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Small town Southern life comes alive in ‘Kudzu’

Click to enlarge Small town Southern life comes alive in ‘Kudzu’

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The fictional Southern small town of Bypass, and the characters who inhabit it, come to life as Central ... (more)

03.30.2009Arts & EntertainmentCollege General

PITTSBORO - A beloved cartoon character - and all his colorful townsfolk - come to life when "Kudzu, A Southern Musical" opens at Chatham Mills April 24.

Central Carolina Community College theater production students and community members fill the stage with the ups-and-downs of small Southern town life in a tuneful, happy show that has delighted audiences worldwide.

The musical grew out of the "Kudzu" cartoon strip, created by editorial cartoonist Doug Marlette in 1981. Collaboration with Jack Herrick and Bland Simpson, of the Red Clay Ramblers, transformed the cartoon into a tuneful musical comedy.

The musical captures the angst, tenderness, and humor in the life of 18-year-old Kudzu Dubose, who aspires to be a writer. Kudzu lives in the town of Bypass, so named because the state ran a new highway past the town but forgot to give it an exit; so the world bypasses Bypass.

"We picked this show because of its local connections and because it's good fun, something people will want in these tough times," said Ellen Bland, director and Central Carolina C.C. theater instructor.

The show, its characters and music go straight to the heart of Southerners and those that love the slow-paced life in the small, rural towns that dot the South. Such towns are disappearing under suburbia, but "Kudzu, A Southern Musical," captures the bone-deep feelings for their community that many of the characters, particularly Kudzu, don't realize they have until they might lose it.

Life in Bypass takes a surprising turn when leading citizen Big Bubba Tadsworth, played by Mike Broadley, tries to sell land in the tiny town to a Japanese company that wants to build "the world's largest plant to manufacture American flags." In a surprise plot twist, Kudzu, played by Layton Sheppard, turns out to be the owner of the land.

Will a young man bored with the dullness of his small Southern town sell its soul to build a factory? Or will he realize how special it is and how special he is as part of it? The answer comes, surrounded by both the poignancy and joy of discovering how precious "home" is.  

Tickets for "Kudzu, A Southern Musical" are $12 and are available at CCCC's Chatham County Campus, 764 West St., Pittsboro, (919) 542-6495, or online at Chatham Mills is located at 480 Hillsborough St., Pittsboro. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 24-25, and Friday, May 1; 8:30 p.m. Saturday, May 2; and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 26 and May 3. The show is produced by arrangement with Samuel French, Inc., and Chatham Mills Development Corp.

Marlette was born in Greensboro, raised in Durham, N.C., Laurel, Miss., and Sanford, Fla. His cartoons appeared in prestigious publications such as Time, Newsweek, The New York Times and the Washington Post. He received many awards for his work, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Marlette, then a Hillsborough resident, died in an automobile accident in Mississippi in July 2007. He was on his way to a staging of the musical in Oxford, Miss. He was posthumously awarded membership in the North Carolina Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the governor.

Student cast members are Jessica Barton, Jon Baughman, Sara Billman, P.J. Bordelon, Dan Cahoon, Nick Jabbour, Corinna King, Morgan Jones, and Adam Stark, all of Pittsboro; Susie Whorley, Chapel Hill; Josh Bray and George Williams, of Bear Creek; Layton Sheppard and Kayla Fletcher, both of Sanford; and recent Central Carolina C.C. graduates Mike Broadley and Crystal Lowndes, both of Pittsboro.

Community members in the cast are: CCCC faculty David Watson, on guitar; costumer Sachi Denison, actor and stage manager Drew Lasater, Mimi Wearer, Kim Herold, and Pam Smith, Sherri Million, drummer Eric Davis, and Tristan Bland, all of Pittsboro; members of the local band Big Range - Adam Brill, Tom Smith and Bill Skeels; music director Creighton Irons, of Chapel Hill; Jennifer Starkey, from Star Community Theatre, in Sanford; fiddler Meredith Nye of Apex, and Eugenia Spearman, of Dunn.