Youth bring sneak peek of Putting on the Ritz to Rotary

Published 5:36 pm Friday, April 7, 2017

Greenville Rotarians got a sneak peek at one of the city’s biggest coming attractions as Nancy Idland, executive director of the Greenville Area Arts Council, introduced more than a dozen of its youngest stars.

Idland, longtime Ritz contributor David Norrell and a host of young—and in many cases, first-time—talent took to a mock stage Thursday afternoon to shine a spotlight on this year’s 11th Putting on the Ritz show, slated for April 27-29.

The performers are setting the stage for an evening of Pure Imagination with a show focused on paying homage to entertainment’s recently lost legends, including Gene Wilder, Prince, David Bowie and many others.

Idland and the Ritz performers are also placing an emphasis on recreating the British Invasion of the mid-1960s, courtesy of The Beatles.

And though the show’s theme is certainly a draw for some members of the audience, Idland said that there’s one consistent reason for the Greenville Area Arts Council’s continued success.

“It’s because of the kids that we almost sell out the theater three nights in a row—in addition to David Norrell, of course,” Idland said. “They do want to see David in a pink wig this year and an oompa loompa suit.”

As the show enters its 11th year, Idland reflected on the importance of theater in the lives of youth, and how it allows young personalities to manifest and spark to life on stage.

But Idland was hardly the only person who sang the Ritz’s praises.  Veteran GAAC performer Kalee Russell said that she and the other young members of the Ritz love the show just as much as the adults.

“I have to say that the costumes are one of my favorite parts,” Russell said. “My most favorite part of all is performing with my friends.  We have a lot of laughs, and we work hard, and the numbers that we’re doing are both fun and exciting. 

“Most of all, us kids love Mrs. Nancy for putting all of her time and effort into making the Ritz possible.”

Jackson Beck, the newest addition to the Ritz kids, added that he shares that enthusiasm.

“This is my first year with the Ritz, and let me just say that it is very exciting,” Beck said.

“My whole experience has been strange and fun at the same time.  I just want to thank everyone for helping me be here right now.  And I’d like to thank Mrs. Nancy for giving me a shot.”

Idland said that she and the gang were preparing an especially fun array of songs for audiences this year, including an acoustic set performed by Steve Norman, Kenneth Robinson, Chad Edwards, Charlie Kennedy and Kevin Pearcy that the crowd would surely find “amazing.”

“The acoustic set is a tribute to those who have passed,” Norrell added, noting that the show’s Pure Imagination headline is a direct reference to Gene Wilder.

The young performers performed three quick numbers from the show, including “I’m Coming Out,” “The Best Day of My Life” and “Get Back Up Again,” all numbers taken from the 2016 animated feature, “Trolls.”  But before they took the stage, Norrell said that the youthful energy provided by the Ritz’s youngest performers is, in many ways, the life force for the entire production.

“The kids tend to amaze us more than anybody,” Norrell said. “They really set the bar with what they can do, and what they will do.  They’re a great group of kids, and I’d take them anywhere in the world.”