It's Saturday night. It's
Shaftman Hall. And it's free.
looking for something to do tonight
could do worse than head for
Jefferson Center, where "Opening
Doors," a musical, will begin at
half-past seven. No tickets are
necessary, and there is no admission
Doors" is presented by the Kevin
Jones Performing Arts Studio and
funded by area businesses and
residents. Fourteen Roanoke Valley
high school students, many with
multiple professional acting
credits, will star in the 75-minute
production in Roanoke's glitziest
The idea came
from Jones, a private theater
instructor with experience as an
actor and musical director in
America and abroad. The Canada
native moved to Roanoke six years
ago to work as music director at
Mill Mountain Theatre. The following
year he founded his performing arts
studio to help interested youths
learn the rudiments of musical
theater. He still sometimes works
for the theater.
quickly that Roanoke had more
talented youths than other cities
its size, perhaps because of the
influence of Mill Mountain Theatre.
It soon dawned on him that "my kids
could put on a really great show."
Why Shaftman Hall?
a hall that would duplicate for his
students insofar as possible the
effect of opening night in a packed
New York theater, he said.ter, he said.
"That's definitely Shaftman," he said.
auditorium, reopened in 2001 after
extensive renovations, is more than
twice the size of Mill Mountain
Theatre's main theater. It regularly
hosts performances by Opera Roanoke
and the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra
and books professional musicians
such as the Average White Band and
Irish singer Mary Black.r Mary Black.
"Opening Doors" is a pastiche of songs by composer/lyricists
Richard Maltby and David Shire,
stitched together by Jones to make a
musical narrative of a journey
through life. The songs touch on
childhood, young love,
relationships, babies and
relationships gone sour, with a
message of reconciliation at the
The show will
be performed with no intermission.intermission.
through, hit them hard, send them
home smiling," Jones said.
The $5,000 production cost, which includes $2,000 for
Shaftman Hall rental and associated
fees, has been covered by various
donors, including SunTrust Bank. "We
try to support the arts generally,
and we try to support youth
programs," said Martha Shifflett, a
SunTrust vice president. "This
allowed us to do both." Fund raising
was handled by Dale Moore, mother of
one of the actors, Alex Moore.
Jones said it
was important to him, with Broadway
ticket prices topping $100 these
days and even Mill Mountain Theatre
charging about $30 for some shows,
to offer this performance free of
"I feel the
magic of theater is quickly becoming
inaccessible to many theatergoers,"
he said. "It is our gift to the
The actors are from Roanoke Valley high schools. Salem High
School freshman Holly Strickland is
one of the youngest at 14; several
are seniors. Most have multiple
acting credits, including not only
school productions but Showtimers
and Mill Mountain Theatre. About
half of them worked with Broadway
actors on a production at Mill
Mountain Theatre sponsored by the
Bravo television network in fall
Many are serious about pursuing a career in musical theater
and believe working with Jones has
given them a head start. "I'm
learning so much every day. I feel
like I already have an edge," said
Elise Bernlohr, 15, a freshman at
you about the business," said
15-year-old Julie Jones (no
relation). The Cave Spring freshman
has appeared in nine Mill Mountain
shows. "How you don't want to get on
anybody's bad side. And how
important it is to be yourself."t is to be yourself."
Meghan Kelleher, a Cave Spring senior and veteran of several
Mill Mountain plays, said Jones'
school is the only one in Roanoke
that teaches singing, dancing and
acting. "I get all three in one. And
we get great opportunities like
this," she added of performing at
night's performance is by Jones'
acting company, all of whom are high
school students. He also gives
lessons to younger students and to
Jere Hodgin, director of Mill Mountain Theatre, said there is
no competition between the theater
and Jones, because Mill Mountain
does not offer musical theater
training. "Basically, he's the only
person in town who's doing that."
stressed that Jones' actors do not
get special treatment in auditions.
"We just cast the best kid."
If these kids
aren't the best, it isn't for lack
of trying. In addition to the
occasional play at Mill Mountain
Theatre or at Showtimers, the
Roanoke Valley's venerable community
theater company, many participate in
school productions as well.
Bernlohr will play Princess Winifred in Hidden Valley's
upcoming production of "Once Upon a
Mattress," for which she attends
rehearsals in the afternoon. During
evenings last week she was at
Roanoke's Calvary Baptist Church,
rehearsing "Opening Doors" and
working on her algebra homework
between numbers. Bernlohr also has
appeared in productions of "Rapunzel"
and "Pinocchio" at Mill Mountain
She has no
wish to slow down, she said. "You
get a snowball effect, and you feel
like if you stop the snowball,
you'll stop making progress."ogress."ogress."
And what of
traditional teenage joys, such as
watching television or talking on
Who cares? the actors say. During one recent, often noisy
rehearsal, for example, not a single
cellphone rang. As for television,
"I would give up TV totally just to
be on stage," Holly Strickland said.
They don't lack for confidence. Several said they were
thrilled to be performing in $10
million Shaftman Hall. None said
they were scared.
call it overwhelming," said Jordan
McArthur, a Salem High School senior
and veteran of many Mill Mountain
shows. "But I would call it pretty
Kostura, a sophomore at Cave Spring
High School whose professional
credits include "Soup, Soap and
we're going to pack it."ack it."
For information on Kevin Jones Performing Arts Studio, visit
www.kjpas.com or call 774-8388.