Featuring its signature, Broadway-style, song-and-dance numbers, colorful costumes and lavish sets, Encore Theatrical Arts Project presents its 10th annual holiday show, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year."
Raynor van der Merwe is the director/choreographer, and the musical tells the story of a young boy who has lost the holiday spirit. Disappointed that he doesn't appreciate the joy of the season, his parents send him to New York to visit his grandparents — and there, magical things happen.
Portraying the boy, Cody, is Colby Dezelick who, at 11, is already a seasoned performer with Encore. It's his third year with the dance company, and he's been dancing for five years.
"I have no Christmas spirit, but I don't know that all the men in my magical family are Santa," he said. "It's not one person, but a whole family. And they have to get me to like Christmas so I can become Santa, one day."
Trouble is, Cody doesn't believe in Santa Claus, so his grandparents have their work cut out for them. But they take him to Christmas shows, and he notices something very special about his grandpa.
"Just randomly, my grandfather claps his hands, and people come and perform for us," said Colby. "He tells me that's Christmastime — good people spreading good cheer."
Colby enjoys both acting and dancing and likes this show because "it's a family show and both parents and kids can relate to it. And there are some really cool dances and costumes." His favorite dance number is "Yule Be Rockin," in which mannequins in the Macy's store window come to life and dance — and magical glasses transform him, for the moment, into a singing and dancing Elvis.
Colby says the story has so many "twists, secrets and surprises" that the audience will want to see more. He loves being part of Encore and says van der Merwe taught him how to deal with unexpected problems during the show by thinking fast on his feet.
"That's what's so neat about live theater," he said. "You have that adrenaline rush kicking in, and it's fun to figure out how to solve a problem while you're doing a show and make it look like it was planned."
Lindsay Sainato, 17, a Westfield High senior, has danced since age 3. She especially likes the reindeer dance number because "it's difficult, so you have to use a lot of energy, but it's fun. We wear antlers with bells and holly and brown velvet leotards."
LINDSAY SAYS the audience will enjoy the show because "all the costumes are really bright colors and creative, and we have new dance numbers." She said the hardest part is changing costumes because "you have a limited amount of time to change them and make it on stage."
Lindsay loves performing, though. "We work hard all year to put on a show," she said. "Being onstage makes me feel comfortable and lets me express myself." Her favorite song is "Sleigh Ride" where she and the other reindeer sing, dance and push around a sleigh.
A senior at Thomas Jefferson, Beth Martin, 17, of Sully Station II, is in her fifth year with Encore. She likes dancing because it's "a completely different world from school and kind of balances out the day."
Beth, too, likes the reindeer number because "the costumes are a lot like the Rockettes." Her favorite song is "Because It's Christmas," she said. "Little kids are running around onstage, and it's emotional and a good, holiday-spirit song." For Beth, the show will get people ready for the holidays and, along those lines, she said, "Raynor's always told me that being able to perform is a gift you can give to others. It also makes me happy."
Westfield senior Shannon Holland, 18, has spent nine years with Encore and has danced since age 2. She said this production is "different from the other ones [Encore's done] and takes things to a higher level of performance."
She likes the opening of act two, when the audience first sees the elves in their workshop, busily preparing for Christmas. Then when Cody goes to the basement where Santa is working, a surprise is revealed.
Holland especially likes the number where the dancers portray the famous Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. They wear red dresses with white fluff around the top, sleeves and bottom, plus white furry hats with red brooches, elbow-length white gloves and red bracelets.
Leslie Roth, 14, a freshman at Westfield, is in her third year with Encore. "I like the feeling of ensemble we get with our group, and it feels good to work hard and then finally put a show onstage for large audiences," she said. "It's been my dream to dance since I've been little, and Raynor teaches us the importance of respect and friendship. And she keeps us together with good morale and spirit."
Leslie also likes the elves' workshop scene because of its colorful costumes. The tops are blue, green, purple and red plaid that end in points adorned by red felt balls. The full skirts are turquoise blue, and the pointy caps are of turquoise-blue and purple fleece.
"IT'S THE first time the audience gets to see the elves, other than their feet," said Leslie. "The set behind them is Santa's workshop, and we get to have fun as playful elves." She said it's a different and more suspenseful show than Encore's previous productions.
"It will make the audience want to find out more as the show goes along," said Leslie. "And the combination of music, story line, sets and spirit makes a great holiday performance."
Van der Merwe's 38 dancers have been rehearsing since August and, she said, "I set high standards, and they're where I want them to be. My motto for them this year is 'poise, passion, pizzazz and a positive attitude' and, with these elements, anything's possible. I'm terribly excited about the show and very proud of it."