After a very successful run of the show “The Addams Family” in the amphitheater in Ritter Park, the Huntington Area Regional Theatre company (H.A.R.T.) ups the ante with a double production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” followed by a special “Young Performer’s Edition” of “Wizard of Oz.”
Geared toward younger audiences yet delightful for kids of all ages, H.A.R.T. co-directors Tommy Smirl and Levi Kelley decided to present both hour-long productions with a 15-minute break in between to give the fans of live performance in Huntington and the Tri-State a full evening of fun.
The start time for the double production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” and “Wizard of Oz” will be moved up to 7:30 p.m. instead of the usual 8:30 p.m. Both shows will be presented at the amphitheater in Ritter Park on Friday-Sunday, July 23-25.
Tickets for these special presentations are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and children and $10 each for groups of 10 or more. The shows are presented by the Greater Huntington Parks and Recreation District. More information can be found at ghprd.org or 304-696-5954.
Co-director Tommy Smirl and his wife, Mary Smirl, founded the H.A.R.T. company a few years ago, keeping outdoor theater alive and well in Huntington. A former employee of the railroad, Tommy Smirl now enjoys creating new productions.
“My wife, Mary, started in the business when our older daughters were younger, helping out with choreography for the Children’s Theater,” said Tommy Smirl. “She then started assisting directing and then directing shows, and she got me involved in it. I began to help out backstage, and then ended up front of stage and eventually started co-directing with her. When Helen Freeman retired from presenting shows at Ritter Park, we along with Clint McElroy approached the Greater Huntington Parks and Recreation District about starting the Huntington Area Regional Theatre.”
Raised in Huntington, H.A.R.T. is a labor of love for Tommy and Mary Smirl as they enjoy the arts and desire to help make life in their hometown of Huntington more culturally rich and diverse.
“It is a good and creative outlet to construct something out of nothing, to take a script and build it out,” said Smirl. “It is also good for the community. First of all, we are giving local talent the opportunity to come out and perform in a quality environment. We are also providing a quality experience for the Huntington community as a whole, which was my wife’s main interest in getting this organization started. We felt like outdoor theater was one of the things that Huntington has that was really good as folks tend to come out for outdoor theater more than indoor theater here for whatever reason. It also becomes a bit of a family summer camp experience as when we ask kids to audition, we also often ask their parents if they want to audition as well and it ends up being one of the best bonding experiences of their life.”
Combining Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” with “Wizard of Oz” has proven to be an interesting endeavor. Normally, the companies that have the rights to these two shows and provide the needed scripts usually require that the cast be made up of all kids 17 and under. But due to the COVID pandemic, the companies have allowed adults to be in the cast as well, so a combination of the two is what theater lovers will witness on this six-night run.
Co-director Levi Kelley is also a native of Huntington and has been performing since he was a kid. According to Kelley, putting together two productions at once has been challenging yet very rewarding.
“A lot of people don’t realize this, but the Huntington Outdoor Theatre company performed Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Cinderella’ exactly 20 years ago in Ritter Park, and that was the first-ever live show that I saw in Huntington as a kid,” said Kelley. “So, it is full-circle for me to now be a co-director who is bringing this story to life now, as the production hasn’t been done in Huntington since then. And, the ‘Wizard of Oz’ has literally been my favorite movie of all time since I was a child, and I even played the Cowardly Lion in our production in 2016. So, to co-direct these two shows is a dream come true.”
Each production will be full of costume changes and special effects, from Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage to the ball to the flying monkey and melting witch in the “Wizard of Oz.” That takes a lot of rehearsal, backstage and onstage work, but the end result is worth the effort.
“Dress rehearsals can be nerve-wracking, especially with these shows that have a lot of magic in them,” said Kelley. “The most stressful part is making sure we get the magic to work. Our shows typically open on a Friday night, so at dress rehearsal on Thursdays we typically pray that everything goes seamlessly, and it usually does. Things always come together if you stay positive and do the work and find fixes to make everything come together. I have no doubt that it will, and actually; I know it will be good. We have such an incredible cast and a wonderful crew who made all of this magic happen, and this will be amazing. People will be blown away by the special effects and the cast and even the scenery is beautiful.”
On opening night, Kelley tells the cast to enjoy it and go for it.
“I tell everyone to have fun and that the reason we do this is not just for ourselves, but for the community and making the community happy, giving them a little light and magic, especially after the year we all just went through,” said Kelley. “Both of these shows are nostalgic and ingrained in our culture and a comfort to us and are exactly what we need right now.”