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Georgia native comes home to star in play

COVINGTON - Derek Manson's passion for acting took him to New York City eight years ago. Since then, he's had a steady string of roles onstage and voice-over work. But from time to time, there's just no place like home, and Manson looks forward to coming back to Georgia to perform.

Next month, he returns to the Atlanta stage for the Alliance Children's Theatre production of the children's musical "Goodnight Moon."

Based on the popular children's book by Margaret Wise, the play centers on a bunny preparing for bed as every corner of his room comes to life. Manson has the title role of Little Bunny.

"It's remarkable how many people you run into who know the book," he said. "It's the most beloved children's book out there."

Currently in rehearsals, Manson is staying in Oxford with his parents, Ron and Sandra Manson, for the duration of the play.

"This brings me back home, brings me back to my family. I love the opportunity to perform for a local crowd," he said.

Born in Atlanta, Manson moved to Newton County at age 4 when his father took a job with BellSouth. He got bitten by the acting bug early on, performing in church and school plays and musicals.

In 1988, Manson was part of the Newton High School production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," which won a state one-act play competition. That experience motivated Manson even more, and he began taking ensemble acting classes for teens at Horizon Theatre Company in Atlanta.

That same year, he participated in the Governor's Honors Program, where he studied theater under Rosemary Newcott, his director in "Goodnight Moon." The two forged a professional partnership and friendship that has spanned 20 years.

After graduating high school in 1990, Manson graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., earning a bachelor's degree in speech.

He enjoyed success as a stage actor in Atlanta in the mid to late '90s and moved to New York in 2000. There, he continued his work onstage and started doing voice-over work. He also took a job at Entertainment Weekly magazine, where he still works as a reporter and researcher.

Manson doesn't take it for granted that he's one of the lucky few to have steady work as an actor for the better part of 15 years.

"Acting is something that I love. It's probably my first love," he said. "It enables me to play different roles and immerse myself in the lives of different people. I've always enjoyed that. It keeps me young and keeps my imagination working.

"There have been ups and downs, but right now it's all about the ups," he said.

One of those ups is partnering with Newcott for "Goodnight Moon," his third Alliance Children's Theatre production.

"This is my year of playing young roles," said Manson, who recently played a little league pitcher in the rock musical "Looking for Roberto Clemente" in a Washington, D.C., production. "Last year, I played adults, and this year, I'm back in playland."

Manson has also had starring roles at Alliance in "Einstein is a Dummy" and "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing."

Other more adult roles include playing Mitch Albom in "Tuesdays with Morrie," Mozart in "Amadeus," and Einstein in the Steve Martin play "Picasso at the Lapin Agile."

Manson said he relishes the chance to introduce children to the theater.

"Children are one of the most important theatrical audiences to perform for because they are future adult audiences. If they have a great experience, they are more likely to see another show and, hopefully, will become longtime theatergoers," he said.

"Goodnight Moon" premieres Nov. 3, with public performances scheduled for 1 and 3:30 p.m. Nov. 8 and 15 and Nov. 9 and 16. Tickets are $15 and $20 and can be purchased at the Woodruff Arts Center Box Office located at 1280 Peachtree St. N.E. in Atlanta. For more information, call 404-733-5000 or visit www.alliancetheatre.org. Box-office hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and noon to 8 p.m. on weekends.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.