Berryville High senior wows the crowds in productions of 'The Gift of the Magi'

Friday, January 2, 2004

While the recent production of "The Gift of the Magi" by Eureka Theatre Company is considered a success, thanks largely to a couple of last-minute cast replacements.

Unknown to the audience, two of the singing actors had come to the cast relatively late in the production schedule. Loretta Crenshaw, who played the female lead of Della, who sacrificed her long hair to buy a Christmas gift for her husband, came on board about three weeks prior to the opening.

Crenshaw is a trouper, with several performances under her belt.

What particularly impressed Marsha Havens, friend of Eureka Theatre Company member Pat Crum, was the premiere musical performance of Berryville High School Senior David Rhodes.

Rhodes played the part of Willie the Paperboy, a key role which serves to narrate O. Henry's story of Christmas in a rough and tumble New York City.

"I saw him and was so amazed," said Havens. "He just struck me as being so pure, and such a beautiful voice."

This writer, as a member of The Ozarks Chorale, had the opportunity to observe the performance at close quarters.

"A& E is here," I heard nervous production people say back stage as I waited for my part in the prelude of carols chorale members performed prior to each performance in early December at The Auditorium in Eureka Springs.

However, the musical play was not mentioned in A&E's coverage of Eureka Springs in its special on the nation's 20 best towns to celebrate Christmas.

While the chorale set the mood each evening of the four-day run, the true draw was the small group of actors who brought to life O. Henry's story of Christmas at the turn of the 20th century in New York.

Viewing the play in its entirety during the second night of production, I took a seat in The Auditorium as the curtain opened and a fresh-faced Rhodes, perched in his news stand, introduced the story and the cast of characters.

I was wholly impressed with Rhodes' enunciation and projection, which was aided by a wireless microphone secreted at his waistline. With his long, lanky frame sometimes swaggering across stage, I had the distinct impression he did not really need the sound system to be heard.

His stage presence was notable, in that he could command the center of attention when needed yet quickly pull back to the sidelines as the story progressed, with him still on stage without being a scene-stealer. His performance ranged from wry irony to the somber.

People in the local music scene have their own vision of Rhodes. Jim Swiggart, consultant to the band program at Berryville High School, director of The Ozarks Chorale, and manager at Opera In the Ozarks, believes that Rhodes could easily garner a scholarship to study voice.

But Rhodes is keeping his options open. He said Friday that Berryville choir teacher and director of Desifinado, the school's select choir, Judy Crews, recently gave him scholarship information. "but I didn't look at it too hard,"

Crews was Rhodes' music appreciation teacher last spring, and said he is a good actor, plays guitar and has singing ability,

"He's very versaltile," Crews said. "He's got the personality, and he can back up. Not everyone can do that. He's a team player in my book."

All this adulation is unusual, considering Rhodes has never had any formal vocal training. He is not even a member of Desifinado.

Rhodes does, however, study drama at Berryville High School.

His involvement in "The Gift of the Magi" came about somewhat circuitously. His English teacher when he was a junior, Judy Mallett, is the wife of Mark Mallett, a member of ETC.

"Her husband told her that they had lost their Willie for the play," Rhodes recalls. Mrs. Mallett told her husband about Rhodes, and Mallett told Steve Shell, a producer of the play. Shell in turn contacted Rhodes and asked him to come in to audition.

"I went over there and Steve had me sing "Happy Birthday' and a couple of songs. Steve said I could do the part as long as I worked on it," Rhodes said. "I had more faith in Steve to help me out as a coach than I had in myself."

While "The Gift of the Magi" was David's first role in a musical, he is no stranger to music. He is a self-taught guitarist, having been playing the instrument for about five years. "I never took lessons, but people told me about chords and I picked it up on my own," Rhodes said.

Rhodes hopes to land a job with a show in Branson after graduation, essentially for the experience, before he makes a final decision about his further education. Regardless of his decision, his self-discipline should serve him well in whatever career goal he sets.

And his life will still be enhanced by his musical talent and appreciation.

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