The Musical at the Mountain
By Doc Lawrence
STONE MOUNTAIN, Georgia-After receiving the Nobel Prize for literature, a reporter asked William Faulkner why he wrote only about the South? “It’s what I know,” the Mississippi native replied. Art Station, the epicenter of culture in this part of greater Atlanta, stays true to its formula of entertaining audiences while advancing the better angels around us. Inspired by Deborah Ford’s best-selling book, Grits Friends Are Forevah: A Southern-Style Celebration of Women, Erica Allen McGee’s musical, GRITS- Girls Raised in the South offers almost two hours of songs performed by four gifted cast members, successfully demonstrating what it means to be southern women.
They announce with good intentions that like a state border, there is a grits line. One example is the Ohio River. Kentucky is grits country; Indiana is not. But such differences are superficial and there’s room for women everywhere who come down South for college or seek refuge from cold weather and strange food.
|GRITS creator Erica McGee|
The performances by talented cast members Liza Jaine, Dejie Johnson, Allison Spragin and Joy Walters include solo parts. When they combine on a song, everything is supercharged. Ms. Spagin is in a league of her own with a wide-ranging, powerful voice that would fit seamlessly in Mahilia, the musical about gospel great Mahilia Jackson.
Throughout the show, GRITS girls are introduced including thoroughbreds like Loretta Lynn, Dinah Shore, Eudora Welty, Maya Angelou and Dolly Parten. Honorary members like Lucille Ball qualify because they have all the characteristics of a Steel Magnolia.
Closing out with A.P. Carter’s version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light,” brought up the audience, standing, clapping and singing. It’s what we do down here when entertainment takes us to a higher life.
Added buoyancy and bounce provided by Patrick Hutchison’s piano accompaniment is equal parts Thelonoius Monk and Floyd Cramer. Karen Beyer returns as director, assuring a tight performance where everything wonderful is highlighted.
Art Station’s David Thomas, long recognized as one of the wunderkinds of the live theater in Atlanta and beyond, introduced GRITS on opening night. “I call myself a member of ‘BRITS,’” he said. “I’m a proud boy raised in the South.” This show, he added, “honors everyone, replacing division with inclusion, celebrating friendship and love, things we need more of today.”
GRITS runs through July. (770) 469-1105 www.artstationtheatre.org