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Inside scoop: 'Spectacular' bigger, better

Inside scoop: 'Spectacular' bigger, better

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Jonell Kehias likes to taunt me. Our marketing manager likes to point out the newsroom's main job is to cover the news, but her department's job is to party.

And this time of year The Pantagraph puts on the mother of all parties - The Pantagraph's Holiday Spectacular.

Jonell - the show's co-executive producer along with Marcia Basolo - is normally an excitable type. But she's even more so as we get closer to Friday's opening night.

Last week we connected to discuss the show and taunt each other a little.

Terry: Hey, you look familiar. Didn't you used to work in our marketing department?

Jonell: I still work here, newsboy. Unlike you, my job is to make the news. And come December, the biggest news in Bloomington-Normal is The Pantagraph's Holiday Spectacular.

T: What's new this year?

J: First off, we're at Illinois State University's Braden Auditorium for the very first time. That stage is huge. But we fill it up with a cast of 300. And we finally have enough seats for all the folks who want to see the show. Last year we sold out every performance at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. So now we can expand our audience and the show.

T: New place, same show?

J: New place, different show. Our writer, Nancy Steele Brokaw, outdid herself with this modern twist on Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol." Plus we've added lots of new songs to the familiar Christmas classics. And did I mention Wally the camel? No? Well, I'll leave Wally for the Thursday GO! section.

T: So a completely different show? Did you dump some favorites from the last couple of years?

J: We've got 30-plus songs, tons of dance numbers. We've still got Rockettes, waltzers, and, of course, we have Elvis. And this year we have Four-Tune-Nuts Barbershoppers and the Sweet Adelines.

T: What's your favorite number?

J: Everything the Holiday Ensemble does is great. Anything Ronnie Jones sings is breathtaking. The talent we have in this town is truly amazing. Besides Ronnie, we have Katy King, Evelyn Young, Peter and Joan Schutz, Paula Collins, Kerry Myers, Jeni Bratcher and the ever-popular Bob Mangialardi. And Karen Arnold has put together a fabulous orchestra. Having a 25-piece orchestra adds a weight and majesty to the performance.

T: Anyone else?

J: Our director, Lori Adams, is a renowned director and actor and teacher at ISU. Her husband, set designer John Stark, who's a professor of design and head of production/design for ISU's School of Theater, has created an incredibly clever set. We also have Barb Mote, Kymberly Harris, "Miss" Janet Hayslip-Streenz, Stacy Keegan. These are big names in the theatrical community. And they are donating their talents. The cast is so lucky to be working with these professionals.

T: And these people get paid how much?

J: Nothing - and they put in a lot of time. Nights and weekends. And you know why they do it? Because they love the theatre and because the net proceeds benefit The Pantagraph's Good Fellow Fund. The Carpenters' Local 63 have donated more than 400 hours building the set. Whatever John Stark came up with, they made happen. In the words of one of my favorite carpenters, Jim Baker, "If it can be conceived, it can be achieved." I thought for a while John was suggesting the rotating office/house and moving staircase as a challenge to see if he could trip up Jim's theory. But no, whatever John envisioned, Jim and the rest of the carpenters built.

T: Got any seats left?

J: The great thing about being at Braden is there are plenty of good seats. And we have good seats left. But we won't have many for long. So if you haven't seen a Holiday Spectacular yet, this is the year to see it. Singing, dancing, choirs, orchestra, harp - and Wally.

Terry Greenberg is editor of The Pantagraph.Contact him at (309) 820-3230 or attgreenberg@pantagraph.com.

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