Keith Butcher, the former superintendent of both Fayette and Nicholas County Schools, might best be known for his viral songs about snow days, which drew national media attention.
But the “Singing Superintendent” will soon be back in the spotlight for a different reason as he takes the stage in Theatre West Virginia’s productions of “Annie,” “Hatfields and McCoys” and “Paradise Park.”
Butcher is no stranger to Theatre West Virginia as he says the stage at Grandview’s Cliffside Amphitheatre is where his love for music and acting began.
“My parents brought me to ‘Honey in the Rock’ when I was 13 years old,” he says. “I remember it was one of those dramatic experiences. It was one of those turning points in your life where you were in the middle of some experience and you realized this connected with you.
“That experience connected with me, and I told my parents that’s what I wanted to do.”
Soon after, he says he began to teach himself guitar and enrolled in piano lessons. He wanted to be a part of the experience. He wanted to be a part of theater and, at the age of 23, he got his first role with TWV, starring as Randall McCoy Jr.
He went on to earn a music education degree from Concord College (now Concord University), taught school, worked as a principal and eventually became a superintendent. After he retired in 2016, he moved to Texas and now teaches leadership to graduate and doctoral students at the University of Houston.
But with no classes on his schedule this summer, he decided to return home and to the TWV stage, a place where he has performed seven other seasons.
“So someone with my passion, what would they do with their summer?” Butcher asks with a laugh. “Come back to Theatre West Virginia.”
And TWV General Manager Scott Hill says the company is also happy to have him. He says Butcher is a perfect fit for his role of Daddy Warbucks in the season-opening “Annie.”
“Keith was a slam dunk for Daddy Warbucks,” Hill says. “He has a huge personality, and Daddy Warbucks is a big personality role.”
He says Butcher is a good castmate as well.
“Keith is smart, caring and kind,” he continues. “You rarely get those combinations in a person. He actually cares about people. I guess that comes from all the years of being in the education program. He’s just a good person to be around.”
Butcher and the rest of the cast are hard at work, rehearsing from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. in preparation for Friday’s opening night.
But though he says rehearsals are exhausting, he says they’re well worth it. After all, he says, it is his passion.
“You get to tell someone’s story on stage,” he says. “There is nothing like it. It’s what I really love.”
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“Annie,” which runs from June 14 to June 29 at 7:30 p.m. at Grandview’s Cliffside Amphitheatre, is just the start of TWV’s 59th season.
“‘Annie’ is going to run for two weeks and we take a couple days off to change the set and lighting and then we come back July 5 and start with ‘Hatfields and McCoys,’” Hill says.
“Hatfields,” as it has become affectionately known over the past 49 years, tells the story of the world-famous family feud and, Hill says, is distinctly West Virginian.
“It’s about who we are,” he says, adding the show has an “Appalachian Romeo and Juliet” aspect to it. “And it has the financial friction. There’s a bunch of real life folks who died. How many folks do you have to lose to declare victory or loss?”
After “Hatfields” closes, “Paradise Park” will return for its second year.
“God comes to a trailer park by way of Paradise Park,” Hill says of the play written by Danny Boyd, with music by Larry Grose. “Or at least the trailer park folks think he’s coming.”
Hill says the story is about what he believes to be the best part of West Virginia.
“It’s not about coal, God or trailer parks,” he says. “It’s about what’s often overlooked in West Virginia. It’s about people.”
Hill says he is looking forward to all three shows — “Hatfields and McCoys” will run from July 5 through July 14 and “Paradise Park” is slated for July 18 through July 28 — and he encourages people to come out to Grandview to attend.
“We’re excited to be back and to get the plays going,” he says. “It’s a beautiful setting in a National Park, under stars. We invite guests to come outside with us.”
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.theatrewestvirginia.org.