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April 6, 2007

Apple Alley Players auditioning for revival of 'McNeill's Rangers'

KEYSER, W.Va. - Community theater group Apple Alley Players Inc. will be holding auditions this month for the upcoming revival of their signature production, "McNeill's Rangers."

Actors, singers and dancers of all ages are being invited to come out and try for a part in the original outdoor musical, which tells the fact-based story of Confederate sympathizer John Hanson McNeill, his son Jesse, and the impact they had on the last days of the Civil War.

Written by former Petersburg resident Vana Nespor, who now lives in New England, and featuring the original music and adaptations by John Hawkins of Keyser, "McNeill's Rangers" first debuted at the Larenim Park Amphitheater on Patterson Creek Road near Burlington in 1984.

Since that time, it has been presented by Apple Alley 12 times at Larenim Park, and each time it has changed a bit thanks to the individual influences of various directors. Even the music was significantly changed over the years.

For the Summer 2007 production, however, Apple Alley Players are going back to their roots and reviving the original play and musical score.

Dave Ryan, a member of the original cast, will direct the play and Hawkins himself is returning as the musical director.

"We had a lot of requests to go back to the original, and we felt now was the time," said Keyser resident Larry Myers.

Myers, who currently serves as president of the theater group, was also a member of the original cast. In fact, he has become best known to local theater audiences as "Otis," the lovable corn liquor-loving Rebel who helps tell the colorful tale of the Rangers through flashback.

It was a part which Nespor wrote with Myers specifically in mind.

This year, Myers hopes to return in that role, although all roles in the production are currently open, including the major characters of both McNeill men; Jemima McNeill, the matriarch of the family; Sarah McNeill, Jesse's wife-to-be; the tough but lovable Uncle Dan; the eager but misguided Jimmy; and Gertie, who tries her best to keep husband Otis in line.

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