It’s Christmastime, but Otto doesn’t feel like celebrating. So in Encore Theatrical Arts Project’s 12th annual holiday spectacular, he travels "Over the North Pole" in search of the Christmas spirit.
There, he’ll meet elves, reindeer, snowmen and a particularly magical man and, ultimately, happiness will prevail. Written by Brandon Kalbaugh and directed and choreographed by Raynor van der Merwe, the show features 34 performers, creative and eye-popping dance numbers, plus colorful and whimsical sets.
"Tabitha Dees built all the sets, and we have a brand-new New York City which is just delightful," said van der Merwe. "And the North Pole is breathtaking. It transports you to a magical fantasy land."
Other sets include Santa’s workshop, the elves’ home and a train station. "A train delivers real, life-size dolls, who are the dancers," said van der Merwe. "There’s also a Central Park scene with snow-covered trees."
SHOW TIMES are Friday, Dec. 12, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 13, at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 14, and 1 and 4 p.m., at the Ernst Theatre at NOVA’s Annandale campus, 8333 Little River Turnpike. Shows are also slated for Saturday, Dec. 20, at 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 21, at 1 and 4 p.m., at GMU’s Harris Theatre, 4400 University Drive in Fairfax.
Tickets are $15, students and senior citizens; $17, adults; and $15, Scouts (includes behind-the-scenes tour, pre-seating and snack), at www.encore-tap.org or 703-222-5511.
Centreville High senior Neema Atri plays Otto, and former Centreville resident Karsten Dees portrays the other lead character, Dotty. The rest of the performers play multiple roles, and everyone sings, dances and acts. They’ve been rehearsing since July, and van der Merwe said they’ve made "astounding" progress.
"They’re very talented and have worked tirelessly," she said. "It’s a great bunch of kids; I’m really proud of them." She also expects a great turnout for the shows.
"Our audiences have grown from year to year, and the most exciting thing is when people tell us, ‘This is our family tradition — we wouldn’t miss it,’" said van der Merwe. "It’s a show for all ages, and it puts you in the holiday spirit. It’ll entertain you for two hours and make you feel good — and, boy, do we need it."
DANCING SINCE age 4, Westfield freshman Corinne Holland, 14, portrays an elf, caroler, Rockette and Starbucks barista. "I like the show’s variety," she said. "It’s a great opportunity to sing, act and dance in front of people."
Her favorite song is "Rockette Tap," in which the dancers wear red-velvet dresses with white-fur trim. She also likes a clown number about toys too late for Santa’s sleigh. For that, they wear black-and-white costumes with jester-type hats.
Holland said the costume changes are the hardest part. "They’re super-fast," she said. "You do yours and help out the other person; it’s a team effort." The best part, said Holland, is performing: "If the audience interacts with you and has a good time, you have the best time of your life."
Fellow Westfield freshman Grace Martin, 14, has danced with Encore since third grade. Her favorite roles are as a snowflake — in a white leotard, fringed skirt and snowflake hat — and a golden present with a shiny, red bow.
"I love it," said Martin. "It takes a lot of your time, but it’s definitely worth it. We make so many friends, it’s like having another family." She likes the finale, "Let it Snow," because "we get to wear six different costumes. I also like doing so many [roles] and different styles of dancing."
Chantilly High junior Katelyn Palmer, 17, has danced 14 years and also plays a variety of characters. She especially likes the costumes for the "Hot Chocolate" number.
"We have these really cute, gold leotards with frilly tails on the back," she said. "They have a lot of pizzazz to them." That’s also her favorite routine: "It’s a fun, fast-paced dance, and I think the audience will really enjoy it."
Westfield senior Kathryn Chapman, 17, portrays a Santa, townsperson and elf. It’s her fourth year with Encore, and her favorite dance is "Multiplying Santas" — a popular staple of each year’s holiday show.
"The costume completely transforms you; my mom can never pick me out," she said. "And I love watching the little kids’ faces — their eyes light up." She, too, said costume changes are tough because "you have to have all your pieces; you can’t be missing a hat or glove."
Chapman likes entertaining onstage and says the audience will enjoy the show. "The costumes are so visually appealing, the sets are cool and Raynor’s dances are so creative," she said. "Every dance is unique — each adds something different and they’re all really memorable."