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Labor of Love
CRCA to present 'God's Trombone' at Rockdale Auditorium in Olde Town

Although Renee Cannon has penned a number of plays, she may be best known locally for producing and directing a musical she didn't write, which she's bringing back to the stage on behalf of the Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts.

Cannon's Uniquely Yours production company will present James Weldon Johnson's "God's Trombone" at 8 p.m. Feb. 15 and 16 at the Rockdale Auditorium in Olde Town Conyers. The play has spiritual and sentimental value for Cannon, as it was her company's first independent production four years ago.

"I was doing a lot of dramatic theatre productions, several that I had written, at my church, and people were always encouraging me to do more," said Cannon, who is the producer and director of "God's Trombone." "'God's Trombone' was my first independent production and it was so well received that I've done it several times since then."

Celebrated lyric soprano Theresa Hamm-Smith leads a cast of about 40 singers, dancers and actors in "God's Trombone," which is based on a 1927 poem written by Johnson (who also wrote the song "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing") that praises and documents black church sermons and homilists.

Cannon, who also works as the program coordinator for the CRCA, said executive director Sue Chappell asked her to stage "Trombone" after seeing one of her original productions.

"Last January, I did 'Building 157,' which I wrote, produced, directed and acted in," she said. "Sue came to see it and suggested that I should do a show for the arts council. She was interested in me doing something familiar and asked me about 'God's Trombone,' and I told her we'd done it before. Then I met with Theresa and everything just fell into place."

The play features a collection of seven poems, with each poem detailing a different sermon. Cannon has added her own touches to the production, writing an introduction - which features Smith and the Decatur-based vocal trio M3 - that places Johnson's work in a more contemporary context.

"When I first started doing this play, I wanted to do it a little differently," she said. "I developed scenes featuring Grandma Rozella and her three granddaughters. The three young girls have been raised in the church, but one of them doesn't want to do that anymore and wants to test Rozella's faith, and their grandmother sits down and tells about the price paid by the men of God, which leads into the play."

"Trombone" also features the contributions of seven "orators" who recite the poems, and local performers from the Dominey School of the Performing Arts, who offer music and dance touches between each poem, the last of which is recited by Cannon's husband, Justin. The show also features an auditioned chorus of singers from the

community.

The real coup of "Trombone," however, is the appearance of Hamm-Smith, who has had roles in both classic and contemporary opera pieces. She made her Carnegie Hall debut as a soprano soloist in Verdi's "Requiem" and in 2003 appeared in the San Francisco Opera's "Dead Man Walking."

Besides playing Grandma Rozella, the Rockdale County native will also lead the choir in the two-hour show.

"Theresa's playing a dual role," Cannon said. "She serves on the arts council's board of directors, and as soon as we met we clicked. I told her about 'God's Trombone' and she was familiar with the production and loved it. She said she wanted to do anything she could to help. Theresa's an awesome singer."

Cannon is also excited about the appearance of M3, sisters Megan, Morgan and Madison McCall, whom she spotted in a recital in Decatur.

"I've coached young people for many years and I like to give them a chance," she said. "We've got actors from the Decatur School of the Performing Arts, the Dominey School and students from Salem and Rockdale high schools in the play. M3 is amazing - Madison is the youngest and she provides the comic relief in the play. They're wonderful singers and they even have their own clothing line."

A native of Milwaukee, Cannon said she enjoys her work away from Uniquely Yours because it reinforces what she's doing with her production company.

"At the arts council, I line up the artists and make sure the shows actually happen," she said. "I'm doubly blessed because I own my own production company and I work for the arts council doing the same thing."

When "God's Trombone" closes, Cannon said she'll probably return to "Building 157," which she said she hopes to present in the Rockdale Auditorium and in at least one other special venue.

"My mom, who lives in Milwaukee, had an accident last year and isn't able to come down here," Cannon said. "One of my goals is to be able to take 'Building 157' to Milwaukee so my mother can see it. My mom is my biggest fan - she pushed me in every way, and her accident has made me want to work faster and harder."

"Trombone" is not only a family affair (two of Cannon's daughters, Alexis and Amber, are also in the cast) but it's also a labor of love and pride.

"It's an honor to be able to have this show in the Rockdale Auditorium," she said. "We're trying to have something for everybody and we're always striving to broaden our programming. I hope everybody will come out and support what we're doing. This is not just a play, but an inspirational experience."

Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens. If you have a story idea, e-mail Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If You Go

What: "God's Trombone," presented by Uniquely Yours production company and the Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts

When: 8 p.m. Feb. 15 and 16

Where: Rockdale Auditorium, 903 South Main St. in Olde Town Conyers

Cost: Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by calling 770-922-3143 or by visiting www.conyersarts.org.