Featuring 50 performers, dazzling dance numbers and a charming new story, Encore Theatrical Arts Project presents the holiday dance musical, "Rudy and the Candy Cane Stocking."
PERFORMANCES are in the Ernst Community Cultural Center, 8333 Little River Turnpike, on NOVA's Annandale campus. Tickets are $15, students and seniors; and $18, adults, at www.encore-tap.org.
Showtimes are: Dec. 8 at 1, 4 and 8 p.m.; Dec. 9 at 1 and 4 p.m.; Dec. 14 at 8 p.m.; Dec. 15 at 1, 4 and 8 p.m.; and Dec. 16 at 1 and 4 p.m. And the Friday, Dec. 14, show will benefit Western Fairfax Christian Ministries' food pantry and outreach programs.
"It's set in a fantasy, North Pole town, Holiday Hill, and Rudy is someone who doesn't fit in," explained Director and Choreographer Raynor van der Merwe. "So a slick, suave Mr. Frost tells him, 'If you wear this candy-cane stocking, you'll be able to dance wonderfully at the Yule Be Rocking dance off and everybody will like you.' Rudy doesn't know, but suspects, there are strings attached."
In the show, every character on Holiday Hill has a child in the real world for whom they're the guardians of the Christmas spirit. And if the children start losing this spirit, their guardians will turn into snowflakes and fade away. Rudy's already halfway there, so he has to find a way to find his spirit from within, or Frost will put a freeze on Holiday Hill and Christmas.
It's Encore's 11th annual holiday spectacular and features music from the Broadway shows, "Wicked," "Guys and Dolls" and "Chorus Line," as well as many Christmas classics. The performers — including local, professional actor Dan Delafield in the role of Frost — have been rehearsing since August.
"What's different about this production is that the dancers are the characters who live in this place," said van der Merwe. "As soon as they finish dancing, they go into an acting scene. So they really had to be triple threats — singing, dancing and acting — to get major roles in this show."
SHE'S ALSO thrilled because "advance ticket sales have been incredible. People come back, year after year, to see us because we do a new production each year and we've built up our reputation. And this show really does engage your imagination. It truly is a family musical, and everyone will get something different out of it."
Veteran Encore performer Colby Dezelick, a seasoned dancer at age 13, plays Rudy, who's guardian of the Christmas spirit of a girl named Clara. And as she stops believing in Christmas, he's starting to fade away.
"He's all gray and in patchwork clothes while everyone else is in color, so he's kind of an outcast," said Dezelick. "The elves, snowmen, reindeer and gingerbreads stick together, but he doesn't have a group."
Rudy wants to enter the yearly dance competition, with everyone else, to help Clara, but none of the Christmas-character groups have openings until Dasher breaks his leg. However, Rudy's can't dance very well — until he meets Frost and gets to join the reindeer group. But Rudy must give Frost something in return and falls under Frost's control."
Dezelick says Rudy's an interesting character to play because "he's an outcast, but has his own personality, so he's a really fun guy." And his favorite number is "Run, Run, Rudolph."
"I fell on the floor [from exhaustion] after learning it," said Dezelick. "It's a big number with lots of tricks to impress the other reindeer so Rudy can be accepted into the group." And he says the audience will love the show since it's so diverse, so much fun and contains so many different Christmas creatures.
Westfield High senior Abbey Hurlbert — who's danced since age 3 and has been with Encore seven years — portrays Dancer the reindeer. And she's loved her whole experience with the organization.
"At Encore, not only do you learn about dance, performing and how to act in a professional environment, but so many things translate to my personal life and school," she explained. "I've learned discipline, organization, time management and working with different people in groups to accomplish a single goal."
AS DANCER, said Hurlbert, I'm second in command and boss around the other reindeer. But I'm subservient to Prancer, the head reindeer." All the reindeer characters will wear brown leotards, brown jackets with tails and, of course, antlers.
"It's really different acting as an animal, but we still have the personalities of people," said Hurlbert. She said her toughest part is "bossing people around, because I'm not bossy in real life." The best part, she said, is that "it's really fun to embrace someone totally different from myself."
Her favorite number is "Be a Santa" because "when you do this dance, you can't not smile. She said the audience will like that this show is "more storyline-centered than some of the ones before, but still has the elements of dance and showmanship we're known for."
Natasha Scearse, 17 1/2, is Cupid the reindeer. "She's fallen for Dasher, but she's kind of awkward and not poised," said Scearse. "She wants to be liked by him, but she's odd and quirky and not as confident as Vixen."
She, too, loves her role. "When I try to be like Vixen, I'm horrible at it," said Scearse. "But Jillian [Helms], who plays Vixen, and I work really well together." She said it's hard "focusing on dancing, acting and singing all at once, but it's coming along."
The best part, she said, is "making people laugh and have fun." She also likes the "Run, Run, Rudolph" number because "it's really upbeat, fun and stylish. And Rachel Dolan, Raynor's assistant, choreographed it — so it's a new perspective on dancing and a more contemporary style."
Scearse said the audience will find "something to laugh at and be entertained by, every moment. It's action-packed and full of energy, and that's exciting for me, as a performer."
PLAYING REINDEER Blitzen is Westfield senior Jenna Chin. "She's really witty and sarcastic and not afraid to speak her mind," said Chin. "And I'm kind of sarcastic so it's fun to play that."
Getting her comedic timing down is her biggest challenge, but she likes that her character "makes fun of everything and everybody, but people aren't offended. They just think, 'Oh, another comment from Blitzen.' And it gives me more room to work with facial expressions and reactions."
Chin especially likes the Rockette number. "We wear short-sleeved, red-velvet dresses with white fur around the edges and dance in the Rockette style," she explained. "It's precise and upbeat, but has some difficult steps — it gets your heartbeat up."
She said this show has lots more dialogue than past shows and includes the whole, North Pole, not just a small segment. And, she added, "It's fun to watch."
Centreville High senior Courtney Moran portrays Prancer. "She's a drama queen, in charge of everyone," she said. "She's worried because the lead reindeer got hurt."
Her most difficult part is having to break down and cry, she said. But even though her character's personality is opposite from her own in real life, she said, "It's good to experience [the difference] and be totally out there."
Moran's favorite number is "Feets Too Big." It's a tap dance and, she said, "We're making fun of Rudy for not being able to dance because his feet are too big." And since the show's balanced between acting, singing and dancing, she said, "There's a lot more depth to it so it'll keep everyone's attention."
Westfield senior Michelle Mogollon, 18, has spent nine years with Encore and dances in most of the numbers. In "Rag Dolls," she said, the performers are dressed as boy or girl rag dolls: "It's a playful number and we're all Santa's toys having fun together."
TOUGHEST FOR HER are the costume changes. "They're so quick, so you have to be organized," she said. Her favorite number is "Reindeer" because "when I was younger, I saw the older girls do it, so it's exciting for me to be in it now. It's upbeat and more challenging, and I like the music. And it's fun dancing like a reindeer."
Chantilly High senior Mallory Sofastaii, 17, is also a dancer. She's danced with Encore since she was 9 and, like Mogollon, "always aspired to be a reindeer," like the older, more-experienced dancers. "It's only for the advanced-level dancers because it has more tricky, technical, dance moves," explained Sofastaii. "And it's always fun dressing up."
Her biggest challenge is "the commitment level," because she's also on Chantilly's swim team and SGA. "This takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice and dedication but, in the end, it's all worth it," she said.
"You get so much out of it, having more 'siblings' you can learn from," continued Sofastaii. "You get advice and you learn commitment and that some things take precedence over others." Besides, she added, "I'm doing something I love and it's good training because I want to dance in college and become more professional."
As reindeer Vixen, Jillian Helms, 17, of Sterling, is "the sassy girl, a little over-the-top. She knows she's cute and tries to make Cupid more popular, like her. I love it; I'm not timid, so it's really fun to play because of her attitude."
She's also excited about her part because "you don't get many opportunities to be a reindeer, in a place that's so creative. She, too, likes the Rockette dance, "Happy Holidays," because "it's my dream to be a Rockette and it's probably my favorite form of dancing because of the precision and the kickline."
Helms says the audience will also be wowed by the show's colorful costumes and sets — the North Pole post office and candy shop, a bridge and the reindeer barn: "It builds a picture in all the kids' minds of what the North Pole could look like, and it's awesome to see their reactions."