Big River: Big Voice

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mama blue 2Sarah Sanders is what is known in musical theatre as a triple threat as a singer, dancer, and actor. Performing as Mama Blue, she has shared the stage with such legendary artists as Gregory Hines and Dudley Moore but when it came time to audition for the musical Big River, Sanders got a little extra help. “I prayed, especially that my feet would stay beneath me during the dance portion of the audition,” she says. “I was on pins and needles. The waiting was nerve wracking but I got the part I was shooting for.”

Sanders will appear in the upcoming production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Big River Feb 17-March 20 at the Alhambra Theatre & Dining. Big River tells the story of Huck Finn as he helps his friend Jim, a slave, to escape to freedom at the mouth of the Ohio River.

Sanders previously played the role of Alice’s Daughter in the production of Big River years ago at Players by the Sea. Joining the chorus in the current Alhambra production allows her to stretch her abilities as an artist in an ensemble cast. “It is a challenge and an experience that I welcome. I get to learn new things, meet new people, ask for help, interact, connect and above all else, experience this life, creatively and consciously,” she says. “This great opportunity allows me to keep up my theatrical chops and gets me one show closer to my SAG card.”

MamaBlue_red dressIt’s also a lesson in balance for Sanders, who is raising a family, teaching music, and feeding her performer’s soul playing live with Mama Blue. It takes a village, and Sanders is comfortable in her varied roles as long as the experience is authentic. “When I play with the band, I am able to share my truths with them and our audience. There is an intimacy that is free, unscripted and created in real time with myself, the band and our audience,” Sanders says. “In a theatre production, the ensembles’ goal is to be true to the original script and our director’s interpretation of that script. The actor is confined to the limitations of the character that he/she portrays on stage, which is exhilarating. You are no longer you, if that makes sense. I love it. The group effort is vital to both performances. Neither can be done alone. That’s the beauty of it.”

Sanders she began singing and acting while a student at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. She earned a talent scholarship to Jacksonville University, majoring in vocal performance and has since performed throughout the southeastern US and Europe.

“Acting on stage with others helped me with my stage fright and projection as a soloist,” says Sanders. “And my choral work allowed me to hone my harmonizing, breath control and diction techniques on the theatrical stage.”

Now with over 15 years of theatrical experience under her belt, Sanders has appeared in such productions as Jesus Christ Superstar (Simon),Nunsense (Sister Hubert), Once on this Island (Erzulie), Bye, Bye Birdie (Rosie), Carousel (Carrie), Company (April), Little Shop of Horrors (Crystal), Crowns (Jeanette) Guys and Dolls (Missionary), Candide, A Christmas Carol, The Rimers of Eldritch, Oklahoma, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and All Shook Up. She has performed with the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus, Springing the Blues Festival, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, Cummer Ball, and the Mayoral Inauguration and shared the stage which acts such as Arrested Development, JJ Grey & Mofro, and Naomi Shelton of Daptone Records.  Sanders is currently preparing for Tallahassee Nights to play with R&B legend Howard Hewett of Shalamar.  

The future is bright for Sanders and she is looking forward to a new year full of new experiences. She is living her dream and to say she is grateful for the opportunities before her is preaching to the chorus.  “I crave diversity and want to embrace and experience other aspects of my creativity and passions,” she says. “My goal is to be a leaf on the tree and to support this spectacular story and production. If I do it right, you won’t even notice me.” Be sure to catch Sanders in Big River Feb 17-March 20 at the Alhambra Theatre & Dining.

About Liza Mitchell