||Published Mar/Apr 2006
Take time from the home tours during the Natchez Spring Pilgrimage to take in the musical and theatrical shows that shine a light on Southern Culture.
By Patsy Bell Hobson
|he tug of a Southern spring annually draws visitors to Natchez, Miss., for the Spring Pilgrimage, when magnificent mansions and resplendent gardens are open to the public.
In addition to the plantation tours, music and theatrical performances rooted in Southern tradition and history play an important role in this annual pageant.
The Spring Pilgrimage in NatchezMarch 10 through April 14has been an annual event since 1932. Participants can view dozens of impressive antebellum homes, such as stately Monmouth Plantation and Stanton Hall, both National Historic Landmarks. Another gem to see is Longwood, which dates to 1860 and is the grandest octagonal house in America. Tour participants also will see St. Mary’s Basilica, built in 1841, and Trinity Episcopal Church, built in 1822 and featuring two rare Tiffany art glass windows.
But the entertainment options connected with the Pilgrimage are just as colorful as art glass. Be sure to catch these performances.
Historic Natchez Pageant
The Natchez Garden Club and the Pilgrimage Garden Club sponsor the “Historic Natchez Pageant.” Club members, their children, local citizens and two ballet companies are participants. A king and queen, plus their courts, are college-age students from two garden clubs.
“I never, ever, tire of seeing the production,” said Pilgrimage Garden Club member Mimi Houghton. Born in Natchez, Houghtonwho is the sales and marketing director of the Natchez Pilgrimage Toursgrew up performing in the pageant. Her children were in the pageant, and Houghton is awaiting her baby granddaughter’s pageant debut.
The pageant is a musical tableau of the Old South. Each scene depicts romantic stories of early Natchez. The titles of the scenes include “The May Festival,” “The American Flag Triumphant,” “The Picnic at Concord,” “The Confederate Farewell Ball” and “The Soiree at Jefferson Military College.”
“There are over 300 volunteers in the pageant. It’s quite a production,” said Dr. James Coy, director of Natchez Pilgrimage Tours. “One of my favorite tableaus is ‘The Last Waltz.’ ”
The “Historic Natchez Pageant” musical re-creation of a romanticized era has become as famous as the antebellum homes. Local performers tell the story of Natchez in elaborate period costumes. Tickets are $15. Show times are at 8 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays during the Pilgrimage.
Songs of the South
Songs of the Southset for April 9, 10 and 1214is part of the Natchez Festival of Music, supported by Alcorn State University. Dr. David Blackburn is the artistic director. The festival this year is in its 16th season.
Eight Alcorn State University performers will sing selections from the music of Stephen Foster’s all-American favorites, Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” Scott Joplin’s “Treemonisha,” Southern gospel and traditional spirituals.
“The performance changes nightly depending on the performers and the audience,” Blackburn said. “These senior-level performers are singing the best of Southern music.” Admission is $15.
Southern Road to Freedom
A stirring musical celebration by the Holy Family Catholic Church Gospel Choir, “Southern Road to Freedom” is a narrative and musical tribute spanning the African-American experience in Natchez.
Performed three nights a week during Pilgrimage, the choral presentation aims at giving tourists and residents the story of contributions made by black men and women in Natchez. During the two-hour performance, Holy Family choir members tell the story of blacks who became businessmen, plantation owners, senators, mayors and authors. The stories of each person are intermingled with songs from their time period.
“I don’t have a favorite part. I love it all. I did the research on the people in this production,” said Ora Frazier, coordinator of the show.
Frazier researched and wrote the story. Director Alvin Shelby interwove the music and stories for the choral presentation. Shelby keeps the musical presentation fresh for the choir and the audience by changing it a little for every performance.
Admission is $15, and performances are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with no performance April 13 and 15.
A hilarious insiders
guide to Natchez
The Natchez Little Theatre has presented “Southern Exposure” during the annual Spring Pilgrimage for more than four decades. The scandalous little diary, kept by a Southern bellePenelope Mayweather for 40 years, exposes most of Natchez’ citizens. In the end, Penelope is saved from the swarms of Spring Pilgrimage tourists and those northern bankers.
A spoof on the pageantry, homes and homeowners of Natchez, the show had its Broadway debut in 1950 and was first produced at the Natchez Little Theatre in 1951. It became an annual show at the theater in 1963. Tickets are $15, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from March 11 through April 16. There will be a final Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on April 16.
“ ‘Southern Exposure’ has been a visitor favorite for 40 years. We are one of the oldest, if not the oldest community theater in the South,” said Layne Taylor, Natchez Little Theatre Executive Director.
More homes and autumn gardens are open during the Fall Pilgrimage, Sept. 30Oct. 14. Any time is a good time to vacation in friendly and gracious Natchez. But the little city really shines at Spring Pilgrimage time.
Patsy Bell Hobson is a contributor from Liberty, Mo.
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