A story of love, courage and devotion, with roots in WWII, "Remember Paris" will be presented June 16-17 by the Encore Theatrical Arts Project.
Showtimes are Saturday, June 16, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, June 17, at 1 and 4 p.m., at the Ernst Community Cultural Center on NOVA’s Annandale campus at 8333 Little river Turnpike. Tickets are $15 for students and senior citizens and $18 for adults. Order at www.encore-tap.org or call 703-222-5511.
Actually, the show itself is an encore, having first been performed by Encore in 2000. Making this production even more special is the fact that the person who played the lead in the original — and went on to begin a career in show business — has returned to reprise her role in this production.
"It’s going to be quite different from the original," said 26-year-old Courtney Holland, a 1998 Centreville High grad. "The sets, the costumes, the girls’ voices, they’re such wonderful singers. It was good then, but it’s more amazing now. The talent is phenomenal and continues to get better."
Under the direction of Raynor van der Merwe, who’s also the choreographer, the cast of about 40 has been rehearsing since February. "There’s so much choreography that has to be learned and polished," she said. "And there are 45-second, costume changes, so we do lots of class rehearsals. The behind-the-scenes has to be just as well-choreographed as what the audience sees on stage."
What they’ll see is a love story that comes to life when three sisters cleaning the attic for their grandparents find their grandmother’s diary from WWII. Reading it, they learn how, in her 20s in France, their grandmother Elizabeth worked for the French Underground, hiding people from the Nazis.
"She hid an American pilot and, for his safety, they had to pretend to be a couple, but they end up falling in love," said Abbey Hurlbert, a Westfield High junior. "Then the Nazis find them and split them apart. They lose touch, and she goes to America, and she doesn’t see him for four years."
Elizabeth decides to write him one, last letter and sends it to friends who know where to find him. "She tells him to meet her at a certain dinner club in New York, and he does, and they’re reunited," said Hurlbert, 17. "They get married and, years later, their three granddaughters find out about their grandparents’ colorful past that they never knew about."
Dancing since age 3, Hurlbert likes this show's wide variety of music, which includes French songs, "Mon Monage et Moi" and "La Vie en Rose," as well as American tunes from the 1940s. The audience will be treated to everything from a French showgirl number at Maxim’s in Paris to a whole collection of songs, including "Swingtime Canteen," from the Andrews Sisters.
"My favorite dance number is ‘Henry Ford,’" said Hurlbert. "We’re all dressed up as men — with trousers, button-up shirts, suspenders and hats — working in an auto factory, and we even have the frame from an original, Model T Ford. We’re dreaming about being able to own our own, Model T Fords, and then we have to get back to work."
She says the hardest part is getting in and out of the showgirl costume because of its feathers from waist to floor, rhinestones draping down the back and a rhinestone bracelet, necklace and earrings. But she loves "Remember Paris" because "it’s the first Encore show I ever saw, and now it’s come full circle and I’m in it."
"We’ve grown so much since then," said van der Merwe. "Our shows have much higher production value and we’ve accumulated lots of costumes. And we always try to appeal to the whole family." Former Centreville resident Scott Dees wrote the show, and his wife Tabitha designed the sets — and van der Merwe says they’re spectacular.
"There’s Paris and the Champs-elysse, and Maxim’s nightclub," she said. "But my favorite is when the couple goes to Coney Island. There’s a 16-foot Ferris wheel with a long boardwalk extending across the entire stage. It’s a beautiful set, and you can light it so well."
ALTHOUGH HOLLAND went away to college and began an acting career, she's returned now and then to appear in Encore productions. Most recently, after living in Los Angeles, she called van der Merwe — and her former mentor asked if she wanted to play Elizabeth again.
Holland was delighted. "In this role, I do more acting, but I also get to sing and dance," she said. "It’s such a blast." Her favorite number is "Me and My Girl." In it, she and Ian Strimple, 27, who plays Elizabeth’s husband Jack, perform a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers type dance. "We even do lifts," said Holland. "It’s cute and very musical theater."
Centreville High junior Courtney Moran, 17, has danced seven years with Encore and was also in the original. But, she said, "This is new and improved, and there are some new songs and dances." One of her favorites is "The March," an a cappella tap number. Said Moran: "We’re soldiers, and it’s very loud and serious."
For her, the toughest thing is keeping track of all the accessories to her costumes. But she’s especially fond of the seaside costume because "we get to wear the upper-class hats, gloves and long dresses of the time period."
And she says all ages will enjoy the show’s wartime setting, love story and variety of dance styles: "Adults will like the serious story and kids will enjoy the sparkly costumes and entertaining dances."
Westfield High junior Jenna Chin, also in her seventh season with Encore, likes the "Interlude Ballet" best. "It comes right after ‘The March’ and eases the tension," she said. "I think it’s beautiful, and I like the costumes — off-white dresses with big, circle skirts and halter tops with straps crossing in front and back."
Besides dancing, Chin says van der Merwe teaches her students professionalism. "Because she’s worked in the business, she tells us how to act in an audition, not obnoxious, but remembered," said Chin. And she said the audience will relate to the show because of the current war in Iraq: "It reminds me there’s more than just war — there are families — and people can fight for the right things."
Delaney Kilbride, 14, of Aldie, especially likes the show’s "Can Can" number and its costumes. "The skirts are purple and red with layers of colored ruffles underneath," she said. "Dancing is a way to express myself and my emotions and have fun. I’ve danced at other studios, but Encore's more professional."
All in all, added van der Merwe, "Remember Paris" should be a real crowd-pleaser. "It takes the audience on a journey," she said. "There’s both tension and joy, but it’s not too heavy. It is a musical and a love story, and it shows the joy of life."