Natchez Little Theatre presents new production of fall favorite

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The Medicine Man is up to his old tricks again this year, trying to sell his Elixir of Life to anyone that will believe his sales pitch, even right off the stage. But the overall plot and theme of the show and witty lead characters Dr. Morphineous Codine Shingles and Miss Diana, may be the only parts of this year’s Mississippi Medicine show that audience veterans recognize from the Natchez tradition.

The show, playing from Wednesday, Oct. 8 throughout Natchez Fall Pilgrimage to Saturday, Oct. 25, is in its 29th year, but this year is a cohesive, showboat-style show, complete with the stage transformed into the steamboat, the Robert E. Lee, complete with a balcony and second story. The paddlewheel is included.

&uot;We are trying to make it blend with what Pilgrimage is about,&uot; said Layne Taylor, Natchez Little Theater board president and person in charge of staging for the show.

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From the &uot;toot&uot; of the steamboat, to the calliope and the musical stylings of Sylvia Johns Ritchie, music director, on piano and Tim McGivaren on banjo, the show will help the audience &uot;Make Believe&uot; it is back in the 19th century, with the songs and the costuming, complete with hoop skirts and southern gentlemen attire.

But don’t worry, Dr. Shingles and Miss Diana still lead the show and provide the comic relief to break it all up.

With his quips and one-liners, Dr. Shingles not only tries to sell his tonic but tells the tale of the Robert E. Lee’s trip up the &uot;Muddy River,&uot; the &uot;Darkness of the Delta&uot; and of Natchez and Dixie.

And the musical numbers will bounce from slow to fast, from a solo to the &uot;Can Can&uot;, still keeping in the style of a variety-type show.

Whereas the show originated as a show that could be put together on short notice to entertain, usually for out-of-town guests to say &uot;Hey, Welcome to Natchez,&uot; now the show has a fixed cast performing each night.

The 20-something member cast is now a mixture of veterans and stars making their stage debut, from age 6 to 60-something. From 6-year-old Saxon Junkin Ballard and her brother, Philip Sanders, making their Natchez Little Theater debut to some, like Mary Ruth Caldwell, who has been in the show for about 20 years and Charles Burns, who started with the original cast and returns in his eighth year as Dr. Shingles.

Burns will change vests as often as he dishes out jokes to the audience as he provides his show to onlookers in the next town the boat takes port in &045;&045; in this case Natchez &045;&045;to sell his healing serum.

&uot;I think it’s great,&uot; Caldwell said. &uot;It’s a whole new show. It has a new energy. It has more details and emphasis put on being authentic.&uot;

&uot;Is it true what they say?&uot; has the Medicine Show changed. It has and the cast and crew hope many will pour in to see this year’s rendition of the famed variety show, especially those locals that have not seen the show in a while.