A highlight of each holiday season is Encore's Christmas show, and this year's production, "Jolly Follies Holiday," promises to be every bit as memorable.
Featuring a bevy of talented and beautifully costumed dancers in imaginatively choreographed numbers, the newest offering by Encore Theatrical Arts Project tells a magical tale in a North Pole setting.
"I think the audience will really like it because it's not just dancing — it's really a show," said Leslie Roth, a Rachel Carson eighth-grader headed for Westfield High next year. "The costumes and sets are great, and we put so much of our hearts into this show."
Performances are Saturday, Dec. 4, at 1, 4 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 5, at 1 and 4 p.m., at the Annandale campus of NOVA in the Ernst Community Cultural Center. Tickets are $12 for students and senior citizens and $15 for adults; call 703-222-5511.
Shows are also slated for Friday, Dec. 10, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 11, at 1, 4 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 12, at 1 and 4 p.m. Encore director and choreographer is Raynor van der Merwe, and "Jolly Follies Holiday" has a cast of 53, including 31 dancers, plus some children and adults from the community.
Written by former Centreville resident Scott Dees, the story starts with the accountants at the North Pole discovering they're in the red. They have to save Christmas, so they decide to put on a variety show.
Auditions take place, and Max the Elf — played by adult Dan Delafield — goes to the city to find a director. He figures that a man dressed in black and wearing a beret is a director, so he whisks him off to the North Pole. He's not — and doesn't even speak English — but things work out, anyway.
"They manage to put on a successful show," said van der Merwe. "But Max and another elf (Delafield's wife, Tina) discover they've made money but have bills to pay for putting on the show. So they're back where they started."
But Santa tells them Christmas was already funded — and besides, it's about the spirit in which people give, not how much they give. Said van der Merwe, "They realize that, by putting on the show — even though they didn't make money — they brought joy to everyone at the North Pole."
The cast has been rehearsing since August, and van der Merwe said everything has come together wonderfully. "It's so exciting to get calls from people booking tickets who've gone to previous Encore shows and consider this a mini Broadway show," she said. "It's become a tradition for many families."
Dees' wife, Tabitha, designed the sets, including the inside and outside of Santa's house, plus a park scene with snow-covered trees. And some costumes — turquoise blue, beaded dresses — were designed by van der Merwe and sewn in India. They're worn in the "No Business Like Snow Business" number, in which five girls are suspended on swings and gently lowered against an icy-blue backdrop.
During last Friday's rehearsal, Centreville High senior Rachel Hepner wore a white gown with feathers at the bottom and long, white, gloves. She's been with Encore six years and has danced since age 5. Her favorite number in the show is "Yule Be Rockin’.”
"It's a fast, upbeat, jazz number, and half of us wear short, lime-green dresses and the rest wear hot-pink dresses, and we all wear go-go boots and big, circular earrings," she said.
Hepner said the audience will "be really impressed by the acting, singing, dancing and costumes."
"I look forward to coming to dance, every day. I like the people, I love to dance — it's almost like my second family," said Hepner.
Colby Dezelick, 10, plays an elf, who wears a red-and-blue outfit with a pointy hat. He described his character as "crazy and out there — not staying on task, wandering off, thinking about other things and very confused. And he comes up with weird ideas."
His role is fun because "I get to be wacky and do whatever, and I dance as an elf and also in the 'Multiplying Santas' number where everyone's a Santa. And in 'Yule Be Rockin' I'm Elvis, and I lip-synch a song." Colby has done other Encore productions and always has a good time. He said this show is "very funny and has amazing dancing, and the sets are just so cool."
WESTFIELD HIGH junior Lindsay Sainato, 16, has danced some 13 years — four of them with Encore. "I love performing on stage," she said. "You work really hard and then get to show that to everybody." In this performance, she sings and does tap and jazz dancing. "I like the Rockettes number the best because of the costumes — we're in green-velvet dresses — and the choreography," she said.
"The audience will enjoy it," said Sainato. "It's come together really well, and we have a lot of new numbers and choreography this year. We have dance classes almost every day and practice on Friday and Saturday. And now we're doing dress rehearsals all weekend." She said the hardest part is all the fast hair and costume changes, but she's delighted to be on stage.
Westfield freshman Brittany Martin, 14, wore her Rockette dress during rehearsal, along with green velvet gloves and a white fur cap adorned with holly. Dancing since age 3, in Encore's show she portrays Frosty the Snowman, an elf, a Rockette, a reindeer, Santa and a singer.
She said the "Yule Be Rockin'" number "brings out a lot of energy and, hopefully, will put smiles on everyone's faces in the audience." And she's made good friends at Encore and calls it "a fun place to be."
Emily Cash, also a Westfield freshman, wore sparkly, rhinestone earrings and a red velvet Santa costume trimmed with white fur. "I like performing to an audience, and I especially love the 'Wooden Soldiers' number," she said. "It's a tap number with 12-15 of us dressed in red jackets with gold buttons, white belts, black pants with a red stripe down the side and furry black hats. We dance stiff like we're toy soldiers, and it's fun because it's different."
Leslie Roth, 13, said Encore is wonderful because of "the professional quality of the shows we put on and the camaraderie of the people. And we have such spirit when we're doing a show together."
Roth added that van der Merwe is easy to talk to, as well as being a terrific teacher. "She's always pointing out details that we can work on and helps us be the best dancers we can be. I've improved in tap so much," Roth said.
Beth Martin, 16, of Sully Station, is a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School and is thrilled about the Rockette number. "I've always wanted to be a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall, so it's nice to put on the costume and dance to the music," she said. The toughest part, said Martin, is "during a quick costume change when you think you lost a costume piece and are frantically searching for it."
Westfield freshman Jenna Chin also likes the "Wooden Soldiers" number because it's tap, and that's her forté. "I like being someone else," she said. "And the fact that it's tap makes it all the better."
She added that van der Merwe's taught her to try things and keep going. As for the current show, said Chin, "It has Santa for the kids and jokes for the adults, so there's something everyone can enjoy. It's a real family show."
Proud of her dancers, van der Merwe said many are GT (gifted and talented) and AP (advanced placement) students. "They're spending over 20 hours a week here but, the more they do, the higher they seem to achieve," she said. "And all the parents helping are phenomenal. They move sets, are ushers, handle concessions and provide food for the kids backstage. It's definitely a family effort."