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Armstrong Community Theater revives classic bits for 'Variety Show'

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 9:03 p.m.
Valley News Dispatch
Ricky Wright (front) and cast on Feb. 5, 2013, rehearse a scene from 'The Hustle' for the Armstrong Community Theatre at the Worthington Civic Center in Worthington. Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
Annette Brocious and Paul Wright rehearse a scene, 'Old Lady and Man,' on Feb. 5, 2013, for the Armstrong Community Theater at the Worthington Civic Center in Worthington. Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
Center stage from left, Troy Dinga, Karissa Lloyd, Dirk Ahlgrim and Paul Wright rehearse with the rest of the cast a scene from 'Rent' on Feb. 5, 2013, for the Armstrong Community Theater at the Worthington Civic Center in Worthington. Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
Dirk Ahlgrim (center) and cast rehearse a scene from 'Light of the World' on Feb. 5, 2013, for the Armstrong Community Theater at the Worthington Civic Center in Worthington. Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
From left, John Wigle, Troy Dinga and J.C. Gibson rehearse a scene from 'The Stooges' on Feb. 5, 2013, for the Armstrong Community Theater at the Worthington Civic Center in Worthington. Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
Center stage from left, Troy Dinga, Karissa Lloyd, Dirk Ahlgrim and Paul Wright rehearse a scene from 'Rent' on Feb. 5, 2013, for the Armstrong Community Theatre at the Worthington Civic Center in Worthington. Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Paul Wright
Troy Dinga (left) and Karissa Lloyd rehearse at the joke wall featured in Armstrong Community Theater’s “The Best of ACT Variety Show.” Courtesy of Paul Wright
Paul Wright
Submitted photo

Armstrong Community Theater is keeping it simple for the opening production of its 12th season.

There are no overarching plots or characters to keep track of, “just fun skits, dances and lots of laughter,” says Karissa Lloyd of Vandergrift, a choreographer, assistant director and cast member in “The Best of ACT Variety Show.”

It will be staged Friday through Sunday at the Worthington Civic Center.

It was an easy choice to want to be involved in this year's offering, Lloyd says. “We're reliving all the fun memories of the past shows, and I'm learning things from the shows I wasn't in,” she says. “It has a little piece of every musical and variety show we've done in the past 11 years.”

There are some new people replacing some of the actors who originally performed the roles. “A lot of people returned to do this show and are reviving their roles. That is a strength,” says Paul Wright, theater founder and one of the show's directors. “We have just needed to polish a little and teach those who were not in the earlier productions.”

Everyone is trying to live up to the motto on their T-shirts: “Let us entertain you,” says Mike Luke of Kittanning. “We create laughs and enjoyment.”

Wright believes the productions have been so well-received through the years because of the topics and themes covered. “We have done the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s, to name a few. Everyone loves those memorable songs, glamorous celebrities, television shows, hilarious skits and more,” he says. “It takes people back to a simpler time.”

The theater seems to draw a lot of actors who like participating in these shows, he says.

“There are so many different styles of theater involved, you're just sure to find something you recognize or have heard before,” says John Wigle of Craigsville. He is acting in a scene from “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Charlie Brown” and, his favorite, as Curly in “The 3 Stooges.” “I grew up watching them,” he says.

Annette Brocious of Worthington jokes that, because she is 67 and the oldest cast member, she was given the parts of “two old ladies,” including portraying Ruth Buzzi in a scene from the “Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In” show of the late '60s, early '70s.

“I try not to take myself too seriously and have fun with the character, to entertain the audience and give them a few laughs,” she says. “The directors are extremely helpful to steer you in the right direction for whatever you need. Even the cast will take their time to help you when needed.”

She hopes a show like this might inspire some audience members to consider giving community theater a try. “I believe the popularity of these shows comes from the enthusiasm and fun the cast displays to the audience,” says Marjorie Thomas of East Franklin. She finds the most-challenging aspect of the “The Best of ACT Variety Show” is arranging the skits so that everyone has enough time to change costumes and be ready to return to the stage.

She hopes to convey her love for musicals. Like others in the cast, she has multiple tasks, singing, dancing and supporting other skits.

“The cast is expected to do a lot more singing and dancing than is typical for a variety show, because the material is coming from our past musical and variety shows, and they've very much risen to the occasion,” Karissa Lloyd says.

She was in several of these shows when they were first staged, including playing Lucy in “You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown” (now she plays Sally); Gladys in “The Pajama Game” and Gilmer in “Godspell.”

For this year's “Best Of,” Lloyd has choreographed scenes from “Footloose,” “A Like … So Totally Awesome '80s Variety Show,” “Hernando's Hideaway” (from “The Pajama Game),” “Bushel and a Peck” (“Guys & Dolls),” “Tradition” (“Fiddler on the Roof”) and Jessica Bure's dancing for “Light of the World” (“Godspell”).

“It's been really fun,” she says. “One of the initial challenges was picking just one thing from each musical and variety show we've staged.”

Jen Long says that one of the challenges she encountered was trying to re-create a song or dance from the first show. “Since we do have something to compare it to, we want to make sure that it is done just as well this second time around,” she says. The Cowansville resident is reprising her role as Annie Oakley. “Since I wasn't quite ready for that show to be over at the time, it is definitely a lot of fun to get to sing those songs again,” she says.

Becky Swanson of East Franklin is just happy to be able to experience this production with her sons, Brendan, 13, and Benjamin, 10. “We have many different roles in the show, with quite a few costume changes,” she says. “My kids are both new at this and, so far, enjoy it. It is a great activity that I feel I can do with my kids.”

That is part of the magic of community theater, says cast member Jessica Sigler of East Franklin. “It is local, and it is not expensive, and they get to see people they actually know in a show,” she says.

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or rrutkoski@tribweb.com.

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