When the Legacy Theatre’s Artistic Director, Mark Smith, chose Keep on the Sunny Side: The Songs and Story of the Carter Family as the anchoring show for the professional theatre’s eighth season, he knew it would be a kind of homecoming.
“I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of Southwest Virginia,” says Smith. “I know this story, this music, and these people like the back of my hand.” Smith is referring to the first vocal group to become country music stars—the Carter family.
The music of A.P., Sara, and Maybelle Carter, recorded between 1927 and 1956, has had a profound impact on bluegrass, country, Southern Gospel, pop and rock musicians. Although their impact on our musical heritage has been immense, few people know about the family’s journey from backwoods musicians to the equivalent of modern day superstars.
Blending the storytelling style of the wildly popular musical Smoke on the Mountain with the down home humor of the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Keep on the Sunny Side, is fun and enriching entertainment for the entire family. Helping tell the family’s story on the Legacy stage will be a group of six talented actor/musicians who have spent the past few weeks delving into the music and heritage of the Carter family.
Amanda Bridgette, a native of West Virginia who just released her own jazz album, plays the family’s matriarch, Sara Carter. “Most people don’t know much about the Carters except that one of the grand daughters, June, married Johnny Cash,” says Bridgette, who plays the auto harp, Sara’s signature instrument, as well as the guitar. “But this family’s story of love, heartache, and loss drove their music and made them who they were. This is a beautiful and heartbreaking story we’re telling on stage each night.”
The show’s cast consists of a variety of performers whose experiences and expertise will make the show one not to be missed. Doug Stroup from Athens, plays A.P. Carter, the enigmatic leader of the group. Stroup is the owner and baritone singer of the Peach State Quartet, a Southern Gospel Group that tours the country. Tara Chiusano takes on the role of Maybelle Carter, whose unique guitar picking style is emulated and studied today. Chiusano is an avid guitar player and teacher originally from Washington D.C. Sims Lamason, who Legacy audiences will remember as the hilarious “Betty Jean” in The Marvelous Wonderettes, plays Janette Carter, the daughter who helped keep the memory of the Carter family alive and whose memoirs sparked the creation of the show itself. Atlanta actor, Daniel Burns, and Sandy Creek High School Assistant Principal, Richard Smith, play various instruments and take on the roles of the numerous producers, con-artists and family members that inhabit the Carter family story.
Smith sought out the help of a trusted friend and colleague— Minneapolis-based playwright and actor, Thomas Ward—to help tell this story. Ward, a Nashville native and no stranger to country music or the Carter family, summarizes the lives of the Carters and their influence by saying that “this is music that was born out of strife and pain, hard living and toil. But at the same time there is often humor, and there is always hope. Hope for the future, for a brighter day, for heaven itself.”
Ultimately Smith hopes audiences will leave the show with a greater appreciation for their own families and their heritage as well as giving audiences a look at a simpler time when music helped bring a nation through one of its darkest hours. Keep on the Sunny plays Fridays at Saturdays at 8PM as well as Saturdays and Sundays at 3PM, January 24-February 16. Tickets can be obtained by calling the Legacy box office at 404-895-1473 or by going online at www.thelegacytheatre.org.