Highland Home playwright uses musicals to inspire others

Published 7:39 pm Thursday, November 13, 2014

Callie Willis says the only thing that separates her from Tyler Perry is a large bank account. But, the Highland Home resident is working on it.

Willis will premiere her third musical in a matter of days. “Sugar Shack” is the story of a singer who takes his talents from church to a blues joint and the journey is filled with well-known songs from both.

The show will open Nov. 15 at Montgomery County High School. A second show is scheduled Nov. 16 at Lowndes Middle School. Willis said she chose the venues for the same reason she has chosen to show all of her musicals in small towns.

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“I take them to rural areas because I want people of my color and little kids of my color to see an actual production,” she said. “I’m giving kids the opportunity to see a live broadcast and it’s introducing them to theater.”

To date, Willis has taken her sold-out productions to Luverne, Greenville, Troy, Alexander City and throughout Montgomery.

The majority of the cast graduated from Alabama State University. Willis also likes to use locals behind the curtain. The stage manager and sound guy are Crenshaw County natives.

The local cast and crew drive home Willis’ message – success and talent are just as easy to find in a rural area as they are a big city. She also wants people to know dreams are attainable.

“We’ve got a lot of talent in Crenshaw County and I’ve found them,” she said.

Willis is the writer/producer of “Don’t Count on Me” and “2 Blessed to be Stressed.” She said her productions are always uplifting, family events. She wraps her stories around familiar gospel tunes and likes to think of her work as a ministry.

“The biggest thing is the praise and the ministry,” she said.

“Sugar Shack” will be the first production to include blues music. “It’s about this young man from Lowndes County named Corey Rudolph,” Willis said. “He was a gospel person and started singing the blues.”

Corey tries to find a balance between the church and his new love for the blues. At one point, his church family asks him to choose between his new job at the blues club and being a part of the choir.

Willis said her stories come from God.

“I wake up with it and I just go with it,” she added.

She cannot wait to see where the work takes her.

“I just want to make a difference,” she said. “And I can do a lot of what I want to say through my plays.”

In “Sugar Shack,” the pearls of wisdom come from Corey’s mother, Mama Joe. “People will throw dirt on you while you are alive and they will throw dirt on you when you die,” says Mama Joe. “So, stop worrying about the lies people tell and live your life and be happy child.”

Advance tickets are available at Beasley Grocery in Highland Home and Step in Style in Troy. They are also available at Mosses Meat Market and Bell’s Funeral Home in Lowndes County. For more information, call 296-0047, 306-0030 or 672-5756.