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Local queen of drama at home on stage

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Rita Powers has spent most her life on stage and has imparted her talent to thousands of area high school students. (Photo by Foust Photography)
Rita Powers has spent most her life on stage and has imparted her talent to thousands of area high school students. (Photo by Foust Photography)

Rita Powers is a well-known woman in Flower Mound and Denton County, especially by Marcus High School performing arts students, their friends and family, plus thousands of audience members. Her fame is set to expand in a major way this summer.

Powers has been selected to direct the Disney production of “Mary Poppins” at the Rockwall Summer Musicals 1,500-seat theater in Rockwall this August.

Based on the books by P.L. Travers and the classic Walt Disney film, Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s “Mary Poppins” delighted Broadway audiences for over 2,500 performances and received nominations for nine Olivier and seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

“Being able to touch people’s lives has always been at the center of what I do,” she said.

Powers was Theatre Arts Department Head at MHS for 15-years of her 19-year tenure with Lewisville ISD, until her June 2015 retirement. She taught Theatre 1-4; Advanced Drama; Musical Theatre; Theatre Production; and, Tech Theatre: Costumes and Makeup.

In addition to teaching those skills, she was also the director of the school’s stage plays and musicals; an additional fulltime job.

“Watching my students grow and become more confident in what they do and who they are is an emotional thing for me,” she said.

Powers and her students competed and won awards at Texas State Thespian Festivals and advanced to nationals every year; advanced to State in the UIL One Act Play Competition; and, won numerous additional awards. Many of her former students are working successfully as professionals in the entertainment industry itself, or as theatre arts teachers. They work in the backstage technical areas or as performers on stage and in front of the camera in movies, television or both.

Her own formal education began following a 1980 divorce. As a single parent with two small children, Katrina and younger brother Tony, Powers put herself through college earning an Associate’s of Arts and Sciences Degree from Richland College in 1982 and a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree (B.A.) in Music Education from the University of Texas at Dallas in 1984.

“It was a lot,” said Powers. “Being a parent, working and going to school, but it’s something I can say I did. I didn’t take any financial help from my ex-husband or anyone and I am proud of that.”

Sixteen years later, she earned a Master of Science Degree (M.S) in Theatre Arts from the University of North Texas in 2000, then a Master’s in Educational Administration (M.E.) with Principal Certification from the University of North Texas (UNT) in 2007.

For the 2015-16 academic year, Powers is a faculty member at Texas Women’s University (TWU) as a teacher supervisor for student fine arts teachers. She is also continuing her position on the board for the Dallas Summer Musicals (DSM) Guild, as well as being a Judge for the DSM High School Awards. These positions are based not only on her academic background, but also because she has directed more than 100 musicals and plays.

Her illustrative academic background is impressive and would be a career most people would point to with well-deserved pride; and, Powers does. She could be held up as a perfect example of the old adage: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” There are, however, exceptions to that rule.

The thing is—Powers has been “doing” as a performer almost from her birth to parents who were both performers themselves.

“My mom, Joan Feole, was a full-blooded Italian who was a soloist with the Columbia Light Opera, in [Washington] D.C., when she was just a teenager,” said Powers. “She met my father, Ray Anderson who’s still alive, when they were both cast in a production of ‘Rio Rita.’ He’d been a ‘song-and-dance’ kid in Oklahoma when he was young; and, while in the Navy in World War II, he served in a Special Services [entertainment] unit with Gene Kelly.”

Powers said her grandmom wouldn’t allow Joan to date, so Ray spent lots of time getting in the mother’s good graces in order to date the daughter. It paid off. Ray and Joan were married in 1946.

The newlyweds moved to New York City to break-in to theatre there, but weren’t successful. So, they moved to Hollywood, where Joan was cast in the touring company of the Broadway show “Sweethearts.” Ray wasn’t happy about her touring, so Joan became pregnant.

The couple moved to Dallas to be with Ray’s relatives. He did community theatre, then joined DSM. Joan sang with the Dallas Opera for 13-years and was a soloist at the Starlight Band Shell in Fair Park.

“My brother, Charles, came first and is actually called ‘Chick,” in honor of the character my dad played in ‘Rio Rita,’” said Powers. “I came next, obviously named for my mom’s character, then my sisters, Linda and Gena. Both Chick and Linda {Frank) are also performers. She’s a board member with the Dallas Summer Music Guild and has appeared in more than 60 productions, especially in Garland. Gena’s also performed, but she’s an acrobat.”

Powers earliest memories were of her mother singing to her and then teaching her how to sing when she was about four-years-old. She performed as a “guest artist” with her parents sometimes, then began her own soloist career at age 14, performing in country club or private settings. She added dance to her growing list of talents while studying with SMU’s famous Dance Department Head, Betty Ferguson.

She added performing in musical theatre productions and formed her own band, Rita Powers & Standing Ovation. It was her fulltime “gig” from 1980-90 that supported her family and paid for her education.

“Yeah, I was a parent and went to school during the day and sang at night and on weekends; I didn’t sleep a lot,” said Power chuckling.

Rita Powers & Standing Ovation performed as both a show band and dance band in nightclubs, supper clubs, hotels, country clubs and resorts for public and private parties, conventions and industrial shows.

The band has an extensive repertoire and is adept at any style of music. The group has performed as the headliner, as well as the act for celebrities such as B.B. King, The Four Tops, Lily Tomlin, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Chuck Mangione, Donovan, Jack Jones, The Platters, Rosemary Clooney and David Brenner at the Dallas Fairmont Hotel.

The band has also toured cross-country and Powers was a guest vocalist in London, England, at The White Lion.

She was a guest singer with The Dallas Symphony Choir and is also the vocalist for additional bands:  Rejoice, her Cathedral of Light Church band in Farmer’s Branch for 25 years; Moondance, a Big Band-style orchestra; Sweet Sounds Dance Band; plus The Rita, Rush & Richard Trio. She was recently featured as a guest artist at The Sammons Center for the Arts in its “Cabaret and Cabernet” Series.

Of course, she also managed to stay involved with her love of theatre. She was a pre-show entertainer/solo vocalist for nearly five years at Granny’s Dinner Playhouse and The Barn Dinner Theatre in Dallas. While working there, she not only sang nightly, but was understudy for the lead role of Fanny Brice in the road production of “Funny Girl” and starred in “Man of LaMancha” as Aldonza/Dulcinea.

When an opportunity to play the role of Mama Rose in “Gypsy” came her way, she jumped back in to full-fledged musical productions. To date, she’s played Mama Rose in four different productions, the lead in “Mame,” “Hello, Dolly,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” and even Ursula in “The Little Mermaid,” among dozens more shows.

“Both Katrina and Tony are singers and my grandson, Dillon, who just graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder, was in the show ‘Lil Abner,’” said Powers.

Powers is jumping into her new “Mary Poppins” director duties.

“I’ve already cast one role,” said Powers. “The role of the dog Willoughby will be played by my Maltese, Mama Mia, named for my mom, who lived to age 90. Her final word was from a favorite song. We sang: ‘It Had to Be …’ and she said ‘You’ as her final word.”

Powers met her husband, now-retired three-time Emmy Award-winning NBC Network director/editor George White, in 1989.

“I was singing ‘Somewhere’ from ‘West Side Story’ at Arthur’s in Dallas and he was dancing with another woman, but it was a real eye-to-eye connection,” said Powers. “But, he was in New York with both the ‘Today’ and ‘Tonight’ shows and then he moved down to Houston with NASA. Eventually, he ended up in Dallas.”

The couple finally managed to get together after 14 years. They now live in Canyon Oaks, next to Lantana: “a nice place to relax.”

The word “retirement” doesn’t seem to appear in Powers’ dictionary. For that– students, performers, musicians and audiences can be thankful.

Rehearsals begin on June 27 and performances are August 12-14 and 19-21. For additional information, call 214-202-9673.

For additional information, contact her at: dramarita@aol.com.

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