The Crossroad Church Stage and CRC Arts Academy presented a run of three performances of an original musical Back in the Boondocks at 10005 Gate Parkway N, during August 26 – 28. The last time the Dual Critics attended a performance at the CRC was to see Justin Murphy’s Fallen Angel several years ago. Back in the Boondocks was written, produced, and directed by Justin Murphy and featured Murphy in the role of JC.
We did not know what to expect, and one could imagine something along the lines of Hee Haw judging from the title but we knew the purpose of the CRC stage is to present programs that are both entertaining and inspirational. Boondocks turned out to be both, with very humorous moments as well. This was actually a second episode of the Boondocks story; the original production was produced in 2006, and this one continues six years later with the original characters.
This musical, billed as a backwoods musical, was set in a small town in the Louisiana Bayou. How small was this town? Well we really don’t know but it had only four restaurants which included Chester’s Fish Camp. CRC’s huge stage stretched across the front of the auditorium and actually had three sets, side by side with the front built as a dock (complete with bulrushes and buoys) for a fourth location. On the left was a modest farmhouse with frame siding on eleven acres; in the center was the lively Chester’s Fish Camp, a combination bar and restaurant; and on the far right an interior living room. Lighting created silhouettes of huge palm trees and stage fog reminded us we were in steamy Louisiana.
The plot features a bad guy, a good guy and lots of townspeople, some of whom are related. The good guy is an itinerant preacher, J.C. played by Justin Murphy, who came through town in the past (where he worked at Chester’s) and changed the lives of the townspeople with his advice. With the initials of J.C., you can figure out who he represents.
There are some subplots, but it mostly revolves about Joe Fontenot (Josh Bond) who has come back to town to live after being away for the past six years. While he had abandoned his wife and daughter at that time, they never divorced. Joe now says he has changed and his wife and child accept him back. Joe’s brother-in-law Dwight (Matt Johnson), a country singer, impressed that Joe is back, gives him the house where Joe is now living with his family, along with all eleven acres!
Joe talks his wife, Annie (Lisa Dedrick) into letting him take his daughter, Sally Mae (Sheila Murphy) now age 16, out to dinner so they can get to know each other once again. Joe instead takes Sally Mae and her teenage friend Irene (Charlotte Skai) to a drug and drinking party out of town. That is the end of Act One which closes with a bonfire scene that was very impressive and realistic, featuring a song entitled ‘Bonfire’ sung by a wild looking bearded fellow named Crazy Hillbilly (Justin Murphy) and his gang: Rednecks – JT Hedman and James McCafferty; Bonfire girls – Tania Corral, Jet Thomas, and Maggie Moore.
Young Sally Mae dies from a drug overdose at the party, and Joe claims that he had nothing to do with it, that Sally ran off with her friend Irene to the party and never showed up for dinner. Joe threatens to kill Irene if she tells what really happened.
After worthless Joe suddenly sells the house he has been given as a gift, the townsfolk learn about the lie and track Joe down in the woods, led by Roy McGee (Kendall Hunt) and assisted by his wife Sue (Sonya Thigpen), Augusta Gilmore (Michelle Bond) and Julie Broussard (Joye McCrea). While all this has been going on J.C. has come back to town, and is an inspiring presence, as he gives sage advice to Dwight about his career plans and to Julie on her marriage plans, and counsels others.
This is a musical and there are twelve songs in the show, mostly country style and some really quite lively. We thought ‘Bonfire’ was one of the best. ‘If I Die Young’ was a moving ballad by Miss Murphy. The most unusual song was ‘Kerosene’ sung by Julie as she burned her wedding dress after being jilted. We also liked ‘Crazy Town,’ a duet by Joe and Dwight about the city of Nashville.
The actors were miked so we could hear all the dialogue everywhere in the auditorium. The voices were good and sang to music recorded on tape, with excellent timing. Michelle Ottle-Fisher created the lively, very suitable choreography. Musical Direction was by Cathy Giddens, with Sound Design by Wade Thigpen. James Tucker’s lighting design had to cover four areas of the stage and captured the desired ambiance of each scene. Liz McCafferty was the Assistant Director and Stage Manager.
We thoroughly enjoyed the show and the hospitality and appreciated that CRC presented this production free to all. And it was great to see and hear Justin Murphy perform again.