Leila S. Case: Broadway hits town and wows audiences

Published 2:01 pm Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Broadway winds blew “The Manhattan Dolls” into town last weekend, rocking the venerable halls of the historic Rylander Theatre with swing-style music of the ‘40’s.
The vocal trio — Megan Wheeler, Annemarie Rosano and Grace Wells — captured the hearts of audiences at back to back performances singing melodies from the World War II-era in classic USO fashion from boogie woogie to the blues such as “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” “In the Mood,” “Apple Blossom Time” and scores of others.
We were in the audience for Friday’s performance that opened the Friends of the Rylander Theatre’s exciting 2015-2016 Presenter Series. Their gig gets a rating of five stars and it was the perfect choice for start the season. It was upbeat, toe-tapping music people ages six to past 60 enjoy whether they are familiar with the songs or not. The Saturday show, especially given for the Ride Home participants, was precisely the right medicine to bring a joyful closer to their weekend here.
For several years, Heather Stanley, managing director of the Rylander Theatre, tried without success to book a show appropriate for both a Friends’ presentation and the Ride Home, POW and MIA folks. “The stars lined up and everything came together this year,” said Stanley, a classmate of Manhattan Doll Wheeler’s at Valdosta State University’s school of theater and drama.
Chatting with the trio at the Windsor Hotel before show time, Annemarie and Grace, who hail from Long Island and Pasadena respectively, said this was their first time to explore the south. Megan, however, grew up in Valdosta.
They were full of compliments for our town, especially the warm hospitality and mouthwatering food they enjoyed: Sweet tea, fried grits and chicken salad. And they were impressed with the pride we take in historic preservation.
“It’s wonderful how well the original architecture has been maintained,” said Annemarie, a history buff. “You get a sense of the town from the historic buildings and the connectivity between the generations.”
Annemarie has been with “The Manhattan Dolls” six years. She was the first performing artist hired when the troupe was started by the former USO Girls, while Megan has been with the troupe three years, and Grace for a year.
“We all love the music of the ‘40’s that is still so popular today,” said Annemarie. “It is a testament to the incredible songwriters of that era because their work endures today,” added Megan. “The songs are patriotic and bring a sense of camaraderie of the good things in life even if they aren’t. I think that spirit lives on.”
What’s next for the Broadway song birds? Grace is taking a month off for a reading workshop that, hopefully, will become a musical version based on the book “Emma” by Jane Austen. Annemarie will continue to sing with “The Dolls,” but this was Megan’s last gig with the trio. “Although I have loved being a part of the troupe, I tired of big city life. My plans are to continue in musical theater elsewhere – perhaps Florida or Atlanta.”  For now Megan and her sister Melissa Wheeler are relaxing in Bali.
Broadway blows our way again when “The Broadway Boys,” a six-man song and dance group, hits the boards of the Rylander on Friday, Oct. 16. I recommend you get your tickets soon – it’s a not to be missed show.
OUT AND ABOUT: Americus resident Janet Siders and her sister, Rita King, of New Jersey were among the spectators at the U.S. Tennis Open, one of the four worldwide grand slam tennis events, in Flushing Meadows in New York City, and from the super vantage point of the American Express suite at the Arthur Ashe Stadium. “It was like being in someone’s plush livingroom,” said Siders. They met tennis professional Luke Jenson and Hall of Famer Luke Gretski, professional hockey player with the New York Rangers. They ventured from the suite to the practice courts to watch tennis pros Serena Williams and Roger Sederer practice. “It was awesome,” said Siders, an avid and active tennis player. Americus restaurateur and beekeeper Rob Brown gave an interesting and knowledgeable program on beekeeping at the recent meeting of the Woman’s Literary Club – he even brought an observation hive of bees (safely locked behind glass); Carson and Marylen Walker are home after a delightful trip through New England; elsewhere Marylynne Joiner, James Edgemon, Nick Owen and Lauren Taylor Manley of Atlanta cruised the Caribbean this week and visited Cozumel, Mexico, and the Cayman Islands; traveling in France earlier this month were Jim and Billie Gatewood, Jean and Wes Wheeler, former residents Ben and Tommie Easterlin of Atlanta. They thoroughly enjoyed touring Normandy and the historic area that played a big role in World War II as well as visiting Bordeaux and the wineries and vineyards during harvest time. Their trip concluded with four days in the exciting city of Paris; John Dean and daughter Mary Catherine, and Terrell Templeton flew to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, last Saturday where his daughter Stephanie Templeton, student at Ole Miss, joined them for the University of Alabama vs Ole Miss football clash. The Templetons were thrilled with the outcome but the Deans weren’t. Ole Miss won. Alabama lost. Glimpsed in the audience at “Manhattan Dolls” were Randy and Jackie Wheeler, and daughter Melissa of Valdosta, who came to see their daughter Megan’s perform as well as Bill Riley who drove from Inverness, Florida, to do a fun character part with them; congratulations to Nancy Kinnebrew Bell in making a good recovery from a bad fall last spring; newcomer Tom Harrison gets the Citizenship Award for September. He got on his hands and knees to pull weeds from the sidewalk pavers on South Lee and East Church streets fronting First United Methodist Church; sending hugs and thanks to Lynn Bailey for going out of her way to say hello; to Donna Becton, Billy Carter and son Mark Barrett for doing a good deed and to Charlene McGowan, Deb Connelly and Judy Tott for keeping me straight in yoga – it takes a village y’all.

Leila S. Case lives in Americus.