Photo: From left, Music Director Chris Cash, Alan Gentry, Bart Gunter and Greg LaFollette sing together. (Joel Price, Theatre of Gadsden)
By Haley Rodgers, Theatre of Gadsden
Theatre of Gadsden once again welcomes “Looking for a City,” the show that brings in crowds from miles around to congregate at the Historic Ritz Theatre in downtown Alabama City.
It is a celebration of Southern Gospel music, but with each installment, new songs and new singers are added to the mix. This year, Theatre of Gadsden is staging more than 50 cast members (plus a children’s chorus) to mark the third iteration of the popular gospel music revue.
“There are over 30 versions of Gaither Homecoming, and none are alike,” said director Mike Beecham. “‘Looking for a City’ is (TOG’s) celebration of Southern Gospel music as an art form that has deep roots in North Alabama.”
One local family with a foothold in gospel music history and a place in the LFAC cast is the Cornutt family.
“Our most prolific writer was Charles B. Wycuff,” said Sylvia Cornutt Coleman, a longtime volunteer, patron and board member at the Ritz Theatre and a member of this year’s LFAC cast. “He grew up on Sansom Avenue near the Ritz. His mother’s maiden name was Cornutt.”
Wycuff wrote hundreds of gospel songs, including “What A Lovely Name,” which is sung in the show.
“The earliest record we have of Cornutts traveling outside Alabama with their instruments to sing Southern Gospel music is 1911,” Coleman said. “Today, you can find Cornutts singing and leading music in numerous churches.”
In just three years, LFAC has made a name for itself at the Ritz. It has been featured in Anniston-Gadsden Christian Family magazine and has boasted multiple sold-out audiences.
Each year’s production allows new and returning voices to take the stage. Many cast members have been part of two (or all three) LFAC casts. One such LFAC veteran, Chris Cash, is this year’s music director.
“I was singing in church before I was in school, so gospel music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” Cash said.
While Cash has directed music in small churches for about 20 years, this is his first time directing a large group.
“I was raised with all-day singing and dinner on the grounds,” Cash said. “While we won’t be having dinner the way that I remember so many years ago, I wanted to celebrate the sheer amount of music that we used to cover back then.”
Indeed, the LFAC cast will be touching on almost 40 “all-time favorites” that Cash says he hopes audiences will enjoy. A new feature this year will be a children’s chorus that will perform a medley of songs.
Several selections will feature music and instrumentation arranged by former Gadsden City High School Director of Bands and well-known local musician Steve Reagan.
Reagan has been writing and arranging music for many years. He is a consultant for band programs, as well as a clinician and adjudicator throughout the Southeast. Reagan will be assembling a band to play along with the singers.
“Looking for a City” is one weekend only, but there are five performances lined up to best meet patrons’ schedules.
Showtimes are 7 p.m. Friday, May 5; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, May 6 and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, May 7.
All performances are at the Ritz Theatre, 310 Wall St., Gadsden.
On Saturday, TOG will bring the “dinner on the grounds” spirit between performances. An assembly of food trucks will be set up, and the Ritz stage will be open for area choirs to sing.
For tickets, group rates, and more information, please visit www.theatreofgadsden.org or call 256-547-SHOW (7469).