Photo, right, by Morris Mac Matzen
As Autumn Leaves Begin to Fall, Curtains Rise on Area Stages:
Cultural Calendar Set for High Country Performing Arts Groups
By Keith Martin
The flurry of auditions, callbacks, casting, and rehearsals taking place all over the High Country mirrors the swirling leaves in a brisk autumn breeze. There is palpable excitement about upcoming productions from artists and audience members alike. From now through December, there are hundreds of performances, exhibits, and events on local stages, at museums, and in galleries across the region. The following is an overview of performing arts offerings on the schedule, but please note that on-campus events by our local colleges and universities are listed separately.
PLEASE REMEMBER that all performances, dates, and times are subject to change; you are strongly encouraged to contact the box office for the most current info. See you at the theatre!
Over in Sparta, the ALLEGHANY COMMUNITY THEATRE is producing Matt Lyle’s adult comedy mystery Barbeque Apocalypse from October 13 – 15 in a dinner theatre setting at the Burgiss Barn in Laurel Springs, NC. The action takes place when three couples and an uninvited guest gather on the back deck of a modest suburban home for a mid-summer barbecue. Eventually the group discovers that the world has literally been falling apart during their terrible little barbecue. Info and tickets available at AlleghanyCommunityTheatre.org.
The APPALACHIAN THEATRE OF THE HIGH COUNTRY in the heart of downtown Boone has (literally) dozens of events programmed this autumn, but here is a representative sampling. On September 22, the Los Cumbia Stars,nominated for the Latin Grammy Awards in 2020 for best Cumbia/Vallenato album, perform Colombian tropical music as the only new band of the tropical genre signed by the legendary record label Discos Fuentes. National Silent Film Day is being celebrated on September 29 with the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra recreating the syncopated stylings of a bygone era, including ragtime, theater, and dance music, along with underscoring classic silent films. October 6 brings Ashe County native and 2019 International Bluegrass Music Association Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year winner Tray Wellington performing with special guest, Stokes County resident and App State grad Will Easter.
Highland Reverie on October 12 features Luke and Madison Morris with a sound that is rooted in the folk traditions they grew up with in Appalachia. They are joined by Asheville’s Hollar Choir,led by the lyrical craftsmanship of singer, guitarist, and songwriter Clint Roberts, with the dulcet clawhammer banjo plucking of Helena Rose and upright bassist Norbert McGettigan. October 14 will showcase performer, composer, and recording artist Brianna Tam, a solo electric cellist who uses her bare feet on her loop station in order to envelop listeners in her epic symphonic experience. The Flat River Band follows on October 20 consisting of three brothers, Andy, Chad and Dennijo Sitze, who grew up in a multi-generational family band.
On November 14, the Theatre will hold their 85th Birthday Bash followed three days later by the award-winning bluegrass group Balsam Range performing their recording, “Mountain Overture,” live with the Atlanta Pops Orchestra. The Pam Tillis Acoustic Trio takes to the Doc Watson stage on November 18, featuring the country music singer, songwriter, record producer, and actress daughter of country music legend Mel Tillis.
The holiday season brings three events with The Embers Holiday Show featuring Craig Woolard on November 28, The Kruger Brothers Christmas Special on December 15, and Matt Lewis and Long Live the King Orchestra performing “An Elvis Christmas” on December 17. For a complete schedule of concerts, film screenings, and performances, go to AppTheatre.org.
Over in West Jefferson at the intimate Ashe Civic Center, the ASHE COUNTY ARTS COUNCIL marks the 77th anniversary of The Clinch Mountain Boys on October 6 with a performance by Grammy Award-winning artist Ralph Stanley II. He began working professionally for his father in 1995 and has carried on The Clinch Mountain Boys tradition ever since, as well as fronting the first Clinch Mountain Boys group after the passing of his father, Ralph Edmond Stanley. On November 3, Della Mae, a Grammy-nominated all-woman string band founded by lead vocalist/guitarist Celia Woodsmith and two-time Grand National champion fiddle player Kimber Ludiker, performs with guitarist Avril Smith and bassist Vickie Vaughn. In addition, the ASHE COUNTY LITTLE THEATRE is producing A Christmas Carol: In the Spirit from December 1- 3. For tickets and information, visit AsheCountyArts.org.
It’s “Techtember” at BARTER THEATRE, “The State Theatre of Virginia,” a word coined to indicate the organized chaos of a four-week period when they switch over from four summer offerings to four different fall productions… all at the same time. Barter’s 90th anniversary season continues with Misery, Stephen King’s novel about fan obsession adapted for the stage by William Goldman. It will have audience members on the edge of their seats through November 4. Christopher Sergel’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird explores prejudice, compassion, and the courage to do what is right, also through November 4. The classic board game Clue comes to life onstage in the Sandy Rustin play based on the movie screenplay by Jonathan Lynn, with additional material from Hunter Foster and Eric Price, and original music by Michael Holland. It will have you guessing through November 5.
The holiday season at Barter kicks off on November 16 with a musical version of the classic Miracle on 34th Street.It’s the story of the year when Macy’s Santa Claus claims to be the real Kris Kringle. When he is put on trial to prove it, it’s up to a little girl’s belief in miracles, a kindly lawyer, and a lot of Christmas spirit to save the day. With music by Doug Smith, and book and lyrics by Vern Stefanic, the show runs through December 27 on the Gilliam Stage. Across the street in the Smith Theatre is Barter playwright-in-residence Catherine Bush’s play I’ll Be Home for Christmas. It’s December 24 in a busy airport, and newly divorced gate agent Cheryl Dean is desperately trying to keep her Christmas spirit as she deals with a host of zany characters flying home for the holidays. The show runs (naturally) through Christmas Eve. For more info, visit Barter’s website at BarterTheatre.com.
Perhaps in anticipation of a long winter season, BEANSTALK COMMUNITY THEATRE is producing Disney’s Frozen Jr. from October 26 – 28 at the Appalachian Theatre. Based on the 2018 Broadway musical, the show brings Elsa, Anna, and the magical land of Arendelle to life, onstage. The show features all the memorable songs from the animated film (“Let It Go,” and “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?”) with music and lyrics by Charlotte’s Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her husband, double EGOT winner Robert Lopez, plus five new songs written for the Broadway production. Critics raved that, “Frozen Jr. is sure to thaw even the coldest heart.” For more info, visit BeanStalkNC.com and for tickets go to AppTheatre.org.
The BLUE RIDGE COMMUNITY THEATRE is staging Horton Foote’s A Trip to Bountiful from September 29 – October 1 in the Blowing Rock School Auditorium. The poignant story focuses on Mrs. Watts, an aging widow living with her son and daughter-in-law in a three-room flat in Houston. Fearing her presence may be an imposition on others, Mrs. Watts believes that if she could only get back to Bountiful, her hometown, she would surely regain her strength, dignity and peace of mind. The Trip to Bountiful follows Mrs. Watts through her physical and emotional journey home. For more info, visit their website at BlueRidgeCommunityTheatreNC.com.
Still reveling in the success of their recent Times Square performance, the CAROLINA SNOWBELLES return to the Appalachian Theatre for a four-show run of A Carolina Snowbelle Christmas from December 1 – 3. The 2023 edition of the High Country’s newest holiday tradition is featuring all new scenes and a few surprises for audiences young and old from the precision dance troupe, led by former Radio City Music Hall Rockette and founder Cheryl Cutlip. For more info and tickets, visit AppTheatre.org.
The CITY OF MORGANTON MUNICIPAL AUDITORIUM is the cultural gem of the Unifour area consisting of Burke, Caldwell, and Catawba counties, including the vibrant communities of Hickory, Lenoir, and Morganton. Their fall offerings include The Sounds of Georgia: A Revue of Georgia’s Musical History on September 28. The Georgia Players Guild, in one night of music, lets audience members experience soul artists such as Little Richard, Ray Charles, James Brown and Otis Redding, along with Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, and the Zach Brown Band, plus musical moments of the Allman Brothers and Atlanta Rhythm Section and bands like R.E.M and the B-52s. Damn Tall Buildings takes the stage on October 5to blend elements of bluegrass, blues, roots-rock and vintage swing to create a captivating, high-energy sound.
Letters Aloud: Thanks, but No Thanks showcases “the greatest rejection letters of all time” on October 17. “The road to success is paved with rejection and boy, do we have the letters to prove it!” Among dozens of gems are Stephen King’s first rejection letter from “Spacemen Magazine,” a request of Andy Warhol to pick up his painting at the front desk before it is hauled away, Gertrude Stein getting a taste of her own repetitive medicine, and a young Sidney Poitier’s attempt to borrow $100 from President Franklin Roosevelt. Karma and perseverance combine to hilarious and heartwarming results! On October 27, Ofrenda: A Dia de los Muertos Celebration recounts one of Mexico’s most beloved holidays during which the lives of loved ones who have passed are celebrated. The show features traditional music and dance from different regions interspersed with tributes to great Mexican artists. Gregorian: The Pure Chants Tour performs on November 12, having toured for over 20 years to more than three million people in 31 countries. “These eight classically trained English vocalists have never failed to bring audiences to their feet multiple times at every show.”
All The Oxytocin in Your Fingertips performs on November 16. A Deaf of Hearing individual, raised in a caustic 1990s household where sign language is forbidden, secretly navigates three different communities that are united by a passionate belief that communication (and love) can ignite from all the sparks alive in your fingertips. This coming-of-age story poses the question: “Would you rather be a ‘different’ person in a ‘normal’ world…or a ‘normal’ person in a different world?” The Broadway tour of Pretty Woman: The Musical hits the stage on November 30. Based on one of Hollywood’s most beloved romantic stories of all time, this musical springs to life with a powerhouse creative team led by two-time Tony Award®-winning director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell (Hairspray, Kinky Boots, and Legally Blonde).
On December 7, American Pride: Remembering the Music of The Legendary Statler Brothers relives the musical memories while keeping the legacy alive by promoting traditional country music. The tribute performers have a life-long love for Southern Gospel quartet music and find that audiences cannot help but clap their hands and pat their feet to “I’ll Fly Away” or “Heaven’s Jubilee.” It will be followed on December 17 by the World Ballet Series: The Nutcracker. The ballet classic is performed live by a multinational cast of 50 professional dancers gathered to bring the most beloved holiday tradition to life. It’s a family-friendly experience accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s timeless score, over 150 hand-sewn costumes, hand-crafted sets and classic Marius Petipa choreography. For additional information, please call 828-433-SHOW or 800-939-SHOW, or visit their website at www.CommaOnline.org.
ENSEMBLE STAGE in the Historic Banner Elk School is concluding its summer slate of four productions with Caroline Smith’s comedy-thriller To Die For through September 24. Best-selling historical romance writer Carla Woods lives in a Gothic mansion and enjoys playing dangerous mind games with her secretaries. One dark and stormy night, a mysterious, dark, and handsome man shows up at her door. Could this simply be payback from a disgruntled employee, or could it be…love’s destiny?
Two of Alfred Hitchcock’s thrillers, The Haunting Hour and The Birds,are showcased in the Hitchcock Radio Hour with performances on October 27 and 28. No other theatre company in the High Country produces staged radio plays better than Ensemble, and these annual Halloween productions are must-see events, especially for fans of classic radio. Speaking of holiday traditions, the fifth edition of A Banner Elk Christmas opens on December 1 with five performances through December 17. This original musical variety show is patterned after the Andy Williams and Bing Crosby television Christmas specials of the ‘60s and ‘70s. With all or parts of nearly forty songs performed in just over an hour, it is a fast-paced musical and visual experience full of singing and dancing (and lots of costume changes). For ticket info, visit EnsembleStage.com or call 828-414-1844.
Joe Shannon’s MOUNTAIN HOME MUSIC partners with Carolina Ramble Productions and Kattagast Music to present An Evening of Appalachian Murder Ballads. Appalachia abounds with lonesome songs about killing, and among the more infamous tunes are “Pretty Polly,” “Frankie and Johnny,” “The Knoxville Girl,” “Banks of the Ohio” and of course, “Tom Dooley,” based on a disputed murder in Wilkes County. The term ballad applied to traditional or folk music means a narrative song, and murder ballads are a sub-genre of the traditional form dealing with a crime or a gruesome death with lyrics forming a narrative describing the events of a murder, often including the lead-up and/or aftermath. Producers recommend the show for audiences age 18 and over. For a complete list of the participating artists—there are more than a dozen—or to purchase tickets, go to AppTheatre.org.
WATAUGA ARTS COUNCIL, in partnership with the Downtown Boone Development Association and the Jones House, is sponsoring the Third Annual Buskers Fest beginning at 5 p.m. during the October 8 First Friday event. Buskers Fest is a celebration of our eclectic creative community with artists, musicians, performers, demonstrators, and creative groups lining the streets of Boone and filling the parking lots. Over 100 creatives will be on the streets sharing their talents with residents and visitors. You can buy art, make art, dance, sing, make pottery, discover bands and musicians, and learn about the incredible creatives in the High Country and beyond. Have your Venmo app ready or bring cash to support the artists. More details available at www.Watauga-Arts.org/BuskersFest.
Last, but not least, the Benton Hall Community Arts Center in North Wilkesboro is home to the dynamic WILKES PLAYMAKERS, an avocational theatre that welcomes everyone in front of or behind the curtain. Their next offering is the High Country premiere of PUFFS (or, Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic), a v-e-r-y popular show still running Off Broadway at New World Stages in NYC. One critic noted that, “‘Hufflepuffs’ finally get their moment in this hilarious Potter play.” For seven years a certain boy wizard went to a certain Wizard School and conquered evil. This, however, is not his story. This is the story of the Puffs… who just happened to be there, too. This tale is for anyone who has never been destined to save the world. Performances run from September 22 – October 1.
From December 1 – 10 the Playmakers are producing a double bill consisting of An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas and Stocking Stuffers. The first features beloved literary characters of the bestselling “The Enchanted Bookshop” in a very merry prequel by Todd Wallenger. This time, they’re joined by a whole crew of Christmas themed characters, including the Nutcracker Prince, Amy March, the Velveteen Rabbit, the Little Match Girl, and even Ebenezer Scrooge himself! Stocking Stuffers, by Geff Moyer, is a series of 15 short vignettes with Act I characters ranging from Uncle Sam, the Easter Bunny, and Cupid to Ezekiel the Pilgrim and Hagatha the Witch. Act 11 revisits a fast-talking Little Matchgirl, the trial of two reindeers “who ran over Grandma,” and Santa himself. Ticket information is available at WilkesPlaymakers.com. Their box office phone number is 336-838-PLAY (7529).
Alleghany Community Theatre | www.alleghanycommunitytheatre.org
Appalachian State University Department of Theatre and Dance | www.theatreanddance.appstate.edu
Appalachian Theatre of the High Country | www.apptheatre.org
Ashe Civic Center | www.ashecivic.com
Ashe County Little Theatre | www.ashecountylittletheatre.org
Barter Theatre | www.BarterTheatre.com
Beanstalk Community Theatre | BeanStalkNC.com
Blue Ridge Community Theatre | www.blueridgecommunitytheatrenc.com
City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium | www.commaonline.org
Ensemble Stage | www.ensemblestage.com
Hayes School of Music| www.music.appstate.edu
In/Visible Theatre | www.invisibletheatrenc.org.
Jones House Cultural & Community Center | www.joneshouse.org
Lees-McRae College Performing Arts | lmc.edu/pashows | Instagram @lmctheatre
Parkway Playhouse | www.parkwayplayhouse.com
Schaefer Center Presents | www.theschaefercenter.org
Wilkes Playmakers | www.wilkesplaymakers.com