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CYAC to present 'Jack the Ripper' to open new West Side theater

Traditionally, the grand opening of a new business or entertainment location is observed ceremonially by cutting a ribbon.

The Contemporary Youth Arts Company will be cutting a bit deeper — and darker — than that — slightly more Grand Guignol than grand opening — this month.

The area arts group will present “Jack the Ripper” as its first production at the Elk City Playhouse on Charleston’s West Side, as part of FestivALL. With a storyline based on the infamous serial killer of late 19th century Victorian London, longtime CYAC collaborators Dan Kehde and Mark Scarpelli have assembled a cast of 35 and an eight-member orchestra for their FestivALL musical drama. Ted Rose of Kanawha City will portray Jack the Ripper, also known as Frederick in the production.

“Frederick is Dan’s twist on the character,” Scarpelli said. “To this day, they still don’t know who Jack the Ripper was. Dan made him an artist, and I think there’s a sensitive side to him from that, but there’s also a warped side.”

“The idea came from a book by Patricia Cornwell. She came forth with the outrageous assumption that she had solved the Ripper mystery,” “Jack the Ripper” writer/director Kehde said. “She has been disproven about a thousand times by everybody else, because the character she had thought was really him was in the British Isles at the time it was happening.

“But the character was interesting — the idea that the Ripper could have been an artist really did lend itself to a more sensitive portrayal of him than just a demon,” Kehde said.

“For me, I have less acting experience, I think, than others in the area,” the 6-foot-8-inch-tall Rose said, “so this isn’t a departure for me — it’s an adventure for me. I get to try my hand at more theatrical, more actual acting than I have ever done in my entire life, and I’m absolutely loving the process and loving working with this group.”

In composing the score for the darkly themed show, Scarpelli said, “It’s 180 degrees away from what we were doing a year ago with the Norman Rockwell feel-good piece and also the ‘Sad, Mad, Glad’ kids’ book series. We’re at the opposite end of that, but I think, musically, there are some real tender moments in this.”

“That’s one of the things that drew me to audition for this,” Rose said. “Every iteration of this show I have heard was so deep and many-layered and musically novel. It definitely compelled me.

“It’s not a gorefest,” he said of the onstage depictions of the Ripper’s murderous attacks. “It’s more psychological.”

“There’s such a great contrast between the sensitivity and the viciousness,” Kehde added.

The CYAC has performed “Jack the Ripper” twice before, most recently in 2011.

“I think it was the right choice” as the inaugural production for the new theater, Kehde said. “It’s a very serious piece. I really wanted to open this with a serious piece, a piece that underscored what we do.”

Construction began on the new playhouse about two years ago. It will serve as CYAC’s permanent theater, following the group’s recent stint in the Charleston Town Center.

“It’s got a good vibe to it,” Kehde said of the venue. “We have ‘Boxes’ coming up after this one, I have a new play, we’ll do ‘Mary’ after that and see what else Mark and I can come up with.”

“Jack the Ripper” will be presented at 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, June 20-22 and June 27-29. A matinee performance is slated for 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 23.

Tickets for “Jack the Ripper” are $15 apiece for adults and $8 each for students and senior citizens. They can be purchased at the door, although advance purchases are encouraged by ordering through

The Elk City Playhouse is located at 128 Washington St., W., in Charleston.

Metro reporter Clint Thomas can be reached at or by calling 304-348-1232.

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