said she had a blast performing in the show and also treasured the new friendships made through participating in the production.

&#8220We are still e-mailing each other photos and notes. It was all so much fun!”

&#8220Fun” is also the word Starla Jones, featured in the &#8220Aquarius” number used to describe her POTR experience.

&#8220It was really a lot of fun working with so many talented and wonderful people. I felt honored to be a part of such an outstanding production,” Jones said.

&#8220It was good to work with people I may not have known before, and good to work with people I have known for years, but don't get to see that often,” Jones said.

&#8220I would love to see more of this kind of thing done - and would love to be a part of it!”

One thing is for sure: there are plenty of beautiful costumes that can be used for future performances if this becomes a tradition in Greenville.

&#8220We are looking for a good, safe, climate-controlled environment to store them in right now. Until then, they will be at my house and Miss Bobbie's house,” Idland said.

As for the striking lighted &#8220Ritz” sign created by T.K. Lee that was hung over the stage, &#8220I'd love to keep that there. But it's not my decision. We will discuss that at the next board meeting,” Gamble said.

Idland says she is already thinking of what they could do &#8220the next time around.”

&#8220I thought of a Motown reviewŠwe are kicking around different ideas.”

Gamble is champing at the bit to get back to her drawing table to start sketching out ideas for costumes.

&#8220I am just so very, very pleased with how Nancy and everyone came together and put on this show and proved we could do it,” Gamble said.

Idland lauds all those involved in the production.

&#8220I just want to thank them all for giving their time and talent to rehearse this over and over again. No one ever even batted an eye. They just had a great attitude,” Idland said.

As for the marquee restoration project, Gamble said, &#8220It seems almost overwhelming, but we are on the road there. We have people working on grant monies, too.”

There are many things needed by the theater, but it will take time, she said.

&#8220We want to extend the on-stage dressing area. The men had to use a tent outside and we prayed it wouldn't wash away last weekend. We are looking to improve our sound equipment,” Gamble said.

&#8220However, when you think about those duct-taped seats and no air and no carpet 25 years ago - we have come a long, long way!”