Don Hite's Music of the Night
Author: Michael Paskevich | Photographer: Vitor Lindo
DEBUTING AT MAIN STREET YOUTH THEATRE IN MARCH
Sitting in the lobby of the Main Street Youth Theater, a cozy space he promises will be refurbished with fresh paint and a chandelier by opening night, artistic director Don Hite reveals no hint of pre-show jitters as he readies his own creation, Broadway’s Music of the Night, for a March 19-30 engagement at the venerable 228-seat non-profit playhouse.
There’s still work ahead, rehearsing a cast of 55 budding performers and seasoned vets for an ambitious, fully-staged theatrical song-and-dance experience that reprises modern Broadway show stoppers accompanied by an onstage ensemble of live musicians. Rescued Tony Award-winning costumes await last-minute alterations and stage sets are yet to be truly tested, along with the overriding challenge of doing justice to the works of legendary composers such as Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber in trademark numbers familiar to millions of musical theater fans.
But the multi-talented Hite, whose previous productions on Hilton Head have become the stuff of local legend, appears nonplussed about turning 28 tunes, including the iconic suites from Evita and Phantom of the Opera into a seamless entertainment, executed by an all-volunteer cast and backstage crew. After all, he’s been in the stressful production phase many times before as a professional performer, conductor and director, and he’s confident that his experience on both sides of the footlights could help illuminate another newcomer’s path toward stardom.
“You never know when you’re going to strike a nerve in somebody who goes on to a career in the performing arts,” said Hite, who mentored Broadway lead Meredith Ringolsby (Beauty & The Beast) among other successes during separate stints heading the theatre arts program at Hilton Head Prep.
“Lesson number one for youngsters is to learn commitment, and I always remind them that there are people waiting to take your spot,” Hite said. “Ultimately, everybody’s replaceable, and sometimes you get the job just because you fit the dress.”
So Hite insists that his charges be prepared and punctual, learn to take criticism and improve their weaknesses as they strive to find their stage footing. He was once there himself as a self-described star struck Virginia farm boy who envisioned a life in the arts at age 11. His ensuing performance credits eventually led to positive notoriety teaching on Hilton Head Island in the early ’90s. He was later beckoned to a professional school in New York City where he coached actor Macaulay Culkin and classmates who anchored American Pie and Les Miserables on Broadway.
A job as associate conductor for the epic-scaled Miss Saigon impressed composer Webber, putting Hite on the road for lengthy national tours, conducting a 50-piece orchestra in a similarly formatted Broadway revue, featuring guest vocalists such as Melissa Manchester and Cats star Betty Buckley, the latter described as “a real diva but what a talent” who taught him to adjust on the fly with never-ending demands for revamped arrangements. “If I can live with what Betty Buckley served up every day, I can handle anything,” Hite said with a wry smile.
During a Wizard of Oz tour that played at the island-based South Carolina Center for the Performing Arts, legendary performer Eartha Kitt counseled him that, in the end, talent means everything. Hite adheres to that advice, and connections made along the way included tour colleague Daryl Waters who readily supplied the arrangement for “Steal Your Rock N’ Roll” from the recent hit production of Memphis for Hite’s eighth update of his musical showcase.
And he hasn’t been shy about contacting others in the close-knit Broadway community, obtaining composer Steven Schwartz’s orchestrations from Wicked and a trio of tunes from Hairspray composer Marc Shaiman’s more recent Smash for the latest edition.
“I must write a good letter,” deadpanned Hite, who was “lured back” to Hilton Head circa 2003 and staged memorable sold-out versions of a rigged-flying Wizard of Oz and arena worthy High School Musical, featuring prep school talent. An ensuing spinal injury put his career on hold for an extended spell, but Hite has rebounded with several area productions, including a Main Street debut directing Shrek last summer.
Now it’s time to bring it all together once again for a two-hour presentation of Broadway’s Music of the Night that will feature a chorus of female fourth graders for Evita plus youth-ready selections from Newsies, Aladdin and Stomp, spotlighting fresh steps from guest choreographers Fred Tallaksen and Dante Alexander. Hite credits key associate Lauren Hopkins, Main Street’s “fearless leader” Sheri Sternitzke and a squad of unnamed others donating their efforts to the upcoming production.
“Even though I’ve done Broadway shows and national tours, there comes a point in everyone’s career where I think you have a responsibility to pass along all the things you’ve learned,” Hite said. “So we’re going to deck this place out and then go out there and show audiences what can be done with a group of passionate volunteers.”
Broadway’s Music of the Night opens Wednesday, March 19, for a 10-performance run at Main Street Youth Theatre, 3000 Main St., Hilton Head Island, through March 30, with a gala grand opening at 7 p.m. Friday, March 21. For show times and ticket information,call(843) 689-6246 or visit www.msyt.org.