Uwharrie Players kick off 2023 season with ‘The Hundred Dresses’

The Uwharrie Players will go back to school to kick off the 2023 season next weekend with its production of “The Hundred Dresses,” a musical based on the popular children’s book of the same name.

Written in 1944 by Eleanor Estes, the story revolves around a Polish girl named Wanda Petronski who attends an elementary school where the other children mock her and view her as different, with her strange accent and the fact she told them she has 100 dresses at home.

Touching on themes of friendship, forgiveness and standing up for what is right, the story — which received the Newbery Medal, one of the most prestigious awards for children’s literature — highlights the importance of kindness and treating everyone with respect.

“This is an easy way to introduce a young person to the art of theater without it being too overwhelming or too over their heads,” said director Christian Payne, who will also play one of Wanda’s classmates. “It will be very stimulating as far as the music, and the costume and the design and it will also have a meaningful message that will resonate with young people.”

This will be Payne’s third time serving as director of a Uwharrie Players production. He previously directed “Drinking Habits” and “Cinderella,” both of which came out in 2018.

Wanda (Christine Barringer) is teased by her classmates. Photo courtesy of Christian Payne.

Payne said he came up with the idea for a production geared specifically for children last spring, as the Uwharrie Players were performing “The Odd Couple.”

“In recent years, although the Uwharrie Players have put on good, quality productions and although many of those have been family friendly, there was nothing that specifically targeted young people, to give them something to really sink their teeth into in the world of theater,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that our kid audience members had something that was crafted just for them to see.”

After approaching the Uwharrie Players’ Board of Directors about his idea, the organization was able to secure a grant through the Stanly County Community Foundation to help finance the production.

The Uwharrie Players also connected with the Stanly County Arts Council and as part of its Cultural Education Program, two special performances will be offered March 8 at the Stanly County Agri-Civic Center exclusively for third- and fourth-grade classes across the district.

To make sure the students are aware of the book that inspired the production, the Arts Council, including Kent and Edna-Lipe Harkey, the 2022 Arts Persons of the Year, sponsored purchasing copies of the book for all third- and fourth-grade classrooms, Payne said.

“It’s really neat to see how the community has rallied to support this endeavor,” Payne said, noting the Uwharrie Players matched contributions from the Arts Council to allow for each third- and fourth-grade teacher to also receive lesson plans to correspond with the book.

The teachers will also receive “packets to help guide the students as far as connecting the piece of literature to the live performance on stage,” Payne said.

The cast, which consists of eight actors, has been rehearsing since early January. They include: Maddie Medlin as Maddie Martin; Blair Johnson as Peggy Hawthorn; David Joseph as Jack Beggles; Gracien Treece as Cecile Caldwell; Christian Payne as Willie Bounce; Christine Barringer as Wanda Petronski; Jacob Hoffer as Jan Petronski; and Teresa Crump as Miss Mason.

“I really hope that this sparks an interest in theater and the arts in general,” Payne said. “I hope that young people and the adults and the grandparents who bring those young people are able to see the theater is not just for adults but it can truly have a meaningful and lasting impact on a young person.”

The play, which will last about 60 minutes, opens at 7 p.m. March 3-4 at the Albemarle Neighborhood Theatre. It’s also showing at 3 p.m. March 5 at the Theatre.

Tickets can be purchased online and also at the door on show dates. Tickets cost $10 for people over 13 and are free for those 13 and younger. Payne encourages people to go online to purchase and reserve their tickets.

The 2023 season will feature three other productions: “Down to Earth” in the spring, “Bright Star” in the summer and “Honky Tonk Angels” in the fall.