Dr. Jim W. Burns, composer/lyricist, has written eclectic and compelling songs for the musical. The script, written by Doris Dennison Burns, is loosely based on the book, “A Circuit Rider’s Wife” by Corra Harris (1869-1935), a prolific writer, World War I correspondent and Georgia Woman of Achievement.
In 1950, Susan Hayward, Howard Lundigan and Rory Calhoun starred in “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain,” a major motion picture based on the book.
“A Circuit Rider’s Wife” is a story about old-time religion in the mountains. Mary, a city girl from the sophisticated “prayer-cloth-knitting” Edens, wants a life full of thrills and razz-ma-tazz. Then she falls in love and married William, a circuit-riding preacher from the “hell-fire-and-brimstone” Thompsons. Mary must learn to balance her needs with his and the demands of the Appalachian folk. Hard mountain life and secrets and discord in the church further strain the young couple’s fragile love.
The story celebrates the difficulties, transformation and triumphs of love. It may not be a marriage made in heaven, but true-to-life characters make for real earthly encounters. Music and dialogue show the hearts and minds of the turn-of-the-century, dirt-poor mountain folks of the Redwine Circuit.
This musical story about love and “old-time-religion-but-has-anything-changed” is set in the mountains of North Georgia in the early 20th century.
The setting is old, but the topic is surprisingly contemporary as the folks of the Redwine Circuit show the conflicting sides of mankind’s nature — the good, the bad and the ugly — often with humorous consequences.
You will declare you have met these people before.
The show makes a lot of folks laugh and some folks cry. This musical theater work includes original songs plus a 19th century mountain death song and a sampling of “fa-sol-la” sacred harp music.
In 2000, Rusty Taylor invited Burns to direct the Chancel Choir at First United Methodist Church. At that time, the Burnses were in the beginning stages of writing a musical theater work for a dinner theater in Adairsville, Ga.
“Circuit Rider’s Wife” premiered in October 2002 at the Public Square Opera House Dinner Theater in the 100-year-old 1902 Stock Exchange building in Adairsville. The opera house produced the show five seasons in 2003, 2004, 2005, and the final version of the show in 2007.
Other productions of the show have been presented at The Elbert Theatre in Elberton, Ga., (2005); Arts in McNairy County; Savannah River Productions in Georgia; and in Cleveland, by First United Methodist Church, the Museum Center at Five Points, Lee University Dixon Center for the Performing Arts in 2003, 2004, 2007 and BangARang Productions;
“Circuit Rider’s Wife” had the distinct honor of being invited to the 35th annual ACTF IV in 2003, produced and presented by John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts and co-sponsored and hosted by the Savannah College of Art and Design. Region IV Festival showcases the best in new musical theater works throughout the Southeast. All colleges and universities in 10 Southeastern states and the territories of Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands were eligible to apply.
“Circuit Rider’s Wife” was one of three developing plays invited to perform a portion of the work for a guest panel in a featured workshop titled, “Presentation and Critique of New Musical Theater Works.” The panel included Craig Carnelia, lyricist for “Sweet Smell of Success”; Dick Scanlan, lyricist of “Thoroughly Modern Millie”; Mark Hollmann, composer and lyricist of “Urinetown”; and Michael Kerker, vice president of ASCAP Musical Theater Division.
In 2007, “Circuit Rider’s Wife” was one of six new works chosen from almost 100 submissions to be read at AFPP 2007 at The Barter Theatre, the State Theatre of Virginia in Abingdon. Three professional panelists and a live audience gave invaluable feedback to help new works to further development. As a result of these experiences, the Burnses refined the show from six original songs to 14 with extensive character and scene development.
Doris Burns said, “Before ACTF IV and AFPP, Jim and I both believed we needed to upgrade the show, but we needed inspiration to take the show to a higher level. After the heady opportunity of interacting with these Broadway professionals, we were rejuvenated and motivated. Jim wrote new songs that give more personal voice to some of the characters, and I revised the script to add strength to characters and story.”
Cast members include Seth Bales, Cleveland Community College; Emily Rebne, Lee University; Adam Foster, Cleveland High School; Charity Loos, Lee University; Connie and David Wright and Meredith Ratcliff Hancock, Cleveland; and Bill Swain, Madisonville. Several members of the FUMC Chancel choir will play extra Redwine community folks.
Band members are Jim Burns, guitar; David Wright, banjo; Bill Swain, acoustic bass; and J Michael Leonard, harmonica.
First United Methodist Church is located at 4235 N. Ocoee Street. Suggested donations are $10 for adults and $5 for ages 5 to 12.
Visit website: www.circuitriderswife.com for more information.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Debbie Moore will interview Jim and Doris Burns on her Saturday radio show May 24. “Sister Meadows” may sing her country rap she sings in her complaint to the preacher.