It was The Center Players at their best! A show called “It’s Broadway, Baby!” featured about 40 kids ages 6-16, trained, rehearsed and confident, up there on Arts of the Albemarle’s Maguire stage strutting their stuff.
And their stuff was plenty good for appreciative audiences. Folks turned to each other to say, “Isn’t it wonderful that a little town like Elizabeth City has all this talent?” But there was also an impressive part of the performance that the audience didn’t see: the hard work and talent of the folks behind the scenes.
Jo Ellen Aspinwall and her team of teachers and helpers put on a show that pleased. She started from nothing: no book, no music, no script, no design —just the idea of celebrating The Center Players’10th anniversary.
Now successful revues are darn hard to do. They have certain things in common that professionals recognize: a statement of intent at the start, a first act closing, and a big ending. Those are standard. But structure, flow and the words that hold it together are critical, too. So Jo Ellen had the job of building a revue the kids could do and audiences would enjoy, writing the script, working with her team, and then casting, rehearsing and polishing this gem. In the end it was a masterful job by a talented group.
The show celebrated the 10th anniversary of The Center Players with tributes to Holly Wright and Billy Caudle, Buddy Madrin and Dean Schaan, the folks who started the engine to make it all happen. It also included the parents who did so much more than just schlep the kids to rehearsal: they raised money, worked backstage, made costumes, and stayed super-involved.
If you talk to the parents you’ll find that while the kids say it’s all about learning to dance and sing, and how they hope to be a performer and how good they feel on the stage, mom and dad talk about growth, and how disciplined their children have become, how they have found a safe group of all sizes, shapes and demographics to which they’ve bonded. You can see it at rehearsal: the little kids sit in the big kids’ laps or snuggle into their sides. But the proof is that the graduates come back. Whether it’s Corey Bradford, Alana Houston, Trevor Farr; when they’re in town, their second home is The Center Players.
This was the last show for Jo Ellen. She’ll still be in the area, but working with a local high school. She passes on a tradition of excellence and an inclusive program that the whole town cherishes, one that is truly demanding.
This show brought back memories of the visit from the Aussie group, triumphant victories in Atlanta, police escorts at the crack of dawn, new audiences discovering the power of young talented people who came together with purpose under the guidance of older, talented, giving folks.
The Center Players brings us all together, helps our kids grow and mature, entertains us and engages us in their future.
Long may it continue.
Peter Thomson is a resident of Elizabeth City.