Each year, Encore Theatrical Arts Project of Chantilly performs a special, Broadway-style, musical show for the holidays, and this year's production — "Let it Snow ... Let it Snow ... Let it Snow" — is no exception.
"It's a brand-new show, beginning to end, with all new numbers," said director and choreographer Raynor van der Merwe. "The girls have worked hard, and I'm very proud of them."
This colorful and captivating Christmas tale will be presented Saturday, Dec. 14 and 21, at 1, 4 and 8 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 15 and 22, at 1 and 4 p.m., in the Ernst Cultural Center at the Annandale campus of NOVA. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for children and senior citizens; group rates are available. Call 703-222-5511 for more information or to purchase tickets.
Some 35 girls, ages 11-19, are in the cast, and rehearsals began in August. This year's show tells what happens when Santa goes to Hawaii and the two head elves, Roscoe and Ruby, are left in charge of the toy workshop. Van der Merwe thought up the story concept and Scott Dees of Haymarket wrote the script.
Ruby usually manufactures the toys and runs the workshop, and Roscoe takes care of the reindeer and helps with toy distribution. But the two elves decide to switch jobs — with disastrous results.
"Roscoe takes a couple elves away from the production line to decorate the outside of the house, and the toy-making machine explodes," said van der Merwe. "Then Santa sends a note saying he's retiring."
Before long, Santa's red suit in the closet begins speaking to Roscoe, telling him it's time to put it on. "When he does, he becomes Santa," said van der Merwe. "That's how he realizes that the magic of Santa Claus lives on forever in the legacy of his suit."
The show opens at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but Santa Claus isn't in the sleigh at the end. Then Roscoe tells why Santa's missing; but at the end, Santa arrives to save the day. The production contains acting, singing and dancing, and van der Merwe believes it will be a real crowd-pleaser.
"Sure to be a showstopper are two numbers from 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' performed by the [Radio City Music Hall] 'Rockettes' in the parade," she said. "One is called 'Yule be Swinging.'" Another terrific number, she said, is "North Pole," sung when the audience sees Santa's house for the first time. "It's 16 feet high and 40 feet wide and fills the whole stage," said van der Merwe. "It's a beautiful set."
She also likes the "Jingle Bells" number where the girls are dancing reindeer: "It's pretty tough to do because they dance in heels and around props, but it's dazzling-looking." The 13-minute finale called "Let it Snow" is the production's musical culmination, and it even snows on stage.
"It's a feast for the eyes," said van der Merwe. "The girls are dressed as white snowflakes, and some of it is done on pointe shoes. They also use sleds, and some are dressed as Christmas presents." Then comes the grand finale when Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive on their sleigh.
Rachel Dolan, 17, a Centreville High senior, is part of the dance ensemble and says the show should really get the audience into the Christmas spirit. "My favorite number is 'Santa, Baby,'" she said. "We have a big, toy machine on stage, and we come out as Christmas Barbie dolls. It's a slow, sassy, jazz number — it's really cute."
For Centreville sophomore Paige Williams, 15, the best part is the Rockettes number. "We had an opportunity to go up to New York and see the Rockettes [Encore grad Emily Stacks is currently performing with the real Rockettes]," she said. "And after seeing their precision and expertise, it really makes you want to go out there and do the name justice."
Jessica Altman, 16, a Centreville junior, especially likes the finale. "It's hard because we have five or six different costume changes, but it's creative and fun," she said. "There's so much going on and lots of different songs all blending into one another. And I like it when the snow comes down — it looks really pretty from the audience. It'll get some oohs and aahs."
Brittany Martin, a seventh-grader at Stone Middle School, says children will really like the show because of its plot. She loves dancing because "you're free and you can express your personality."
Loudoun County High's Danielle Gaquin, 16, says this year's show has "a little bit of everything." She, too, loves the finale because "it's really upbeat and fast-paced and we do about four different styles of dancing in it. I like performing and making audiences happy."
Centreville junior Meaghan Moran, 16, is in her fifth year with Encore and says Raynor taught her professionalism and the whole technique of dancing. Moran, too, is thrilled with the new holiday show. "The storyline is more Christmasy, with Santa Claus and the elves, so it's more festive [than past shows]," she said. "The audience will love it."