Eleventh Putting on the Ritz show delights

Published 1:45 pm Wednesday, May 3, 2017

When Nancy Idland and her crew began planning for the 11th edition of Putting on the Ritz, the Greenville Area Arts Council’s annual musical fundraiser, they knew they wanted a more relaxed vibe for the follow up to last year’s big 10th anniversary production—a really fun show for all involved, both on stage and in the audience.

And they delivered.

The 50 cast members of “An Evening of Pure Imagination” gave strong performances on Thursday for the show’s debut, followed by what many perceived was an even better performance for Friday’s packed house. The Ritz Players closed things out on a high note with Saturday’s equally well-received show, earning the performers a standing ovation and many accolades from the audience members.

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“Absolutely fabulous! What a wonderfully talented group of people,” said Joyce Smith.

“A great show!” Judy Rogers commented.

“I could have watched little Jaxon Beck all night. I loved that uninhibited, fun-loving little guy,” chimed in Jeanie Cobb.

“I can’t believe how great this was. The whole show was so well thought out and put together beautifully,” said Rhoda Scott.

“All of the people involved in getting this thing put together deserve so much praise,” said first-time Ritz audience member Elizabeth Norman. “I mean, this was so fun to see local people come out to just have a good time and enjoy other local people putting their talent out there at our very own Ritz Theater.”

The two-hour production opened with the Ritz stage transformed into a true candy land with giant-sized peppermint sticks and boxes of Gobstoppers, Sour Patch Kids, Junior Mints and more well-loved sweet treats, all created for the production by GMS art teacher Will Stokes  and his students.

The audience was welcomed into this world of “Pure Imagination,” smoothly serenaded by none other than the top hat-wearing Willy Wonka himself (Ritz veteran Kevin Pearcey), followed by the Ritz Kids and adult performers in “ The Oompa Loompa Song.” New addition Joseph Longmire gave an exuberant performance as “The Candy Man” with the Ritz Kids singing and dancing along.

Pearcey returned with noted local musicians Charlie Kennedy (who also did the musical arrangements for the show), Chad Edwards, Steve Norman and Kenneth Robinson, for an “unplugged” set paying tribute to musical artists who passed away in 2017. Robinson’s soulful sax complemented the guitar skills of his fellow musicians, who harmonized on songs by George Michael, Leonard Cohen, Glenn Frey, Merle Haggard, David Bowie and Prince.

An audible gasp rippled through the audience when the lights came up and Lori Neilson and her fellow “Vogue” performers appeared in their elaborate period costumes and wigs. The number took the audience on a fun trip back to the 18th century as a sultry Neilson crooned the Madonna hit flanked by poker-faced backup dancers, with Jennie Hamilton and Casey Rogers as her haughty fashionista “wing men.”

Other soloists who shone in the show included Morgan Gibson (“Rolling in the Deep” and the ladies medley), Vicki Burt (“Put a Little Love/Lean on Me”) newcomer LaTonya Johnson (“Wonderful World, Beautiful People” and the ladies medley), Stephanie Connor (ladies medley), Tommy Ryan (“It’s Not Unusual/She’s a Lady”) and Mary Virginia Meadows and Stirling Hamilton (“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”).

Choral director David Norrell used his falsetto to amusing effect for a tongue-in-cheek performance of Bowie’s “Golden Years” and “Let’s Dance” set in a old folk’s home. Its doddering residents suddenly sprang to life for a few brief, shining–and hilarious– moments.

Norrell was joined by Wayne Ingram, Keith Gibson and Longmire as the Fab Four ably harmonizing in a medley of Beatles hits, with the words scrolling on the walls so the audience could sing along. Norman, Pearcey, Tommy Ryan and Garrett Till would also perform as the Beatles in their “Magical Mystery Tour” years for the finale.

The POTR youth cast brought plenty of enthusiasm and talent to “Pure Imagination.” One of the Ritz Kids’ newest additions, Jaxon Beck, earned lots of positive comments for his high-energy singing and dancing. The 18 youngsters performed a medley from the children’s film “Trolls,” featuring soloist Vivian Gates along with vocalists Beck and Reagan McLain, Kalee Russell, Annabel Rogers, Amelia Gregory, Anne KathrynSmith, Caroline Hartley, Maire Scott and Hannah Huggins.

Director Idland commended cast, crew and audience alike after the final production.

“The commitment of our cast this year was beyond commendable. This group of 50 truly stepped out of the box and gave you a show. I couldn’t be more proud of them,” she said.

“Our tech and stage crew were nothing short of professional. And then there were our wonderful audiences each night. I thank them for their laughter, applause and most of all, the desire to keep the arts alive in Greenville.”