CCAA to present Hats! The Musical at The Lantern Theatre

Carol Rolf Originally Published April 7, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 5, 2013 at 11:28 a.m.
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Carol Rolf

Cast members in the upcoming Conway Community Arts Association’s production of Hats! The Musical are, from the left, Velda Lueders as Mary Ann, Claudia Davis as Lady, Becca Keith as Baroness, Sherry Norrell as Princess, Donna Hutchinson as Contessa, Wendy Shirar as Dame and Cindy Romeo as Duchess. The musical, which is a tribute to the Red Hats Society, will be presented April 19-21 and April 26-28 at The Lantern Theatre in downtown Conway.

We’ve all seen them — ladies, many with gray or silver in their hair, all wearing red hats, laughing, having a good time. They are members of the Red Hat Society, a national organization that promotes “fun, friendship, freedom, fulfillment and fitness” of all women, especially those over 50.

As a salute to those ladies, The Lantern Theatre and the Conway Community Arts Association will present Hats! The Musical, which is based on a book by Marcia Milgrom Dodge and Anthony Dodge with additional material by Rob Bartlett, Lynne Taylor-Corbett and Sharon Vaughn.

Production dates are 7:30 p.m. April 19, 20, 26 and 27 and 2:30 p.m. April 21 and 28 at The Lantern Theatre, 1021 Von Ronkle St. in downtown Conway.

Tickets will go on sale Monday. Reservations are encouraged and can be made by calling (501) 733-6220 or emailing ConwayLanthernTheatre@gmail.com. Because of mild sexual references, the play is recommended for ages 16 and older.

Hats! tells the story of Mary Ann, who is having difficulty facing the Big 5-0. Her friends gather to help her celebrate her birthday, and as a result, they reveal how much fun and fulfillment are still awaiting her. The musical debuted in Denver, Colo., in 2006. Among the songwriters contributing to the show are Melissa Manchester, Pam Tillis and Kathie Lee Gifford.

Liz Parker directs the local production of Hats!

“I was looking through plays last year, and Hats! caught my eye,” Parker said. “I liked it. It’s a musical, it’s small, and the cast is all women.

“It’s about a woman (Mary Ann) who is turning 50 and having a hard time dealing with it. It says so much to women who have the same feelings. It’s humorous, but it has its serious moments, too. It says we’re not done at 50.”

Parker said the show was on the schedule last fall but had to be postponed.

“It’s a great show,” she said. “Even men, maybe even men in particular, will enjoy it. It gives a lot of insight [into women].”

Parker is treasurer and a past president of the CCAA Board of Directors. She is the business manager for the University of Central Arkansas Theatre and has directed and/or acted in several CCAA productions.

The cast includes the following:

• Velda Lueders portrays Mary Ann.

“I did community theater back in the 1980s,” Lueders said, “so it’s been awhile since I’ve been on stage. I am now a member of the board of directors

and knew what was going on, so when I saw auditions were being held for this, I auditioned.

“I play Mary Ann, who is turning 50. I am 49.999,” Lueders said with a laugh.

“The show is all coming together. I’ve known everybody here for a long time. They are a great group of people to work with.”

Lueders is a Realtor in the Conway area.

• Claudia Davis plays Lady.

“I’m the old woman,” Davis said. “I am the mother of Mary Ann, who is turning 50. I’m a widow and a very loving grandmother. I really like my character.

“It’s humorous,” Davis said of the play. “That’s a prerequisite for anything I do. I have my funny moments. I have a good line now and then.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been on stage, and it’s been a really long time since I’ve done a musical. A play is one thing; I can still remember lines. But a musical? I’m not sure I’ll ever do another musical.

“It’s a good cast … a good group of people. And it’s a good story.”

Davis and her husband, Milton, are longtime supporters of Conway Community Arts. The organization’s annual awards are called the Davis Awards and recognize excellence in acting and technical endeavors. Among Claudia’s appearances with CCAA was Steel Magnolias in 2002.

• Sherry Norrell portrays Princess.

“My character suffers a little from OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), and she’s a little absent-minded,” Norrell said. “I’ve got some of the same characteristics, but as soon as I learn all of my notes, all of my steps, it will all be better.”

“I always love working with Liz [Parker]. I last appeared in A … My Name Is Alice, which Liz also directed. She teaches you more than you thought you could do.”

Norrell, who teaches reading at Ida Burns Elementary School, was part of the female vocal group Vintage, along with Parker and Donna Hutchinson, until their retirement in 2011 after 16 years of performing. Angela Greenland and Kathy Perry completed the group.

• Becca Keith is Baroness.

“I play the part of an oil baroness, a divorcee from Texas,” Keith said. “She’s started dating again but is scared to death.”

Keith last appeared with the local community arts group in November 2010 in A … My Name Is Alice. Keith said she has known Cindy Romeo and Hutchinson since the 1990s, and “Liz and I go back further than that,” Keith said.

“This is so much fun. What could be better than friends getting together, singing and dancing?”

Keith, Parker, Hutchinson and Romeo all appeared in Pippin in 1990, when CCAA and the UCA Theatre did a combined musical in the summer.

Keith is a resource teacher at Ruth Doyle Intermediate School.

• Donna Hutchinson plays Contessa.

“I have never done a show in The Lantern,” Hutchinson said. “I am really looking forward to working with this cast. I’ve known most of them for so long.

“It’s really working out well. It’s good to be working in a musical with Liz again. She’s awesome.”

Hutchinson appeared in Pippin in 1990 and she and her husband, Eric, appeared in Love Letters in 2004.

Hutchinson does some work with her husband at his business, Hutchinson Financial in Little Rock, but “I spend most of my time being a grandmother,” she said.

• Cindy Romeo is Duchess.

“We are all friends in a club and wear red hats,” Romeo said as she talked about the story line of the upcoming musical. “We are living it up at 50.”

“It’s nice doing a musical with Liz,” Romeo said. “The very first show I did with Conway Community Arts was Pippin, and it was with Liz, Donna and Becca.

“This show is a lot of fun. I am enjoying it.”

Romeo teaches eighth-grade English at Conway Junior High School and is a past president and current member of the CCAA Board of Directors. She most recently appeared in CCAA’s production of Hot and Cole in December and directed Driving Miss Daisy in spring 2012.

• Wendy Shirar plays Dame.

“My character is a wife and mother whose children are grown,” said Shirar, a longtime supporter of CCAA and a member of its Board of Directors. “She’s experiencing the empty-nest syndrome. She is a member of this group of women, who are all 50 and older. They meet and compare notes.

“It’s a lot of fun. I love musicals. I auditioned for it last season and am glad we are able to finally present it.”

Shirar, who works in the human resources department at Acxiom Corp., last appeared in the CCAA production of All the King’s Women.

Bryan Cole, music specialist at Julia Lee Moore Elementary School in Conway, provides musical accompaniment for Hats! The Musical.

Trent Reese is the stage manager. He will direct The Odd Couple in November. A son of Chris Reese of Conway and a 2007 graduate of Conway High School, Trent received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theater from the University of Central Missouri at Warrensburg and is now back in Conway. He works part time at Barnes & Noble in Little Rock and is a substitute teacher with the Conway School District.

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