Magic Valley Dilettantes Celebrate 50 years with production of ‘Titanic’

Those associated with the Dilettante Group of Magic Valley have gumption, talent and perseverance. Always have, always will. Through thick and thin, good times and bad, the theater company has never missed a single show. The group is Idaho’s oldest continuous musical theater, with 50 years of entertaining sold-out audiences.

Photo courtesy: Twin Falls Public Library

Vern Hedner played Jigger and Jacqueline Westendorf played Carrie in "Carousel" the Dilettante's first production in 1959.

Legend has it the Dilettantes have produced the most consecutive shows of any group this side of the Mississippi. That streak will continue as the cast and crew pull together production of their 50th show, “Titanic: The Musical.”

Its showing will premiere March 13 at the College of Southern Idaho’s Fine Arts Center Auditorium.

“For this momentous year we wanted to do something new and big,” says Director Lori Henson, of Twin Falls. “This is an award-winning show and it is different from the movie that so many of us are familiar with. This isn’t a love story, but rather a story based on factual characters and happenings on that fateful voyage.”

Photo © Jason Lugo

Alice Bean, played by Melanie Cook, is awoken after the Titanic hits an iceberg.

The production opened on Broadway in 1997 and swept that year’s Tony Awards for Best Book, Best Score, Best Sets and Best Musical of the Year.
“We’ve done the tried and true musicals: ‘Annie,’ ‘Oklahoma,’ and ‘The King and I.’ Those are always fun for the cast and audience to take part in, but we’re trying to mix it up and bring newer stuff to the area. This is the first time we’ve done ‘Titanic’ and we think people will really enjoy the show,” Henson says.

Dilettante productions have always been big news for Southern Idaho and beyond. When their first show, Rogers and Hammerstein’s, “Carousel,” hit the stage in 1959, the excitement over playing to a capacity crowd was featured in The Salt Lake Tribune.

“They couldn’t have started the show without me,” jokes long-time Dilettante member Rex Reed, of Filer. “I pulled the curtains.”

Reed, after taking a few-year hiatus for his health, will return to the stage for “Titanic,” cast as Macy’s department store owner Isidor Straus.

“I drown every night,” he says. “Just like in ‘South Pacific,’ where I was killed every night.”

Photo © Jason Lugo

Band members Matt Ashby, Weston Whitt and McKay Nield continue playing while the ship sinks.

Recollections from past shows cause the 77-year-old Dilettante (and war) veteran’s eyes to twinkle. Sometimes, what happens backstage is as amusing as the goings-on under the spotlight.

“In ‘Kiss Me Kate,’ I played the bailiff and opened the play with the reading of the docket kept on a board. Instead of just names on the docket, I cheated and had my lines on the board. When opening night came around I got the board and went on stage. My lines weren’t there but someone had written, ‘Your fly is open,’” Reed chuckles.

Reed rushed through the scene and exited the stage for a wardrobe check. Even under the extra pressure, he remembered his lines throughout the show.

“The whole backstage was roaring; they all knew what was going on,” he recalls. “You always had to be prepared for your fellowman because they would do things.”

Through marriage, divorce and personal tragedy, Reed says, being a Dilettante provided extra family support.

Photo © Jason Lugo

(Left to right) Tahirih Silcock, Michelle Johnson and Shelby Roberts serve passengers aboard the Titanic.

“What we had back then, in the earlier years, was a camaraderie. Our children were part of that. We supported each other on stage, and off stage,” he says.

Unlike the Titanic, the Dilettante Group of Magic Valley is one ship that won’t sink. Since its inception 50 years ago, the organization has given rise to other performing groups, including the Magic Valley Symphony, Magic Valley Chorale, Magic Valley Little Theater and the JuMP Company.

“The Dilettantes is the granddaddy of them all. I can’t imagine Twin Falls without it because the Dilettantes is part of what Twin Falls is,” Henson says. “Once you are a Dilettante, even if you are only in one show, you are always a Dilettante, and I think we have another 50 great years to look forward to.”