Rehearsin#039; at the Ritz Cast prepares

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 14, 2007

Show business isn't all glitz and glamour. Before the curtain rises, a lot of sore muscles, gallons of sweat, brain strain and a few cases of the jitters must be endured.

It doesn't all happen overnight.

That's why the Ritz Players are flocking to the historic downtown theater after work and school this month to perfect their moves, tune up their tunes and prepare to put on a &#8220really big show.”

&#8220Puttin' on the Ritz,” a musical fundraiser for the Greenville Area Arts Council, comes to the Ritz Theatre Friday, April 27 and Saturday, April 28.

 Nancy Idland is the director while Roberta &#8220Bobbie” Gamble designed the costumes for the show.

The man behind the music? Charlie Kennedy.

‘Like a jigsaw puzzle'

Kennedy has already logged in many hours creating the arrangements for the production, which features songs from nine Broadway hits, along with George Benson's pop classic &#8220On Broadway” and three songs from the Coen Brothers' quirky period hit &#8220O Brother Where Art Thou?”

Idland and Gamble chose all the show's music, except for the &#8220O Brother” tunes, which were suggested by Kennedy. A ten-man show band and five-man &#8220O Brother” band will bring live music to the production.

Such a diverse show requires plenty of advance work.

&#8220Since we couldn't buy a package deal for the show, I had to adapt and arrange each number to conform to the capabilities of the cast. Creating a four-minute-long song is quite an undertaking, especially if there are six to ten instruments involved,” Kennedy explains.

A single song may incorporate thousands of notes and the &#8220fit” must be just right.

&#8220It's like working a monster jigsaw puzzle. Each note is a piece of the puzzle; if they don't fit together properly, you wind up with noise and chaos instead of music. It took me about 1,000 hours to create the arrangements for the show. I've probably spent another 30 to 40 hours making changes for various reasons,” Kennedy says.

The need to put a song in a different key or to shorten a number can mean another &#8220two or three hours of work,” he adds.

&#8220It's been great to have Greenville High Band Director Chris Pryor and Doug Hartin to help with the orchestration. Chris is also playing trumpet in the show band with Doug in the tenor sax,” Kennedy says.

‘A new experience'

Last Thursday, the ladies featured in the &#8220Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend” - Sabrina Reynolds, Jennifer Burkett, Shera Norman, Olivia Autrey and Jill Stallworth as &#8220leading blonde” -  worked on both music and movement for their glitzy number. There was a lot of laughter, cries of delight when a new step or move worked, and a few moans when it didn't.

Some &#8220Puttin' on the Ritz” cast members, like Reynolds, who possesses a Broadway showstopper voice, have performed on stage numerous times.

In fact, Gamble promises the &#8220little lady with the big voice” will indeed stop the show with her fine voice and her fabulous costume for the production's &#8220My Strongest Suit” number.

Stallworth, a novice on stage, says she is simply trying to have fun with her role.

&#8220I am not a singer. Sometimes I can't believe they talked me into this. It's definitely a new experience and I'm just doing the best I can,” she laughs.

Kennedy says &#8220Diamonds” is going to be a &#8220very cute” number - and visually very, very memorable.

&#8220Jill is going to be a knockout in that number. Bobby has designed a costume for her that is absolutely scandalous.”

Stallworth's and Reynold's performances won't be the only show-stoppers, Kennedy promises.

&#8220Getting to hear Judge Mack Russell yodel is alone worth the price of a ticket. I got to know Bryan Williams when we worked together on ‘Honeydripper' last year.  Bryan is the lead singer in ‘Hair.” He's got the voice, the moves - and the hair – for it,” Kennedy says.

While there will be numerous faces familiar to local audiences - Reynolds, Patricia Ballew, Starla Jones, Tom Payne, Todd Henderson, Skip Adair, Steve Norman and Shanna Forbes among them - new stars are also on the horizon for &#8220Puttin' on the Ritz,” Kennedy promises.

&#8220We were fortunate to discover Brad Jones, April Lowery, Anthony Coleman, Elnoria Grayson, Bryan Williams and quite a few more excellent vocalists. We also have some very fine dancers from our local dancing academy, Sonya's School

of Dance. There will be some great talent on stage at the Ritz those two nights.”

And not just on stage. The bands will also offer some musical surprises.

&#8220Father Fred Lindstrom is our show drummer. He's a little on the conservative side on Sunday mornings at St. Thomas, but when he gets behind a set of drums, he's a wild and crazy guy,” Kennedy says.

‘Down memory lane'

For the musical director, the arrangements may have been the hardest part, but being in show business again with his dear friend, Bobbie Gamble, has been the most enjoyable aspect of the show.

&#8220It has all been a sweet walk down memory lane,” Kennedy says.

&#8220I was involved in a variety of ways with all the shows Bobbie produced and directed with the Old Gym Players. We've had a wonderful time reminiscing about the old days.”

Tickets for a show guaranteed to provide many delightful musical memories are available in advance at The Pineapple and Grayson's.

GAAC members also received forms to order &#8220Puttin' on the Ritz” tickets by mail. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students, with proceeds going to support the upcoming season of the arts council.

The curtain rises at 7 p.m. both Friday and Saturday nights, April 27 and 28.

Go to to discover all the cast members and musicians for &#8220Puttin' on the Ritz.”