Stage Hurrah for Holidays
By Jeff Maisey

It could be said Hurrah Players founder and director Hugh Copeland and crew work harder than Santa’s elves in preparation for the holiday season, as Hampton Roads premiere family entertainment performing arts group presents two celebratory events: Hurrah for the Holidays and The Best Christmas
Pageant Ever/Happy Hanukkah, My Friend.

Hurrah for the Holidays, scheduled December 13-15 at T.C.C. Roper Performing Arts Center, is described as a “multi-cultural celebration featuring all the best music of the season – from your favorite classic standards to popular modern day hits. Along with the renowned precision kick-line dancers, a 6- foot dancing snowman and a few festive surprises – it’s an event for the entire family.”

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, based the book by Barbara Robinson, will be performed at 7 PM on December 14 and is to be paired with a short program celebrating the Festival of Lights titled Happy Hanukkah, My Friend.

I recently caught up with Hugh Copeland to learn more about these holiday performances.

How have Hurrah Players’ holiday shows evolved over time?

We used to do a spring revue called Hip, Hip Hurrah. Then we got the idea 12 years ago to do it at the holiday time, in addition to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which used to be our one and only holiday show.

Hurrah for the Holidays was an idea to incorporate a musical in the style of Radio City Music Hall. Originally it was called Christmas in Virginia, then Holidays in Virginia because we wanted to include more than just Christmas. Now it’s called Hurrah for the Holidays. So it’s gone through three incarnations and is more inclusive of Hanukkah and Kwanza.

In terms of production and costuming, how elaborate is the more international presentation of the holiday traditions?

The format is in the style of Radio City Music Hall. In that sense we have the kick-lines, the 20-foot Christmas tree; it snows on stage; all the incredible holiday songs that everybody loves and the dances.
In addition this year, one of the Hurrah Players, Tommy Lee, lives in Mozambique and he is recording with teenagers and some of the younger children there a Christmas song that we are incorporating on screen.
Lisa Wallace is our choreographer who choreographs all the kick-lines. That is always one of the highlights of the show.

Robert Friedman, who lives in Virginia Beach, has written us a new Hanukkah song called “Festival of Lights.” We explain the traditions of Hanukkah. He has given us the privilege to premiere that. We have a drum group working with us for the Kwanza celebration. And we do the Spanish “Feliz Navidad.” So it’s more than just your traditional Christmas things that we celebrate here in the States.

How many performers will the productions include?

For the Hurrah for the Holidays, we have Junior Company and a Senior Company. All together it is 72. It’s big. We use the whole theater. They come down the aisles a lot. During the finale everyone is dressed in white with candles. It’s very popular and an enjoyable way to celebrate.

Let’s switch to the one-night production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. What details can you share?

This is the 23rd year we’ve done The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Barbara Robinson wrote the book. Then it was a TV movie, and now it is an available script. She died this past August, so we’re paying tribute to her in the program.

Sharon Cook is directing the show. She has done this for several years.
It’s the same wonderful story. Every year we try to add some new dimension to it. Peggy Young has played the lead role for us all 23 years.

Do you see a lot of the same faces in the audience each year for the Christmas Pageant production?

It amazes me. It’s a tear-jerker. We do two big school shows for it. Of course, the kids laugh at the rowdiness of it. For the public show, as the transformation occurs and the understanding of these bad kids come to light it’s very meaningful, very emotional. It’s effective. We do one public show. We generally have a sold-out crowd.

The crazy thing is doing two shows in one theater in one week. A set goes away, a set come on. It’s crazy. But due to the time restrictions in December and the expense of renting the theater this has turned out to be the best way to do it.

HURRAH FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Friday, December 13 @ 7:00pm
Saturday, December 14 @ 3:00pm
Sunday, December 15 @ 3:00pm
T.C.C. Roper Performing Arts Center

THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER and HAPPY HANUKKAH, MY FRIEND
Saturday, December 14 @ 7:00pm
T.C.C. Roper Performing Arts Center