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Music director stirs emotions in ‘Tom Sawyer’ production

SoVaNow.com / November 12, 2012
Music is not something everyone can do. It’s not even something that everyone thinks is important. But for some folks, especially the cast and crew of Halifax County Little Theatre’s season opening musical “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, music is vital to the experience.

In this show, the story follows Tom Sawyer and his friends and family, including his best friend Huckleberry Finn and his love interest, Becky Thatcher. The score is peppered with songs that elicit love, hurt, celebration, confusion and happiness.

Leading the musicians as well as the cast is musical director Cheri Blackwell, returning to HCLT after musically directing last February’s “The Jungle Book” and dressing in Victorian garb as a part of the ensemble cast of the musical “A Christmas Carol” in 2011.

“I have loved music ever since I can remember,” Blackwell said. “I sang my first vocal solo at church when I was four and I began piano lessons at age six. I studied piano up through my senior year of high school, including classical piano. I was always singing, both at school in chorus and glee club, at church in choir, and sometimes at special events as a soloist or with groups.”

Blackwell’s dedication to her craft has certainly not waned, and she is incredibly dedicated to each show. As a matter of fact, the Raleigh, NC, resident commutes for 90 minutes each way, two to three nights a week for rehearsals while holding down a full-time job. Her car actually met its demise during the process, so she bought a new one.

“Even though it is physically exhausting, I love every minute of it, I have never thought twice about making the commitment, and I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Blackwell said.

“I remember the first show I ever saw was a local production of Steel Magnolias. I was a young teenager at the time and I recall thinking that one day I wanted to be involved in something like that; to be part of something that will entertain and even inspire others.”

If her dedication and passion don’t make an impression, her talent certainly will speak for itself when the music of “Tom Sawyer” comes to life on The Prizery stage this weekend.

“I think the music accents the emotions of the characters as well as the atmosphere of the scenes,” Blackwell explained. “The songs in this show will take the audience on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, from fun songs that will have you stomping your feet to tender love songs that will make you cry.

“Music within a play is not just about the words being sung, it is about the mood that it creates and how it makes the audience feel. There are many intricacies in music that can easily change how a song conveys its meaning and as a director, finding the balance in a song to create just the right moment in the scene can be difficult. It is even more challenging to explain to the singer how you think he/she should feel while singing it so that the song works as intended,” Blackwell said.

She shares her responsibilities and works closely with Director Andy Rice.

“I think the two are very similar in their own ways,” Blackwell explained. “While the director has to be more concerned with the dialogue and scenes, the musical director focuses on the music and its relationship with the story and the characters.

“My other responsibilities as music director include teaching all of the vocal parts to the cast, working with the musicians on the music and developing the underscoring, and conducting the band during performances while also directing the actors with their music cues. Broadway music is always a challenge in itself! There are key changes at every turn, abnormal timing, and sections where two or more groups are singing something different at the same time. But these aspects are also what make Broadway musicals work so well,” Blackwell explained.

Tickets are on sale now, including HCLT season tickets, which save money and include all of the 2012-13 theatrical season. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” opens on Friday, Nov. 16 and runs until Dec. 1 in the Chastain Theater at The Prizery. Tickets can be purchase online at HCLT.org and at The Prizery at 572-8339.

“We have a wonderful and talented cast and crew and an awesome director,” said Blackwell. “I feel so blessed to be a part of this family and this production. Our reward for working so hard and long on this show will come when we get to share it with our audience… so everyone should come out and see it!”




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