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This Holiday season in Great Falls brings with it a full slate of stage musicals

UGF presents Into the Woods, Miss Lindas opens White Christmas and NDM opens Big

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The following is an article written by the talented director and new contributor to Big Sky State Buzz, Mr. Eric Dunn. Eric’s agreed to start writing some theater, movie and performing arts related content for us, and we’re excited to have him on board. Not only is he a smart guy, he knows a lot about what goes into making movies, and the ins-and-outs of theater shows, also. You can see more from him on Big Sky State Buzz in the near future as he writes a review of “Into the Woods” followed by my review of the second cast, also. So, without further ado, take it away Mr. Dunn.

 

This season we have three plays showing in the Electric City.

Now, Great Falls is a lot of things, but it’s not always been known as a hub for the performing arts.

Eric Dun
Eric Dunn

Today we have three major theater programs.

Huh? How does Great Falls even support one?

This season we have three MUSICALS.

The cash cow of the theater industry? Three separate musicals? In Great Falls?

All happening within a month of each other.

Well this should be interesting.

Musicals are the lifeblood to any theater program. When money is needed or when they need to put butts in seats, theater companies will look toward a musical to do the job. With a large cast and crew, which typically includes professional musicians, it makes it easier to draw an audience.

It’s the word-of-mouth advertising that can make or break a show. Something like this….

(Imaginary Scenario)
Random Imaginary Person #1 “Let’s go to the play. So-and-so is involved in it.”
Random Imaginary Person #2 “Yes. Let’s. I love So-and-so. They smell nice.”

The musicals selected usually have a broad appeal to the masses, something everyone can enjoy. Especially in a town like Great Falls, where if you turn back the clock back to 2009, a cynic could say that theater was dead here.

In 2015, however, you have three theater programs hoping that there is enough interest in the performing arts that all three shows will pull in a profit. Each production looks to utilize the holiday time frame to reach it’s audience.

The three fighters entering the ring, so to speak, is the University of Great Falls Performing Arts (UGF), Miss Linda’s Act I Theater Company(Miss Linda’s), and Never a Dull Moment Productions (NDM). Each one of them is relatively new to the scene but each features experienced vets who have been doing it for quite a while .Each hopes that they’ll have enough stamina to exit after 10 rounds. So, let’s take a look at them, shall we?

UGF Full Cast Picture

The Big Dog, UGF Productions’ “Into the Woods”

UGF comes in swinging with “Into the Woods,” the beloved play written by James Lapine and orchestrated by Stephen Sondheim. The show opens on Friday at 7:30 p.m. At the UGF Theater. The musical’s plot involves taking familiar fairy tales, mixing them all together, adding a twist of dark humor, and then,… viola, theatrical magic. The play is directed by Michael Gilboe.

Into the Woods Actor listOne could say that the current theater program at UGF is the main reason why theater is relevant in Great Falls.
Several years ago while other programs faltered in bringing plays that appealed to the rather challenging Great Falls audiences, UGF made a couple of shrewd business decisions, pulled some strings and got the play, “Chicago” on stage. They’ve been building on that success since then. Not every play has been as successful as “Chicago,” but they’ve had more wins than losses, so to say.

With an actual budget for stage design and a seemingly never-ending supply of fresh faces entering the program, UGF will probably have another hit on their hands with “Into the Woods.”

This is no surprise since UGF is the 10,000 pound gorilla in this fight. They’ve earned their reputation, but they have also used their success to push out any potential competition by making their auditorium literally impossible for other production companies to book. They’ve had some smaller shows on the UGF stage, but they’ve limited the plays to the UGF shows only. In a way, it makes sense, they should be able to utilize their own space to put on their own shows.

I guess, as well, it’s a good thing that they’ve let community members return to acting in the UGF plays, something Mr. Gilboe has pushed for after the decision was made last year to limit the fall play “A Tribulation in Goats Corner” to students only. In a town where community theater needs as much support as possible, it’s a wise decision to let community members back into the plays.

If you’d like to see the UGF production, “Into the Woods,” will play two weekends:
Nov. 13-15 Fri. (7:30pm), Sat. (2:00pm, 7:30pm) Sun. (2:00).
Nov. 19-21 Thurs. (7:30 pm), Fri. (7:30pm) Sat. (2:00pm, 7:30pm)
Cost is $17 for the Friday and Saturday evening shows. All others are $14.
All performances are at the UGF theater.

Underdog No. 1, Miss Linda’s Productions’ “White Christmas

After a strong opener last Summer, Miss Linda’s will premiere “White Christmas” on Dec. 11 at the Great Falls High auditorium.

Directed by theater veteran Joel Corda, the play is the second major musical Miss Linda’s has released in Great Falls, the first being “The Sound of Music,” released in the summer of 2014.

White Christmas PosterDue to its incredible success, theater productions have made the regular rotation at Miss Linda’s. Since Miss Linda’s is thought to be primarily a dance school, although they’ve expanded their scope in recent years, the theater programs can be viewed as a side business that they are doing to fill the void of theater outside of the College.

The play “White Christmas,” was written by Irving Berlin. The play premiered in San Francisco in 2004  and is based off of the 1954 film where Bing Crosby lent his voice to title song and made Christmas history. While the play is still new, the source material conjures up old time memories as American as Apple Pie, and watching the Cubs not make it to the World Series.

The Holiday season matches perfectly with the source material, and given the slightly older demographics that Great Falls has, you would imagine the play should be well attended by people in the community that enjoy the good old days.

Having hosting several dancing events in the past, Miss Linda’s has always been a fairly good at marketing their events. However, this year their focus seems a little divided among other projects.

When “Sound of Music” came out, it was hard to avoid mention of the play in some manner. It will be interesting to see how the public reacts, and if they choose to show up to the sophomore attempt of Miss Linda’s.

“White Christmas” plays Two Weekends:
Dec 11, 17, 18, & 19 at 7:30 pm. And Dec. 12 at 2:00 pm.
Cost is $20 for Adults and $15 for students and Military personal .
All performances are at the Great Falls High School Auditorium

Underdog No. 2, NDM Productions’ “Big”

Never a Dull Moment, another company that had a solid opening performance “Wizard of Oz” recently that followed up with a strong children’s performance earlier this year “Willy Wonka” enters the ring this season with “Big.” The play is directed by Ali Jo Sheets. It opens on Dec. 3 at the West Elementary auditorium.

The exuberance of youth is what drives Never a Dull Moment, that and a passion for theater. While they don’t have the resources the UGF does, not yet, at least, or the experience that Miss Linda’s does, they have a love for theater, and a love for Great Falls.

zch and ali 1Movers and shakers of the organization Ali Jo Sheets, Zachary Dennis, Karie Pietrykowski, and Lindsay Jolliff are all south of 30.

The youth and energy is their strongest asset, and while they may be new to the game, so long as the core sticks together you can expect good things from them. But that’s the question, will the core stay together, will the dream stay alive when things like marriages, kids, and other commitments start popping up as a distraction? It’s a question only time will answer, but right now the future for NDM seems bright.

The biggest concern for NDM has to be avoiding the sophomore slump.

When they released “Wizard of Oz” in September of 2014 it was critically and commercially successful. It was also a beloved American story and September doesn’t offer as much competition. Strategically they played their cards well and came out strong enough for a second round.

Their strategy this time, from the outside, seems… peculiar. They are choosing to compete in a very competitive Christmas market with the least-recognizable play. “Big” was written in 1996 based off of the film of the same name and while the play was nominated for five Tonys it is far from a sure thing to sell to the Great Falls audience.

“Big” plays two weekends:
Dec 3-5 and Dec 10-12. All performances are at West Elementary School Auditorium

Conclusion

After the final bell rings it will be interesting to see who is left standing at the end, or if all of them will.
We know the participants, and there is hope among those who enjoy the arts in Great Falls that all three of them will come out of this odd battle royal standing, and standing tall. Perhaps this is one of those rare moments where the men and women of Great Falls show that three theater companies can survive, and potentially thrive in a community such as this one.
But like I said at the start, “This should be interesting.”

Eric Dunn is a movie director and head creative director of ECTOFi Productions. His latest film “Geist” recently debuted in Minnesota. He’s a native of Great Falls and recently moved back. For more on ECTOFi Productions, check them online here.

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