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New music theater opens curtain in Surfside Beach

The group opening the Celebration Music Theatre in Surfside Beach sees multiple meanings for its name when its first curtain goes up Monday evening for "SuperStarz! Live."

"We should celebrate this for the community," said Greg London, its managing artistic director, "for the arts, and the entertainers, right down to ushers and ticket sales. Because I worked at Disney, I liked the family feel - everybody's a cast member."

Sitting in his office upstairs one week ago, London called Celebration "upbeat and colorful, because the people led us to that."

London said he and fellow theater co-founders see the building, the first home of The Carolina Opry and the local entry point for Legends in Concert - the latter of which will reopen mid-March at Broadway at the Beach - remaining "a hub, a landmark in Surfside Beach."

"We're a hybrid," London said, describing Celebration's ambitious, diverse schedule.

"SuperStarz! Live" marks the first show to take the stage. London said the cast comprises tribute artists to Garth Brooks, Liza Minnelli, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand and Tina Turner, and a new comedy act, The Bluegrass Brothers, played by two men known locally for their Blues Brothers act as Jake and Elwood Blues: Tim Stamper and Kenny Barret, respectively.

Celebration officials will rotate many other dates, with Broadway-style productions such as "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in the spring, "Hairpspray" in the summer, and a new show to kick off autumn, "The Southern Belles."

London, who played Edna Turnblad in "Hairspray" on the road from Broadway, said "Belles" follows the capers of two adult sisters and their daughters.

"It's a hilarious, musical comedy," he said. "It's about what it means to be a Southern woman - the good, the bad and the hilarious."

Serving tourists, locals

London said timing and days of the shows takes into account serving a tourist market and the local population equally. For instance, "SuperStarz! Live" plays Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and Broadway shows Fridays through Sundays, to tap into the typical Saturday changeover day for vacationers coming in and out of the Grand Strand, and to give year-round residents many choices as well.

A teen rock band show - "The Rocktastics!" continues forming for the summer with a show time at 10 a.m. four days a week, for families on summer trips, and those looking for a midday getaway from home nearby.

Jim Huntley, a producer-director and former Frank Sinatra choreographer whose career has taken him around the world, said Celebration marks the third theater in which he has been involved, following ventures in Lake Tahoe, Calif., and in Kuala Lumpur.

He said typically a theater focuses on a sole genre, but Celebration boasts a mix that "appeals to a lot of people."

"If you're not crazy about an act, hang on for 10 minutes for the next one," said Huntley, whose 12 Walt Disney movie credits include "Mary Poppins," as a chimney sweeper. "This is a show about music."

'When you walk in'

For Huntley, it's not when the curtain goes up that a show experience starts.

"It's when you walk in a venue," he said, wanting all showgoers to "feel they're in another world" for two hours.

Work began on remodeling the building Dec. 28, London said.

London said the four-member troupe, who had spent years laying the groove for Legends under guitarist Kenny Duncan's direction, wanted to stay in Surfside. A fifth member has joined the band, Dean Black on steel guitar.

Other players, such as the five dancers, four of whom will take turns performing in each "SuperStarz! Live" show, were brought in from New York, London said.

Celebration officials also scouted across the country in piecing together other production elements.

The costumes arrived earlier this week from Las Vegas, "with a Bible Belt twist," London said, and choreographer Adam Pellegrine, a Bob Fosse-trained dancer who has worked with Twyla Tharp, spent three years in the touring Broadway musical "Chicago."

London and Huntley agreed on a goal of being "a signature on the south end" of Myrtle Beach. Plans continue for spring and fall arts festivals, and the theater rentals at cost represent another effort for community immersion.

London said the theater will target the whole experience, whether for the staff or patrons, especially so the latter will return for each change of Broadway show every month and a half.

"We want people to feel like family," he said. "We want them to feel a part of everything."

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