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Christmas show at the AMT packing the house

December 5, 2009
By Wayne Sheets, Contributing Business Writer and ANTHONY GAYNOR, Staff Writer

The Christmas show at the American Mountain Theater is all, if not more, than expected.

Having become accustomed to nothing less than spectacular shows at the AMT for the past two and a half years, this season's show is living up to, if not exceeding, expectations. Playing before a sold-out house during the season's first two shows, the crowd was transported through nearly, if not every, emotion that is a part of the season of "peace on earth and goodwill toward men."

Through the music composed by gospel song writer Beverly Sexton, the antics of Jeremiah Franks (occasionally accompanied by his brother Joel), the voices of Susie Heckel, Rachel Franks, Meggan Sexton, Kenny Sexton, Denny Franks (Kenny and Denny are also spectacular keyboard artists) and the superb talents of instrumentalist Johnny Cochran on the fiddle, banjo and acoustic guitar and Brad Gumm on lead guitar and Seth Maynard on the base guitar the show covers the great spectrum of the holiday season with uplifting spiritual songs, comedy, imitations of notables of the industry - and some acts you wouldn't expect. I would be terribly remiss if I did not mention Jeremiah Franks' doing a wonderful job on the trombone and trumpet - and the toaster.

To say much more would be giving away too much of the excitement of the show. I will add, however, that the sophisticated, technologically minded Denny Franks has invented, and amply demonstrated his version of the "next generation" of computer technology for both soft- and hard-ware. This new invention is bound to be a great success if nowhere else but on stage.

The costumes designed by Susie Heckel and her able assistants were exciting, original and beautiful. When not in one of those special costumes, the performers are dressed in tuxedos and beautiful evening gowns - adding tremendously to the sophistication of the show.

The return of Rachel Franks and Meggan Sexton and the addition of Jamilyn Sexton brought not only freshness and beauty to the show but wonderful singing talent as well. Another great addition is Matt Scott singing "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Who would have guessed such wonderful talent is possessed by the one who does such a superb job with the lights and sound.

All of these tremendous talents combine for a thrilling two hours of seasonal entertainment.

One segment of the show that I especially liked pays tribute to our men and women in the several branches of our armed forces. Many of them are far from home in lands whose customs prohibit our way of celebrating Christmas and away from their loved ones, many in harms way protecting the freedoms we hold so dear.

As this heart-wrenching segment pays tribute to our men and women in service it, through the pleadings and prayer of the portrayer, begs the deities of all religions for world peace and stability

There was, at Saturday evening's show at least, another very satisfying fact in the theater that should not be overlooked - it was packed with local folks. There were many out-of-state people there of course - Sue and I were accompanied by four friends from Ohio- but it appeared to me that the great majority of the crowd was of folks from the local area. Yet, many of our local people, when asked if they have seen the show at the AMT, say that they haven't seen it - yet.

We all have our favorite kind of entertainment, but let me say to those that haven't seen these shows - each and every one of them is a once-in-a-life-time experience. Once the show of the season ends, it can never be seen again.

We are very fortunate to have such a wonderful entertainment venue in our community, and I like to encourage everyone to see the show. Not only will you enjoy an evening of great music and comedy, but you will also be supporting our local economy at a price that costs little more than an evening at a motion picture theater.

The show is well worth the fare, and you can't help but leave the theater with an uplifted spirit.

Our local merchants are working together for the benefit of all during the Christmas shopping season - well, for today anyway. Ed Griesel, president of the Downtown Merchants' Association, announced at Tuesday's meeting that 32 local merchants have joined together in today's local marketing program.

The program is designed to encourage and keep local residents shopping in local stores.

Each person who shops and makes a purchase at one of the participating stores will receive a ticket making them eligible to win cash prizes of $100, $75, $50 and $25. Winners will be drawn Monday.

Several of the stores will be holding an open house today as well. Take a few hours and stop by the stores that have a flyer announcing their participation in the program, complete your Christmas shopping and you may win one of the cash prizes.

Since people began coming to Elkins by the bus load to enjoy the American Mountain Theater and ride the trains we've heard many comments of concern by merchants as to why very few of those people make it into the downtown area to shop. That situation has been, and continues to be, a major concern of those who are working to create a stronger economy in the Elkins area.

Several members of the Elkins ON TRAC Team met with Michael Gioulis, Historic Architect for the West Virginia Department of Culture and History and Assistant Director of the Historic Preservation Unit, and Delphine Coffey, administrator of the West Virginia ON TRAC Program on Thursday and addressed these concerns.

The first project the ON TRAC team will concentrate on is finding a way or ways of getting our visitors into the downtown area. Doing this presents several challenges, the first of which is getting them safely across Railroad Avenue.

The team members discussed for nearly two hours ways of accomplishing this through redesigned crosswalks, placement of those crosswalks and a traffic flow that will enhance pedestrian safety. At first glance, this would seem to be a rather minor challenge, but once the situation is examined in depth, it becomes a great deal more complex.

When trying to design safer crossings combined with esthetics that will make the area more appealing many aspects of the challenge come into play including, as previously mentioned, traffic flow, street width sufficient to handle the huge buses in which they arrive and their loading and unloading, and getting people to slow down and stop for people in the crosswalks.

Those 15 mph signs along the street are just that - signs. They don't necessarily make people lift their foot off the accelerator. It is not a simple task.

The important thing, though, is that the ON TRAC team is looking into the matter. Mr. Gioulis, will take the many suggestions discussed at Thursday's meeting and design a "system" that will enhance the safety of everyone crossing Railroad Avenue.

They hope to have this system in place before the 2010 tourist season begins.



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