Miss Geneva Musgrave, played by newcomer Lorna Shea, talks on the phone about her success with the church Christmas play in the fictional Fayro, Texas, in the New Depot Players’ production of “Christmas Belles.” The South-centric comedy by the writing team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten will be the New Depot Players’ final production of the season. It runs Dec. 4-15. (Special Photo)
The New Depot Players’ final production of 2013, the South-centric holiday comedy “Christmas Belles,” will be a family affair for director Tom Johnson.
Johnson who walked in off Center Street eight years ago to read for a part in “The Boys Next Door,” serves as president of the New Depot Players’ executive board and his wife Amy is the board’s treasurer. Their daughters Madison and McKenzie have frequently assumed backstage roles in the troupe’s shows.
For “Christmas Belles,” which is Johnson’s second directorial stint (he helmed “Trading Paint” in 2010 and was assistant director for “On Golden Pond” and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”), Amy Johnson has the pivotal role of Frankie Futrelle Dubberly and McKenzie will be running lights and sound.
“It works out well,” Johnson said of working with his family, particularly with directing his better half.
“We have a good working relationship on stage and that’s where that stuff stays. We also performed as an entire family in ‘South Pacific’ for the Arts Association in Newton County and we run lines at night.
“The home stuff is the home stuff, the New Depot Players is the board stuff and the directing and acting part is the directing and acting part and that takes place in the theatre.”
Written by the team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten — known collectively as Jones Hope Wooten and the author of a host of stage shows, including “Dearly Departed” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” — “Christmas Belles” opens with a preview on Dec. 4 at the Center Street Arts Theatre in Olde Town Conyers and will continue through eight more performances, closing on Dec. 15.
The story, which concerns the staging of a church Christmas play in fictional Fayro, Texas, features the Futrelle sisters, Frankie (pregnant with her second set of twins), Honey Raye (who has taken over as director of the play after the 27-year reign of Miss Geneva Musgrave) and Twink (incarcerated after burning down half the town after a breakup).
Frankie’s husband Dub is set to play Santa Claus in the pageant, but he’s not feeling up to the job and things get even hairier when Miss Geneva attempts a coup to get her play back and much of the cast and crew succumbs to food poisoning.
Frankie’s revelation of a long-held family secret threatens to throw everything out of whack, but the sisters find a way to pull together by the end.
“It’s a great Southern comedy,” Johnson said. “There are tons of sight gags. Cyndi Evans plays Honey Rae Futrelle and her comedy, slapstick and presence on stage is priceless throughout the show.”
Besides Amy Johnson and Evans, the cast includes Lorna Shea as Miss Geneva, Tara Freeman as Twink Futrelle and Paul Casola as Dub Dubberly. Although Shea is a newcomer to the New Depot Players, she’s appeared on a host of community theater stages in Florida. Freeman is no stranger to the company, but she generally works behind the curtain as stage manager and Paul Casola (“My pastor at The Bridge,” Johnson said) is also a veteran of the Center Street Arts Theatre.
When asked if his second turn in the director’s chair was any easier than his first, Johnson laughed and said, “Absolutely not! I’m on my third Justin Waverly, who is the pastor of the Tabernacle of the Lamb. It was all logistics — the first two actors weren’t able to fit everything into their schedules. It’s really been a scheduling challenge because some actors are also in other productions. But other than a few extra Justins to train, things have been going very well.”
After “Christmas Belles” closes, it won’t be long before the New Depot Players get cranked up on their 2014 programming. Johnson said the early spring production will be “Auntie Mame,” the mid-spring show will be “Dearly Departed” (in its 10th anniversary of opening at the black box theater), the summer musical will be “Annie,” the fall production will be “Blythe Spirit” and next December will see “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”
The New Depot Players will present “Christmas Belles,” directed by Tom Johnson, at 8 p.m. on Dec. 4 through 7, and Dec. 12 through 14; and at 3 p.m. on Dec. 8 and 15. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $16 for seniors and students and can be purchased by visiting http://www.eventbrite.com/org/424124232?s=6783711.
For more information, visit www.thenewdepotplayers.com.
Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.