The Milledgeville Players have been busy the last several weeks practicing for the performance of one of their most popular plays ever, Sanders’ Family Christmas.
Already, the actors and musicians involved in the musical-comedy, which takes place in Mount Pleasant, N.C. back in 1941, have performed the play twice this week – the first one on Thursday night and the second one on Friday night.
The cast will again present the play Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and a final performance Sunday at 2 p.m. The play is being performed at the Chapel of All Faiths at Renaissance Park at Central State Hospital in Milledgeille. The church is directly across from the park’s Pecan Grove, now decorated with beautiful Christmas lights.
Admission is $15 per person.
One of the actors is Annie Bollen, a sixth grade teacher in her first year of teaching science and social studies at Putnam Middle School in Eatonton.
Bollen, who is the newest cast member with The Milledgeville Players, is performing with six other cast members in the trilogy. She is portraying one of the twins in the play, Denise.
“Denise is an interesting character,” said Bollen in a recent interview with The Union-Recorder. “She wants to kind of be on her own and do her own thing.”
Denise, who is 19, is a little rebellious to say the lease, Bollen explained.
“It’s a wonderful play,” Bollen said. “We sound perfect together and we all blend very well. We’ve actually become somewhat of a real family as actors, because we get along so well during rehearsals and laugh a lot of together.”
Bollen said she was really enjoying her first role with The Milledgeville Players.
“I think this play is going to be well received in the community because it’s very family friendly,” Bollen said. “It’s funny, but it also presents the Gospel in it, too. I think it will be very well received by everyone who comes out and watches it.”
The other six cast members in the play include: Ken Garland who is playing the role of The Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe; Jim Bohannon and Marsha Henry are playing Burl and Vere Sanders; Taylor Phillips is playing the role as the Sanders’ other twin, Dennis; Leeann Kelly will be play the role of June, the Sanders’ oldest daughter, who dates the preacher and later marries him; and Randy Newton, who plays the role of Burl Sanders’ brother.
Garland also is directing the play and serves as one of the members of The Milledgeville Players Board of Directors.
For Marsha Henry, this play is most special because it’s actually the first time she’s had a starring role.
“I’m very excited about it,” said Henry, who is a registered nurse and been a professional song writer, and piano player for more than 30 years.
She formerly worked at the hospital in Milledgeville when it was known as Oconee Regional Medical Center for 34 years. Today, the local hospital is known as Navicent Health Baldwin.
She not only gets to play the piano as one of the musicians, but she also has a starring part, playing the role of Burl Sanders’ wife, Vera.
“I’ve been playing and writing songs most of my life and most of the songs in this play are actually songs that I grew up with,” Henry said. “They are Christmas songs that are played in the old conventional style.”
Henry said acting is actually new to her.
“I’ve only done one or two little church plays,” Henry said. “I’ve really been very excited about the play because it gets you in the Christmas spirit.”
Henry pointed out the cast members had really helped her a lot.
“They’ve been great coaching me and helping me out in any way they could,” Henry said, noting she enjoys having fun and helping make others laugh, too. “Another reason I’m excited about this play is that I have some health issues the last couple of years, but feeling good right now. I’m getting over a surgery that I had a couple of months ago, and I’ve met a lot of new friends.”
Randy Newton is another cast member.
He’s been involved with The Milledgeville Players since they began back in 2001.
“I am Burl’s brother in the play,” Newton said. “In the first play, I just got out of prison. In this one, I’ve become famous, because I sing and I’m in the movies with Gene Autry.”
Newton, who has his own local band in real life and performs a lot, locally, said he loves the play. His band is known as the 120 over 80 Vocal Band.
“Everybody in the band has high-blood pressure,” Newton said with a big laugh.
“I’ve been in a lot of plays, but there’s nothing like this one,” Newton said.
Asked why Sanders’ Family Christmas is so special to him, Newton wasted no time in his response.
“Well, it’s special because it’s a gospel-comedy,” Newton said. “The script is hilarious. Pastor Oglethorpe and Burl’s daughter, June, who doesn’t sing but instead does sign language, they simply steal the show every time, every time. It’s really funny.”
Newton said the play is religious, too.
There’s a lot of scripture verses recited by the characters in the play.
Taylor Phillips, who plays the role of one of the Sanders’ twins in the play, said the play was going to be special in lots of ways.
One of those ways is that it is being held at new site. Ever since the founding of The Milledgeville Players, plays have been held on the stage at Allen’s Market in downtown Milledgeville.
“We’re all looking forward to performing in our new home,” said Phillips, who works as a juvenile public defender in the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office.
Phillips said it’s nice to that they have found an opportunity to breach out further into the community.
“I think this is going to benefit The Milledgeville Players, as well as community on an overall basis having our new home at Renaissance Park at Central State Hospital,” Phillips said.
He said he’s also looking forward to performing in the Sanders’s Family Christmas.
Jim Bohannon, who is affiliated with the Georgia Military College Fine Arts, is another actor with a starring part in the play.
“I’m glad that The Milledgeville Players is becoming active again in our community,” Bohannon said. “I hope this is the start of a lot of really good things to come, and us doing more shows, because I think the community needs the arts.”