'Gumbo Bottoms' musical to debut in Boonville

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 | 10:53 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — "Gumbo Bottoms," Meredith Ludwig and Cathy Barton's new Big Muddy musical, presents a riverside community that is inseparable in spirit and culture, like the stubborn clay that sticks to the bottom of the Missouri River.

 “Gumbo Bottoms,” named for that sticky Missouri mud dubbed by many locals as “gumbo," premieres Nov. 21 at Thespian Hall in Boonville.

If you go

What: "Gumbo Bottoms," a Big Muddy musical by Meredith Ludwig and Cathy Barton, directed by Lesley Oswald

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21 and Saturday, Nov. 22; 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 23

Where: Thespian Hall, 522 Main St., Boonville

Admission: $15 for adults, $14 for seniors and $25 for a Premiere Night Package including the show and reception.

Call 660-882-5523 for reservations or purchase tickets at the Family Shoe Store, 407 Main St. in Boonville or at Mississippi Fish Shack, 929 E. Broadway in Columbia.

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For Ludwig, the writing process began in 2005 when she was working as director of the Missouri River Folk History Project. In collecting local histories, she unearthed a culture distinct to the Missouri River area. Collaborating with composer and musician Cathy Barton, she crafted a story inspired by these traditions.

The musical centers on Vivian Marks, a stranger to Missouri river culture, who leaves the city in pursuit of her family fortune by the riverbanks. Initially startled by the local attitude and traditions, she learns over time to embrace the river lifestyle.

Lesley Oswald, director of this year’s production, played Vivian in a 2006 workshop production at Turner Hall in Boonville, according to the “Gumbo Bottoms” official Web site. She is president of the board for Turner Hall River Rats for the Arts, one of the organizations sponsoring the production.

“The Boonville Tourism Commission awarded us a grant, and many local businesses and individuals put up some hard earned cash to help us put on the best production we can,” Oswald said. “I am humbled by their vote of confidence and determined to make them proud.”

Directing the musical has given her a chance to interact with the rehearsal process in ways she couldn’t as an actor, she said.

“Directing involves a broader view of the play,” Oswald said. “It is an exercise in creating a space where a group of people can work together to take words on a page and give them life. I love watching and guiding the performance ... and helping to bring it to a point where it is ready for an audience to join the collaboration, join the fun.”

Oswald hopes opening night will mark just the first of many performances, she said. She said the production is considering going on tour as soon as it raises enough money.

“We have had inquiries from Hermann and Jefferson City and plan to market it now that we have a cast, crew, costumes, lights and set,” she said.

Though the musical connects directly to those who live in river communities, its message isn’t limited, Oswald said.

“The play speaks to everyone, young and old, rich, poor,” she said. “The characters are white, Native American and African-American. We would love for our audience to look like our cast does.”

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