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Patrick Ahearn is directing the RIverside Dinner Theater's production of "Evita!". Ahern is "a Broadway actor who spends some time down here doing Riverside productions. Ahearn has worked with Andrew Lloyd Weber, the famous songwriter who created Evita!, and the story will focus largely on his involvement with this show," according to the photo request. (July 6, 2009) (Robert A. Martin/The Free Lance-Star) -- -- -- 4 cols color
Kathy Halenda, a Richmond native who lives in Wilmington, N.C., stars in 'Anything Goes,' which opens at Riverside on Saturday. 'It's like an ice cream cone--sweet, light and fluffy,' she says of the musical.
The first time Kathy Halenda stepped onstage at Riverside Center Dinner Theater, it was five days before opening night for "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."
A seasoned actress, she was recruited at the last minute to play Miss Mona Stangley, the madam, after the original actress could no longer participate.
Halenda, a Richmond native who lives in Wilmington, N.C., had a little more notice for her starring role in "Anything Goes," which opens at Riverside Saturday.
But playing Reno Sweeney, an evangelist-turned-nightclub performer, wasn't exactly a stretch for Halenda.
"I'm kind of a broad, often inappropriate, with a heart of gold, and I like people," she said, laughing. "So she's similar to me."
With plenty of tap-dancing, humorous high jinks and music by Cole Porter, "Anything Goes" is considerably more sunny fare than "Cabaret," the Nazi-era drama that closed at Riverside on Sunday.
"I thought it was time to go with a fun, family-friendly musical that's current," said Associate Artistic Director Patrick A'Hearn.
Though the show dates to the 1930s, it won a Tony award last year for best Broadway revival.
"It's funny. It's got great songs, dancing, lots of energy. It's fast-paced, so people will be in for a good evening," said A'Hearn.
The show, which takes place aboard a cruise ship, kicks off Riverside's 15th season. Still to come: "Phantom," "The Sound of Music," "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "The Full Monty."
In addition, Riverside has been granted permission to stage an "epic Broadway musical"--they're forbidden from saying which one just yet--for Season 16.
Season 15 is a mix of "epic, tried-and-true and more current" shows, said A'Hearn. And indeed that formula has been key to Riverside's success over the years. While many regional theaters have struggled to keep their doors open in a difficult economy, Riverside's popularity has only grown since it christened its stage with "Oklahoma" in June 1998.
General Manager Rollin Wehman, who spearheaded the effort to open Riverside, is hard-pressed to choose his favorite show over the years.
He loved the music in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in season four and the diversity of the cast in season eight's "Ragtime."
But then he points to the fabulous costumes and choreography that accompanied "Cats" in season nine. Not to mention the artistic achievement of "Evita" and the sparkle of the youngsters who starred in the theater's productions of "Oliver!" and "The Sound of Music."
"In terms of the caliber of presentations, it has exceeded my expectations," said Wehman.
"In terms of the absolute number of challenges that take place, that has also exceeded my expectations," he said, laughing. "Sometimes I walk out here and look at the grounds and think, 'This is a miracle.'"
He gives a lot of credit to the facility's original investors, who believed in the project and were willing to spend money upfront to make sure the theater and convention center were state-of-the art. At least 10 current employees, from stage technicians to box-office associates, have worked at Riverside since Day One, Wehman said.
The team operates like a tight-knit family, he said, despite the facility's growing profile. Actors auditioning for parts hail not just from Fredericksburg but from New York, Philadelphia and North Carolina. Reviewers travel a considerable distance to see the shows as well.
It didn't hurt that in 2010, Riverside was the only theater in the Mid-Atlantic region to be licensed to stage "Chicago."
It was similarly good for business when actress Sally Struthers of "All in the Family" fame agreed to star in the theater's season 14 opener, "Hello, Dolly!" Every performance was sold out--and each ended in a standing ovation.
'A LOT OF SHENANIGANS'
Theater officials say they expect "Anything Goes" to be popular as well. The story follows a young Wall Street broker who stows away on a cruise ship in the hope of winning one particular passenger's heart. He gets help from Halenda's character--along with a few fugitive gangsters.
Several Riverside veterans round out the cast, including Kim Fox Knight ("Hairspray" and "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"), Mason Reich ("Cabaret") and Robert Beard ("Fiddler on the Roof"). The show is directed by Justin Amelio with choreography by Penny Ayn Maas, who also choreographed "Cabaret."
Come prepared to have a good time, said Halenda.
"It's a tongue-in-cheek vaudeville farce. There's a little bit of love, mistaken identity, a lot of shenanigans. There's tap-dancing. There's singing, love ballads and comedy. Nothing deep," she said. "It's like an ice cream cone--sweet, light and fluffy."
Edie Gross: 540/374-5428
|WANT TO GO? RIVERSIDE'S ON A ROLL|
"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (twice)
"The Music Man" (twice)
"The Sound of Music" (twice)
"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"
"Hello, Dolly!" (twice)
"My Fair Lady"
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" (twice)
"Scrooge: The Musical" (three times)
"The King and I"
"Guys & Dolls"
"Annie Get Your Gun"
"Fiddler on the Roof" (twice)
"West Side Story"
"Man of La Mancha"
"Kiss Me, Kate"
"Bye Bye Birdie"
"Disney's Beauty and the Beast"
"Thoroughly Modern Millie"
"The Pajama Game"
"Little Shop of Horrors"
"Smokey Joe's Cafe"
"Into the Woods"
"A Wonderful Life"
"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"
"All Shook Up"
"Cabaret"COMING IN SEASON 15
"The Sound of Music"
"The Full Monty"
"Anything Goes," a family-friendly musical, opens at Riverside Center Dinner Theater on Saturday and runs through July 22.
Tickets are $37 to $58 and can include lunch or dinner. For more information, visit riversidedt.com or call 540/370-4300.