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‘Into the Woods’ director/producer gives back for a life in the theatre / April 15, 2015

Want to teach your child to imagine the unimaginable? Get your child involved in live theater.

That’s the message that conductor, director, educator and producer Don Hite hopes to impart to people here in his hometown of Clarksville as he readies the cast of “Into the Woods” for their moment in the spotlight.

“You never know when you just might ignite that spark,” says Hite.

It’s what happened to him when as a sixth grader — seeing live theater for the first time, he announced to his mother that he would one day be on Broadway.

To her credit, Hite said his mother did not try to dissuade him. Instead, she took him to music lessons in Henderson, N.C. and involved him in local theater. He even joined the school band.

However, it was Charlie Simmons — the man Hite considers his first mentor — whom he says gave him the courage to pursue his dream. “I was 12 and he cast my in my first role, and the rest is history.”

Hite jokes that Simmons warped him because his first two plays were about strippers, “Gypsy” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

By the time Hite was in the 10th grade performing in “1776,” he could see the impact theater had on both the actor and the audience. “Charlie had cast me as the Courier, he told me I was going to make people cry.” He did while singing the emotionally wrought Courier’s song, “Momma Look Sharp,” about two friends who’d died during one of the first skirmishes of the Revolutionary War.

Through his singing and acting, Hite had taken his audience on a journey beyond the notes on a page. He’d created magic with them.

In the years that followed, Hite says he’s learned much about music interpretation. He feels duty bound to share what he has learned with the next generation of stars: “If I don’t do it, who will?” he asks.

It makes no difference to Hite that he is asked to help with community theater versus a professional show. “After all, every show — amateur or professional — starts the same, in a room with a bare piano. The difference with a professional show is lots of money.”

Listening to him speak, you get the sense he almost prefers working with amateurs because of the payoff. “Without the arts, there is no sense of community,” Hite explains, adding his belief that theater is a ticket to a different life for a child living in the country. “You never know what child will be the next big thing in front of or behind the stage.”

If the definition of luck is the moment when preparation meets opportunity, then Don Hite’s journey through the world of movies and Broadway has been nothing but lucky.

After graduating from Bluestone High School, Hite attended Furman University in Greenville, S.C., earning a bachelor’s degree in musical performance and a Masters in Gifted and Talented Education. After a brief stint teaching, Hite was accepted into the Manhattan School of Music Professional Musical Theatre Program, where he studied under Paul Gemignani, a conductor and musical director known for his collaborations with Stephen Sondheim.

Gemignani showed Hite how to attack a song and uphold the integrity of the score. The skills he hopes to impart to the Clarksville Community Players cast of “Into the Woods.”

“Life has handed me so many opportunities, I am blessed,” says Hite.

While Hite was with the New York’s Professional Children’s School — serving as Director of Theater — he got his first big break, conducting the second national tour of the play “Miss Saigon.” He followed that up with a national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Music of the Night’ where he conducted a 50-piece orchestra and worked with Betty Buckley, Melissa Manchester, and Colm Wilkinson.

In the years that followed, he’s worked with Eartha Kitt, Forest Whitaker, and several other stars. He written musical scores, produced major theatrical productions, created theatre program for schools in Georgia and South Carolina, and performed benefit concerts.

Yet he is still that star-struck country boy who dreams of making it in Hollywood and New York, and who believes in his talent.

These days, Hite lives in Hilton Head, S.C. He’s back in Clarksville serving as the musical director for the Clarksville Community Players production of “Into the Woods.” He calls it the most difficult and ambitious show the group has ever undertaken.

This production will “showcase some really talented people,” Hite says. Show times are May 1, 2, 8, 9 at 7:30 p.m., and May 3 at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance, and $15 at the door, and the box office opens April 27.

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