Curtains Up Pagosa passes the baton for ‘Sister Act’

Photo courtesy Dale Johnson
Robert Neel, music director for CUP’s “Sister Act” this year, shown performing as Tevye in his summer 2016 performance in “Fiddler on the Roof.”

By S. L. Neel
Special to The PREVIEW

Curtains Up Pagosa (CUP) is very excited to present the wildly funny musical “Sister Act” beginning June 23 in the Pagosa Springs High School (PSHS) auditorium.

The shows begin at 7 p.m. and runs June 23, 24 and 25 (2 p.m. Sunday matinee), and June 29 and 30 and July 1. Tickets will be available at the door.

CUP is a not-for-profit organization that has entered its 28th year bringing high-quality musical theater entertainment to the public. This is community theater at its finest. But what makes this organization truly unique is that its proceeds are donated to benefit students of the arts. It provides scholarships for private voice, dance, and instrumental lessons, as well as four-year college scholarships to students who are majoring in performing arts.

“We are a mentoring organization,” said Production Director Dale Johnson. “We help our young artists receive hands-on experience in the performing arts and offer scholarships to assist them in pursuing their dreams and honing their skills.”

One such recipient of the generosity of CUP’s scholarships is this year’s music director, Robert Neel. Robert, a 2011 graduate of PSHS and 2015 graduate of Santa Fe University of Art and Design, has played in starring roles in numerous CUP musicals, most recently as Tevye in last year’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

This year he will be offering his skills in a different arena.

His mother, Sally Neel, has been the music director for CUP’s musicals since 2009, teaching the songs to the cast and directing the pit orchestra. Unfortunately, this year a diagnosis of metastasized breast cancer forced her to withdraw from her long-held commitment to CUP.

“Sally has been a stronghold of our organization for many years and we were all devastated by the news,” said Johnson. “But Sally is not one to dwell on the dark side of things. She is still going strong and says she is feeling fine. However, the theater requires a lot of hours of work and she did not feel it would be a good idea to make that kind of commitment under the circumstances.

“We turned to one of our shining stars, her son, Robert,” Johnson explained. “Robert is an amazing musician and a CUP scholarship recipient. He has taken on this task with a competence that, up until now, we only suspected he possessed. He has shown great leadership and a tremendous amount of humor and patience teaching some pretty difficult music to our amateur cast.”

She continued, “It is very exciting to see the results of CUP’s mentoring coming back to bear fruit in our own community. Like Becca Stephens-Postma, another CUP scholar who returned to direct ‘Mary Poppins’ this Spring at PSHS, Robert is taking on a very difficult role and showing that his skills and talents are not only brilliant onstage, but offstage as well. It has been a real joy to work with him.”

They couldn’t keep his mother away from the orchestra pit altogether, however. Robert convinced her to play piano for the production and the two of them, along with other amazing community musicians, help create some wonderful magic as they accompany the cast of actors.

“I have received an incredible amount of support from our community and I am so very grateful,” said Sally Neel. “It is such an honor to be a part of this very important organization, an organization that promotes the performing arts and allows our children to discover and develop their skills right on stage. I think of all the roles I have played in life, participating in this incredible organization ranks right up at the top.

“I don’t know of another community arts organization that compares to CUP,” Sally said. “It is truly one of my dearest passions. Watching my son grow up on this stage, learning to be an actor, learning how to be a part of a larger team of actors and musicians, learning to use his God-given talents, has been one of the greatest thrills of my life. Not only that, each year I work with so many other young people whose lives have been deeply shaped by CUP, and it gives me great joy to know I have been a part of that. I am one proud mama!”

The community is encouraged to be a part of CUP, either through volunteering or through your financial support. For more information, visit www.CurtainsUpPagosa.org.

Also, make your plans to come and see “Sister Act.” It will gladden your heart to witness the talents of so many from right here in Pagosa Springs.

This story was posted on June 16, 2017.