By Neil Shurley
For their 2018-19 season, Mill Town Players are going big.
“This year we’re doing six shows in our mainstage series, and we’re adding an additional show in the fall that’s intended for the South Carolina Theatre Association’s Community Theatre Festival,” says Will Ragland, executive artistic director of Mill Town Players. “And we are adding a youth show in the spring as we try to expand our educational offerings and dedicate a production to young people and for young audiences. And then we’re doing three concerts, spread throughout the year. So that’s a total of 11 shows next year, which is one reason why, after 15 years of teaching theater in public schools, I’m going to stop teaching and work here full time!”
Here are the shows coming to Mill Town Players for their 2018-19 season, with commentary from Will Ragland.
“The Marvelous Wonderettes”
Sept 14-16, 20-23, 27-30, 2018
The ’50s Pop Hit Musical Comedy!
This smash off-Broadway hit takes you to a 1958 high school prom where we meet four girls with hopes and dreams as big as their crinoline skirts. As we learn about their lives and loves, the girls serenade us with classic ‘50s hits including “Lollipop,” “Dream Lover,” “Stupid Cupid,” and “Lipstick on Your Collar.” In Act 2, the Wonderettes reunite to take the stage and perform at their 10-year reunion. It’s a musical trip down memory lane.
Ragland: “It is such a charming show and really fits in with the types of shows our audiences love. They take these songs from the ’50s and ’60s and weave them very creatively into a storyline that fits just right, where you’re actually invested in these four girls.”
“Romeo and Juliet”
Oct 26-28, Nov 1-4, 2018 (school day matinees available)
Shakespeare’s Classic Love Story Set in Appalachia
This unique production of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy is inspired by the Hatfield-McCoy feud of the late 1800s. Featuring Shakespeare’s language, stage combat, live bluegrass music, and Appalachian dialects, this is “Romeo and Juliet” like you’ve never experienced it before. The production will also be featured in the SC Theatre Association Community Theatre Festival state competition in November at Anderson University.
Ragland: “For the competition, it has to be cut down to an hour, and it’s a traveling show, so the set has to fit within a 10-by-10 box. We’re going to reintroduce this classic to high schools in a fun, fresh, new, and different way. I think it’s going to be really neat and really special.”
“Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings”
Nov 30-Dec 2, 6-9, 13-16, 2018
The Funny, Feel Good Holiday Musical
The Plaids are back to do their Christmas Special! At first, Francis, Jinx, Smudge, and Sparky aren’t sure why they’ve returned to Earth for another posthumous performance, but a phone call from the heavenly Rosemary Clooney lets them know that they’re needed to put a little harmony into a discordant world.
Ragland: “Everybody loved ‘Forever Plaid’ last time we did it, so we knew we were going to do this show. Kimberlee Ferreira is back doing the directing and choreography, and we’re trying to get all four of our original guys back because they had such great chemistry together. It’s a very similar show, just Christmas themed. It’s got a lot of great songs in it and the same sweet characters.”
“Crimes of the Heart”
Jan 18-20, 24-27, 31–Feb 3, 2019
A Play by Beth Henley
The Pulitzer Prize-winning classic follows the grave yet somehow hilarious reunion of three sisters in Hazlehurst, Miss., as they gather to await news of the family patriarch, who is living out his last hours in the local hospital.
Ragland: “It’s not been done around here in a while, and Jay Briggs is going to direct it. It’s going to be a good one.”
Feb 22-24, 28–Mar 3, 2019 (school day matinees available)
Youth Musical Featuring Dr. Seuss’s Best Loved Characters
Horton the Elephant, the Cat in the Hat, and all of your favorite Dr. Seuss characters spring to life onstage in “Seussical Jr.,” a fantastical musical extravaganza!
Ragland: “This show coincides with the annual Read Across America initiative, during Dr. Seuss’ birthday, as schools across the country celebrate reading and celebrate Dr. Seuss’ work. We’re going to have school matinees for elementary and middle school kids to come and see it. What better way to connect and try to build up an educational program?”
“Pump Boys and Dinettes”
Mar 29-31, Apr 4-7, 11-14, 2019
A Country-Western Musical Comedy
The “Pump Boys” sell high octane on Highway 57 in Grand Ole Opry country and the “Dinettes,” Prudie and Rhetta Cupp, run the Double Cupp diner next door. Together they fashion an evening of country-western songs that received unanimous raves on and off-Broadway.
Ragland: “It’s a country-western musical comedy. The unique thing about this show is that the actors also play instruments. We’ve been looking at this show for a long time, and it’s not been done in the Upstate for a long time. In choosing a season, I like to choose things that are tried and true and things that are brand new, and this is a mixture.”
“A Pelzer Gospel Homecoming”
May 10-12, 2019
An Evening of Old-Time Gospel Songs and Hymns
An annual tradition at the Pelzer Auditorium, “A Pelzer Gospel Homecoming” features local musicians and singers who will offer an uplifting, spirit-filled concert of glory and praise.
Ragland: “We’ve done this every single year and people just love it, so we’re going to keep doing it until folks get tired of it.”
“First Baptist of Ivy Gap”
May 24-26, 30-Jun 2, 6-9, 2019
A Poignant Southern Comedy
During WWII, six women gather at the church to roll bandages and plan the church’s 75th anniversary. Then, 25 years later, our “First Baptist Six” reunite as the war in Vietnam impacts their world. With humor and pathos, these six very different women find comfort, forgiveness, and redemption in each other.
Ragland: “It’s sad and it’s funny and it involves some singing of traditional hymns and songs by the cast members. It’s not a musical, but the music enhances the story. It’s basically about these women who support each other through times of hardship, through times of war. And it’s full of that great Southern humor.”
“Classic Country: A Country Music Concert”
Jun 14-16, 2019
Country Standards You Know and Love
One weekend only! Classic Country will feature a live band and local singers performing hits from Hank Williams Sr., Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and many more.
Ragland: “It features music from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s — country music that people know and love. I didn’t feel like we had enough pure country music in our season, so I wanted to offer this.”
“Annie Get Your Gun”
July 19-21, 25-28, Aug. 1-4, 2019
Irving Berlin’s Classic American Musical
When backwoods sharpshooter Annie Oakley joins Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, she falls head over heels for dashing shooting ace Frank Butler and learns that “There’s No Business Like Show Business!”
Ragland: “We had a big success with ‘Oklahoma’ a couple of years ago, and we’ve been wanting to do this one for awhile. And you can’t beat Irving Berlin’s music. This was actually the first show I was ever in as a kid, in high school, and I’ve never done it since. So I’m very excited about it, and I think it’ll be a huge hit. It’s a great American classic.”
“A Broadway Cabaret”
Aug. 9-11, 2019
An Evening of Songs from Broadway
A special concert event featuring some of your favorite Upstate performers singing some of their favorite Broadway tunes.
Ragland: “People love the music and they come out to see it, and we’re going to give it to them every chance we get.”
“Five musicals, three concerts, and three plays. And somehow,” he adds with a hearty laugh, “we’re going to pull all of this off.”
Mill Town Players performances are held in historic Pelzer auditorium at 214 Lebby St. in Pelzer. Tickets are $12 for general admission and $10 for seniors/military/students. For more information, visit milltownplayers.org.