River musical "Gumbo Bottoms" docks in Columbia

Thursday, October 7, 2010 | 6:20 p.m. CDT; updated 6:31 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 18, 2010

If you go

What: "Gumbo Bottoms," a musical about life on the Missouri River set in 1928 and based on oral histories.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m., Sunday.

Where: Launer Auditorium at Columbia College.

Tickets: $15 for general admission. Students and seniors can purchase tickets for $12.

Tickets are available at the door and at Artlandish Gallery, 1019 E. Walnut St. in Columbia before the shows. People can also make reservations by calling 660-882-3133. 

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COLUMBIA — "Gumbo Bottoms" docked in Columbia on Thursday afternoon — in a U-Haul. The big, muddy musical will make its inaugural performance Saturday night in Boone County's queen city.

Director Lesley Oswald and technical director David Oswald unloaded chairs and boxes of props from the white and orange truck.

"The crew is here, but the cast isn't — we decided to give them the day off," Lesley Oswald said.

"Gumbo Bottoms" premiered at Boonville in November 2008 and since then has traveled to various towns on the banks of the Missouri River.

"We've been in six theaters," David Oswald said.

The musical follows Vivian Marks, an affluent woman from the East Coast whose fortune is squandered when her husband dies unexpectedly. She is left with only one small plot of land in the river bottoms of the Missouri River, according to the "Gumbo Bottoms"’ website.

"The musical is about life in the Missouri river bottoms, near Columbia in the 1920's," Meredith Ludwig, the musical's playwright, said. "I was inspired by oral histories I collected from people who lived there during that time."

Ludwig drew from Missouri's history to help create the world of "Gumbo Bottoms."

"Jimmy Scott is mentioned by one character in the musical," Lesley Oswald said.

James "Jimmy" Scott was lynched by a mob in Columbia in 1923. Scott was taken directly from the Boone County Jail after being accused of sexually assaulting a white girl, Ludwig said.

One song in the musical, "Unfree Freedom," is loosely based on Scott's lynching, David Oswald said.

"I Googled his story, found articles in the Missourian and the Tribune and read a book by Gary Kramer about him. I couldn't believe what happened was so close and so recent," Ludwig said. "I had to include it."

The musical addresses multiple themes and cultures, Lesley Oswald said.

"In the musical there are black, Native American and white cultures present," Lesley Oswald said.

One element in "Gumbo Bottoms" drawn from Ludwig's oral history research was the idea that the Indian mounds along the river were disturbed, Ludwig said.

The amount of diversity in the musical comes from Ludwig's personal experiences.

"I wanted the diversity in the script because I was very passionate about diversity," Ludwig said. "I grew up in a very racially diverse family."

But the array of cultures is not the only draw, Ludwig said.

"Cathy Barton's music is terrific, and the band includes her husband, Dave Para, on guitar, Kevin Hennessy on bass and Tom Verdot on fiddle," Ludwig said. "The story is funny, the acting's great ,and you'll leave with wonderful tunes in your head."

"The tunes are dangerously addictive," David Oswald said.

Turner Hall River Rats for the Arts, a group devoted to providing a space for creativity to happen, provides the crew, musicians and cast for the show, Lesley Oswald said. 

The group is small but tight-knight, Lesley Oswald said.

"Crew, musicians, actors — when you put them all together we are a family," Lesley Oswald said.

"It's traditional music, it gets your feet tapping and makes you smile with really profound subjects," Lesley Oswald said.

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