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A ministry of music: Church presents Guys and Dolls

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by Lenise Willis

For the past five years, The Sedge Garden United Methodist Church in Kernersville has produced a musical each summer, with past performances including The Music Man, Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Godspell. This year, the church’s theatre program is surprisingly turning its attention to the gangsters and gamblers of the 1920s and 30s as they put on a 1950s classic: Guys and Dolls.

And though the church’s thriving theatre scene and involvement in the community is noteworthy on its own, there’s one particular woman whose notes, hard work and determination certainly call for applause. After all, it was Marie Denig who started it all with a production of Godspell.

“I felt very strongly that we should offer the opportunity to bring people together to create these shows through the church,” Denig said. “We teach with stories, but we also learn about ourselves as we tell these stories.”

In addition to running the church’s theatre program, Denig directs the chancel choir, handbell choir, wind ensemble, and a quarterly toddler music class.

“I love all of my ensembles, but the summer musical has a very special place in my heart,” Denig said. “I think it brings out the best of what I am capable of and gives our community a chance to discover our church and maybe even a little bit more about themselves.”

Denig says she thinks this year’s production of Guys and Dolls will be their strongest show yet. “The show is vibrant, and the cast is one of the most talented that I’ve ever worked with,” she said.

“It’s fun, fast paced, and although it’s traditional, it’s not stale,” she said. “I’ve looked for new ways to choreograph the Hot Box girls’ numbers and the whole team has really worked well together to keep the production cohesive and with one vision.”

Of course the fun isn’t without its challenges and wouldn’t be possible without Denig working hard to keep it all afloat. Since the productions are performed in the church’s fellowship hall, Denig said they basically created a theatre entirely over the weekend. She rented towers from a scaffolding rental company to create “wings” and a backstage space; they hung black fabric to create a black box theatre, hung a pipe to hang the lights on, and set up collapsible platforms.

“It’s taken five years of experience to learn how to create what we do,” Denig said.

Denig, who has an Associate of Arts degree in Musical Theatre Performance and Vocal Performance from Northern Oklahoma College, is no newbie to the art form. She’s worked as a music director, actor and accompanist throughout the Triad, working with Greensboro College, Triad Stage, Barn Dinner Theatre and Elon University.

“I have always loved musical theatre,” she said. “I grew up on Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Julie Andrews, Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel. My dad, who worked on the railroad, won my mom over by calling her long distance from Saginaw, Michigan to Toledo, Ohio, (my mom lived on the other end of the train line) to play the entire LP of Fiddler on the Roof for her.”

“Marie is always the first person I think of when I need a musical director,” said Perry Morgan, Assistant Professor of Theatre and Director of Musical Theatre at Greensboro College. “The program she runs at the church is a brilliant gift to the community. It adds another avenue for the actors and designers and also the musicians in the community to practice and explore our craft.”

Morgan and Denig have worked on several productions together, including Leap of Faith in Kernersville, and Carrie, Robber Bridegroom and Cradle Song at Greensboro College. The two actually met when Denig hired Morgan for My Fair Lady at Triad Stage.

“She continues to be an artistic blessing in my career both in the theatre community and in the educational setting at Greensboro College,” Morgan said.

Denig said she feels the summer musical program is a wonderful opportunity for both the church and the community since it “offers the community a chance to come through (the) doors without being ‘preached at.'” “There are a lot of things to be uncomfortable about if you walk into a new church on Sunday morning,” she said. “But anyone can come into a dark place to watch a musical — to become a part of an anonymous audience.” !

LENISE WILLIS, a graduate from UNC Chapel Hill’s journalism school, has experience in acting and ballet, and has been covering live performances since 2010.

WANNA go?

Productions run August 11-14 in the Fellowship Hall at The Sedge Garden United Methodist Church, 794 Sedge Garden Road, Kernersville. Admission is free with donations being “accepted, not expected.” The church also offers free childcare and nursery care during the performance.

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