For the last five summers, the Greenville Municipal Auditorium has been the site for spectacular entertainment from a remarkable cast and crew of local people. Beginning with “Hello Dolly!” in 2015, followed by “Meet Me in St. Louis” (2016), “Singin’ in the Rain” (2017), “The Wizard of Oz” (2018) and “Beauty and the Beast” (2019), the Greenville Family Theater has provided Broadway-level productions in Greenville.
The late Kathleen Smith founded the group with her husband Robert and the other original board members. Fondly remembered as the soul of the Greenville Family Theater, Smith directed and was involved in every aspect of “Hello, Dolly!” In like manner, Kathleen’s daughter, Amy Hale, has been deeply immersed in each production. She has served as the producer, as the director, as the musical director, as the creative director and as the glue that holds each of the shows together.
Last fall, the Greenville Family Theater selected “Annie” as the musical for the summer of 2020. The lead characters had been cast, the ensemble members selected and rehearsals were ready to begin when a major stumbling block interfered with the planned musical production.
“When the COVID-19 virus began, the board realized that we would not be able to do the full show due to distancing,” Hale said. “We looked into doing a shorter version, the one-act ‘Annie.’ We continued to proceed with the shorter show until we realized that we would not be able to rehearse digitally at all. We couldn’t find a safe way to hold the ensemble vocal rehearsals with that large a cast. We’re talking about 70 kids in the cast. We looked at many options, including rehearsing outdoors; we looked at trying to spread people out to let this work. But it was one thing after another, and we finally realized that no matter how well we planned, this show was not going to happen this year.
“It just broke my heart. I know the kids had been really excited. My ‘Annie’ had all her lines memorized back in April. They were all ready to do this show.”
Through her disappointment, Hale envisioned a potential way to bring an alternate-style show to the GMA this summer.
“When I realized that even though we would not be performing ‘Annie’ this year, the cast and the community still had the need to come together in some form or fashion this summer,” she said. “The ideas for ‘Onto the Stage’ were born.”
Scheduled for 7 p.m. July 17 and 2 p.m. July 18 at the Greenville Municipal Auditorium, “Onto the Stage” will be performed for a small in-house audience with the ability to follow social distancing. No more than 350 tickets will be sold for each performance. Also, the Greenville Family Theater will sell online streaming tickets.
“We believe that anyone anywhere will be able to see the show,” Hale said.
The timely and creative “Onto the Stage” consists of parodies of musical numbers with the lyrics rewritten to reflect scenes of everyday life during the pandemic.
“The show covers everything from the struggles of distance learning and distance teaching to distance working,” Hale said. “There are some really nice numbers that are a homage to our first responders, the essential workers who go above and beyond in order to help people and keep us safe.
“There are hilarious scenes. Instead of ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’ from ‘Annie,’ we have ‘It’s a COVID Life.’ Besides the really funny scenes, you can see the frustration and angst that people are experiencing. Some numbers are really poignant and touching, really sweet. One of my absolute favorites shows two sisters who are missing their mom who is a nurse on shift. The older girl is trying to make the situation positive, but you can feel that loss and that sacrifice made for others.”
Starting with Kathleen Smith’s “Into the Woods” parody script that had been used for an onstage fundraiser in 2015, Hale began to gather other material.
“My mom and my siblings and I all wrote that script together,” she said. “It was our starting point. Now we had 20 minutes and we needed to turn it into a two-hour show.
“I have a fantastic team of writers. They are either past cast members or alumni or some sort of staff. After I wrote the first several scenes, they caught the spark. The ball started rolling and I was so impressed. There is something really inspiring about watching other people catch that creative spark. It’s incredible and so contagious.
“It’s great to see the creative process alive in our community. This is the first time that we have presented original material, especially material by local talent, at the GMA. It’s really special not just being a part of a show and bringing the community together to enjoy a powerful story, but also bringing the community together to see something brand new and original, something that involves and concerns all of us.”
To purchase tickets for the GMA show, visit showtimeatthegma.com. To purchase tickets to a live-stream video during the performance, visit the Greenville Family Theater’s Facebook page.