By Patricia Hall, Fairfax Family Fun
Another year, another great Christmas show by Encore Theatrical Arts Productions (ETAP): this past weekend we had a chance to see the latest production by this local group, and as always, the show did NOT disappoint! For 21 years now, ETAP has produced Broadway-style, high-energy shows that are so well done you almost forget this is a volunteer group starring mostly local students. These all-ages musicals feature elaborate sets, lovely costumes, and fun music and dancing. After enjoying the 2015 show and the 2014 Christmas production we looked forward to this year’s ETATP Christmas show, “Christmas Undercover,” playing through December 18, 2016, at the Richard J. Ernst Theatre on the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College.
Christmas Undercover features more than 30 performers (all but a handful of which are local students) carrying out creative choreography and fun songs through 16 musical numbers. The story follows an undercover elf’s first assignment that yields a surprising result: Marzipan embarks on a quest encountering a colorful cast of characters that will charm and delight… but can they get to the North Pole in time to right the wrongs and save the day?
The musical is a tribute to traditional Christmas sentiments with a fun look at how technology isn’t always the most reliable thing. As is often the case with ETAP shows, there are some fun “in-jokes” that primarily parents will get (look for a nod to the movie “Office Space” early on in the show… TPS cover sheets, anyone?). But overall, the storylines are always simple enough that even the youngest of patrons can follow along. The show is about two hours long with a 15-minute intermission and is best for guests ages three and up.
One thing that has consistently been a strength of ETAP Christmas shows (and really, all their productions) is the enthusiasm of the performers. Their genuine joy of performing is evident, and that enthusiasm is a great motivator for young guests who may want to follow in their footsteps. For this show, we took a young friend who has performed in some church plays and who, during intermission, asked me if ETAP ever had any elementary-school-aged kids in the ensemble (yes, they do) and if she could meet the performers. She was thrilled afterward to meet some of the show’s stars, including Claire Griese, who is as sweet and charming in person as she is onstage in a lead role as Cookie, and Jenna Frisby (Holly in the show) who also was very kind and friendly in answering our young friend’s questions (I wouldn’t be surprised if she is already looking at performing arts classes with Encore Performers).
While the young performers (mostly high school and middle school students) have most of the stage time, the adult performers — guest actors Jack B. Stein as wacky historian Frederick, Lisa Anne Bailey as the taskmaster Gladys, and Lorraine Magee as a fast-talking, no-nonsense New Yorker who helps save the day — also shine. Leading the production team is Raynor van der Merwe, the founder and artistic director of ETAP, whose strong show business resume and support of the local arts have led to the organization’s success year upon year.
This is the last weekend for Christmas Undercover. Ticket prices are $19-25 per person, available on the ETAP website. Upcoming showtimes are Fridays, Dec. 16, at 7:30 pm; Saturday, Dec. 17, at noon, 3:30, and 7:30 pm; and Sunday, Dec. 18, at noon and 3:30 pm. Parking at the Ernst Center is free and plentiful.
Other good things to know:
- Arrive a bit early to see photo displays of past shows, buy concessions, take a photo in the photo opp area, or buy a Girl Scouts patch.
- All guests get a nice program book with show information and bios on the performers, who will be happy to sign autographs after the show (you’ll need to wait a bit until they come out to the lobby).
- Bring cash for concessions to buy before the show and at intermission (candy, fruit snacks, water, and soda).
- Reach to the right of your seat to pull out the little half-table (the theatre is in a college auditorium) which you can use to rest your water bottle or purse.
- Check out ETAP’s Scout Program to learn about special opportunities such as meet-and-greet events and discounted tickets for Girl Scout troops.
Photos courtesy ETAP and used with permission.