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Ready to Fly

Theatre Group New Mexico takes off with two ambitious productions.

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings is set to swoop down on Grant County starting Dec. 5. That's the name of the premier production of Theatre Group New Mexico, a new local community theater endeavor that's a very big dream-come-true for Larry McLellan and a small group of committed theater-loving friends and volunteers. The group's goals are no less enormous than their main character's feathered appendages.

Asked what kinds of plays he hopes the company will produce, McLellan responds with excitement, "Oh, big things!" Already on the slate for 2008 are Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and The Mikado.

McLellan says the company's 2007 and 2008 performances will be offered for free admission, donations welcome, thanks to the financial support of theater angels and corporate donors. Impressed by what WNMU has done with its Herb McGrath scholarship fund, McLellan says he hopes Theatre Group New Mexico will one day even provide scholarships for theater students. vA core group of 10 to 12 people, including seven on a newly formed board of directors, is driving the effort forward, according to McLellan. "We have our board, we are incorporated as a non-profit now and we have our Web site up. Our next step is to get an 'angel' program together so people will give us their time and their money," he says.

McLellan grew up in Redlands, Calif., and moved to the Silver City area almost five years ago from Sierra Madre, Calif. "I feel very fortunate to have grown up there," he says. "My grandparents made sure we got to see everything that came through Los Angeles, so my love and appreciation for theater is lifelong, a building block of my foundation, really."

He added to that foundation, studying the dramatic arts and performing with the Children's Theater of California. "We did Beauty and the Beast," he recalls. "Arts councils would bring us in. We traveled over 16,000 miles for that production, doing two shows a day, bringing theater to the schools."

The fledgling group's first production, A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, is a one-act play in English and in Spanish, with music, based on a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the famed South American writer, and adapted by Nilo Cruz. McLellan details the play's action, explaining, "A man falls to earth and some children find him. They bring him back to their town, but the adults just want to make money off him. But the grown-ups can't hear what the man says. Only the children can hear him due to the purity of their love and their intentions.

"I'd call it a morality play," he adds. "It's very moving."

Twenty volunteer actors will perform the play, which starts Dec. 5 at the Community Center in Bayard, then moves to WNMU's Fine Arts Center Theater, which will be the new theater group's regular venue, for subsequent performances through Dec. 9.

Ann Marie Elder of WNMU's Creative Arts department is directing the play. The cast includes a number of local children, drawn from the university's early childhood development after-school program.

But the hard-working theater group will not have much time to bask in the hoped-for success of its first production. Joy! 2007, a similarly ambitious holiday-themed fundraising performance, is scheduled for Dec. 12, just days later.

"Literally, we'll be striking that set and immediately setting up for Joy!" McLellan says.

The holiday extravaganza will include seasonal music, song and dance. Popular local performer Gary Shephard will emcee the event, and the Hi-Lo Silvers women's choral group, the Community Chamber Singers and WNMU's show choir, The Heard, all will sing. The Silver City Conservatory of Dance will perform selections from The Nutcracker ballet, and there will be a mariachi performance and holiday jazz piano by Virginia Robertson. More than 50 local third- and fourth-grade children will sing holiday music. Santa and Mrs. Claus will hand out treats to the children and pose for pictures. And the audience will be led in a sing-along of "White Christmas" in English and Spanish.

McLellan says he is, of course, excited about the upcoming holiday fundraiser event, including his performing role with the singing ensemble. v"The evening will start out with 'We Need a Little Christmas' from Mame. Then there's the Joseph theme, that's the 'dream' theme — and this (theater company) is our dream. And then there's 'Nothing Can Stop Us Now.' That's our message," McLellan says. "We're doing it now, and nothing's going to stop us!"

— Donna Clayton Lawder

Theatre Group New Mexico will present the play, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. at Cobre Auditorium in Bayard and Dec. 7 and 8 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. at WNMU's Fine Arts Center Theatre, 538-6468. Joy! 2007, a holiday production to benefit the theater company, will be Dec. 12, 7 p.m., at WNMU's Fine Arts Center Theatre. Admission for both shows is free; donations welcome. For more info on the theater group, or to volunteer, call 388-0045 or see the Web site at theatregroupnewmexico.org.

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