Gratitude Today: Hooray, Community Theater

My pal Lisa Thompson (top left) with Molly and Marcella Allison (on Aaron Mansfield’s knees) and Kaitlyn Meadows.

Regardless of where you live in America, you are not far from a community theater. The American Association of Community Theaters, representing a goodly portion of those independent theaters, is 42 years old and has 7,000 theaters as members. They put on 45,000 productions a year.

More than 7.5 million people attend those performances, produced by more than a million volunteers. The Roanoke Valley is blessed with good theater at every level, including the “community theater” definition: amateurs. The number of companies in the Roanoke Valley–at least three, Attic Productions, Showtimers and Star City Playhouse–depends on the definition. Off the Rails, for example, has a community theater feel, but at a high level and it employs professionals. Same with Roanoke Children’s Theatre. In nearby Bedford, the Little Town Players is an old community theater. (I don’t count the college theaters [especially Hollins, one of the best theatre departments in the U.S.], which are quite good, because they are … well … college theaters.)

I don’t go to a lot of community theater productions, but when I do, I am often surprised–as I was last night–by the quality. Attic’s most recent production, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” is a musical (the Gershwin brothers) set in the 1920s whose songs are familiar and which is not a special challenge for amateurs. It was originally produced in 2001 and made it to Broadway in 2012.

The costuming last night was especially appealing (lots of flappers and dress-up clothes) and the movable set was functional and upscale. The singing and dancing (especially with leads Aaron and Jessica Mansfield, who seem to have sprung up from nowhere) were far better than I expected. Will Smith’s choreography was simple, direct and took into account the level of the players, which is something community theaters don’t always do well.

Margie and I went to this play because my friend Lisa Thompson is in it as the lead chorus girl and Lisa is one of the most appealing people I know. She took that presence straight to the stage, a natural fit.

But there was more than Lisa to enjoy. Teen-age sisters Molly and Marcella Allison were delights. In the last scene of the night (in a play that was about 30-40 minutes too long) Molly simply stole the show, even though she was not a central figure on a busy stage. She was off to the side, acting as if she were the center of it all and it was, frankly, the funniest piece in the play. Molly is a ballerina, loose-limbed and expressive, even though her face is in constant deadpan. I see a future for her.

In any case, the community theater in Fincastle shone last night and once again proved that theater in this small patch of Virginia offers delightful entertainment, regardless of who’s in charge.

You can get tickets by calling 540-473-1001. They are $18 each.


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