The Christmas season is officially in full swing when Encore Theatrical Arts Project presents its annual, Broadway-style, holiday musical. This year’s glittery production, “Finding Santa,” will burst upon the stage 12 times between Dec. 13-22 at NOVA’s Richard Ernst Theater, 8333 Little River Turnpike in Annandale.
Show times are Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, noon, 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, noon and 4 p.m. Tickets range from $19-$26 and may be purchased at www.Encore-tap.org. For group rates, call 703-222-5511.
“It’s Thanksgiving Day in New York City and, after the parade, Santa was scheduled to arrive at the Grand Hotel to meet his adoring fans, but he never arrives,” explained Director and Choreographer Raynor van der Merwe. “So the search is on, and it’s up to the hotel staff to find him. Meanwhile, they must also entertain a horde of kids who want to give their letters to Santa, telling him what they want for Christmas.”
The scenes take place mainly in the hotel lobby and at the North Pole, and the cast of 24 girls and two boys – plus guest actors Jack Stine, Allen McRae and Matt Scarborough – has been rehearsing since August. And van der Merwe says things are really coming together nicely.
“There’s a new playwright this year, Lorraine Magee, and seven new company members,” said van der Merwe. “So we have a lot of young, new faces and talent, in addition to our seasoned veterans. They’ve all been working so hard and are wonderful singers and dancers.”
THIS SHOW features a slew of new numbers and a couple perennial favorites, such as “Toy Soldiers.” Van der Merwe’s favorite is “Disappearing Santa,” which is among the new ones. “We have 20 musical numbers total,” she said. “I try to find different versions of the old favorites everyone enjoys, as well as new songs that’ll further the storyline.”
She said “Finding Santa” has “all the excitement and anticipation of Christmas that we all have, whether we’re old or young. It’ll transport people from their everyday life and the stresses of the holiday season. And for two hours, they can live in this fantasy world. The show is upbeat and fun, and the audience will leave the theater singing a song.”
Becca Perron, 16, of Franklin Farm, plays Twinkle, one of the main elves trying to find Santa. “She’s stressed because she loves Santa and they’ve never lost him before,” said Perron. “But she’s also put-together, positive and happy and is best friends with the other elf leader, Sparkle.”
She likes playing an elf because “it gives you more opportunities to play around with the character, unlike with a human role. And she’s over-the-top and energetic. My favorite dance is our brand-new, Rockettes-style number, ‘Swinging with Santa.’ We wear sparkly red-and-silver dresses with sequins. And because I’m 5-foot-4, I’m not tall enough to be a Rockette in real life, so this is my opportunity to be part of that world, and I appreciate it.”
Perron said the audience will be surprised at “the level of professionalism coming from such young people, ages 11-18. Our show is original and has all the shine and showstopping numbers audiences have come to love.”
With Encore since age 8, she likes how dancing “allows you to story-tell in a unique way. Singers and actors can tell you how they’re feeling, but dancers have to emote it – and I love that challenge.”
Chantilly High sophomore Vilas Iyer, 15, portrays Joe, a mall Santa full of Christmas spirit. “He’s called to the Grand Hotel to help out with the kids waiting for Santa,” said Iyer. “He loves winter, Christmas and New Year’s, so he’s bummed out when Santa goes missing. And I like exploring both his happy and disappointed sides.”
Iyer’s favorite song is “Nobody Cares about Santa.” It has 11 Santas in it and, he said, “We’re all venting about how we’re out of our jobs while Santa’s missing, because then kids won’t believe we’re the ‘real’ Santas. We’re singing and tap dancing, and I love all the fun choreography in it.”
He’s been dancing 10 years, and this is his seventh with Encore’s performing company. “I like how I can move around and express myself in a way I can’t usually,” he explained. Iyer said the audience will enjoy everything about this show – “the sets, storyline, choreography, actors and songs. And it helps you get into the Christmas spirit.”
A NEW MEMBER of the company is Liberty Middle eighth-grader Ginny Shaw, 13, who plays one of the children, Patty Precious. “She’s 10 and quite whiny,” said Ginny. “She always exaggerates things and is kind of annoyed at everybody. It’s really fun playing someone different from me; she has this attitude about her, and I love to play around with that.”
Ginny especially likes the “Kid at Christmas” number. “The kids are starting to get excited again about Christmas,” she said. “I love it because everyone is truly a kid at Christmas. And when we perform it, it gets me excited for Christmas, too. Our whole show is family-friendly and is like having a Broadway show close to home. It brings Broadway and Christmas together in a fun and wonderful production.”