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Local play celebrates city roots

At 9 a.

Wednesday, November 10, 1999

At 9 a.m. today, an original musical production more than a year in the making took the stage at Ironton High School

In a debut performance to an audience of Ironton elementary and middle school students, an area all-star cast re-enacted Ironton’s history –  and will continue to do so through Sunday for audiences of all ages.

The play, "This Town is America," is part of Ironton’s sequicentennial celebration, playwright and director Jeff Handley said.

"The Ironton Sequicentennial Committee, of which Dr. (Bill) Dingus at (Ohio University Southern Campus) is a member, had a meeting and one of the things that was discussed is that the university would present a play about the history of Ironton," Handley explained. "Dr. Dingus approached me to put the play together."

In the opening scene, a grandson, played by Andrew Cronacher of Ironton, laments to his grandfather, played by Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas Judge Frank McCown, that Ironton is a boring town where nothing of note ever happens.

"The grandfather tells his grandson that this town is rich in history where many famous things have happened and begins to tell the story of Ironton," he said. "It starts with the scene with John Campbell (Mark Near) and his friends find the site of the City of Ironton and it goes in six scenes with the end of the play in post-World War II."

Once the request was made, Handley said the group had much to do.

"We finally agreed to do it in September of last year and we started writing it at that time and didn’t finish until January," Handley said. "So, it took about four months of research and writing to do the play."

With Handley’s experience in directing musical numbers at Ironton High School, the natural progression for the play was to follow that course as well, he added.

"Of course, I have a lot of background in doing musicals so I wanted to do one of those," he said. "We chose some well-known songs that range from the 1840s down through World War II that help fit the story of Ironton."

Once the story was written, casting didn’t prove to be a problem, he said.

"We had several people interested in being a part of the production, and we had tryouts the first week of September," Handley said. "We’ve been practicing since then."

With all the gusto of a Broadway musical, familiar faces will bring the stage alive with acting, singing and spinning tales of the history of Ironton, he said.

Other professional touches also will add to the play’s feel, he said.

"We have a nice orchestra of six people, so we do have live music, as well as costumes that we’ve rented and scenic drops," he said. It’s the same company we’ve used before in our productions here at the school."

Scenic backgrounds include the Ohio River, a living room in which the story is being told and one of the hilltops that surround the river valley, he said.

"The play is meant to bring the history of our city alive and to celebrate the sesquicentennial," Handley said. "Everyone has worked very hard and we think it will be enjoyable for everyone."

Tickets are $5 at the door, with reserved seating available in advance for $10.

The play is one of the last chances for residents to enjoy sequicentennial events. Other remaining scheduled events include the Christmas Parade Nov. 29 and the candlight church walk at 5 p.m. Dec. 4.