Taking Center Stage

Just steps off the main drag in downtown West Point, an ordinary-looking red-brick storefront conceals a first-rate community theater facility.

Radiating enthusiasm, director Noelle Reed strode across the New Horizon Community Theater stage, stopping squarely in the middle of Sherwood Forest to praise the dedication of her Robin Hood cast.

“They come early and stay late,” said Reed, before launching into the obligatory pre-curtain advisories: no cell phones, no flash photography.

“And I hope all the arrows stay on the stage!” she called out before departing with a laugh.

The good-natured warning made this mystery traveler wonder if hazardous duty pay was in order. Just moments before, I had overheard early arrivals discussing the popularity of “combat rehearsals.”

But no worries. I was safely settled in a comfy, recently installed, cushioned seat in the renovated theater building on West 8th Street in West Point. I had nothing to fear from the all-kid cast, led by a teenaged Robin Hood and his band of merry boys (and girls). The energy was real, but the arrows were props. The talent level was high, but the Sheriff of Nottingham was barely four feet tall.

I will confess to being surprised – and impressed – by the evening’s adventure. Who knew the ordinary-looking red-brick storefront, just steps off the main drag in downtown West Point, concealed a first-rate community theater facility? The genial ticket-taker informed me that they are close to completing a four-stage renovation, with expanded stage, a costume shop, green room, set construction space, the whole nine yards.

And a stroll around the attractive lobby area made it plain this was a little theater that thinks big. Framed posters recalled an eye-popping lineup of previous productions: Guys and Dolls, Smokey Joe’s Café, Twelve Angry Men, Annie, Blithe Spirit, more. The upcoming season – which begins Aug. 25-27 with “13, the Musical,” is equally ambitious:  The Crucible in October, A Christmas Carol in December, Singing in the Rain Jr., another children’s production, in February and Sister Act in April 2017.

Still, there was a cozy, family feel to the place. A nice mix of ages in the audience. A casual, welcoming atmosphere.

An attractive young woman in a green-flowered headband introduced herself to a seatmate. “I’m Maid Marian’s mother,” she said proudly.

“And I’m her Nanny,” a youngish-looking, equally-proud grandmama chimed in.

Soon to start its 32nd season, New Horizon traces its roots to the former Painted Rock Players, which got its start in neighboring Langdale, Ala., in June 1986 with “No, No a Million Times No.”  The thought crossed my mind that “a million times” was probably how often people doubted if a community theater could survive in the small towns of West Point, Lanett, Langdale and “surrounds.”

But survive they did, and thrive, too. A few years and serious fundraising/renovation projects ago, the organization took on the name “New Horizon” and moved into its current site. The transformation is so complete I had trouble believing the building used to be a grocery store.

“We are so happy to provide a safe place for people to come and participate and be part of the arts,” director Reed had said before the show’s opening. She was referring to the child actors, but the sentiment was broader.

As the Robin Hood show moved toward its climax, the young heroes outwit and outsmart the young villains, the good poor folks are rewarded, the wicked are vanquished, true love carries the day and not a single arrow flies off the stage.

“It’s the spirit of England!” a jubilant Robin Hood calls out.

Ah, yes.  And the spirit of West Point, a small town with big ideas and a habit of making them happen.

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