Effie James tackles important issues, including mental health and racism, in his latest piece, “The Family Matters.”
The musical theater piece will be offered at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 30 at Mansfield High School.
“It’s about a family. We tell the story in three separate stories,” James said. “I didn’t reinvent the wheel with these stories. We just wanted to give it a voice and make these conversations more comfortable for people.
“I hope they get a message from how we tell the story.”
This is James’ second track, after “Lord, Can You Hear Me?” in 2016. He is the site manager of Gear Up Mansfield, a college access provider, and a household name in Mansfield from his playing and coaching days at Mansfield Senior.
“I’ve always loved creative writing. I’m still writing,” James said. “It’s a project I just decided to do more with.”
He said he wrote a lot during the pandemic.
“It’s a scaled down version of what I actually wrote,” James said. “There’s not enough time for that.”
“The Family Matters” will feature Sidney Brown and Garlan McCruter as musical directors.
James said he enjoys adding music to his projects.
Talented musicians play a major role
“I know there is so much talent in the Mansfield area,” he said. “There are some amazing singers and musicians in the community, and I happen to know a lot of them.”
James went so far as to say that the music is the “heartbeat” of the project.
The band will include a drummer and bassist, as well as backing vocals.
“All music will be played live,” James said. “It’s going to be really nice like that.”
Jody Odom Jr. and Brittany Schock play Brian and Samantha, an interracial couple.
“They work with their families who have issues with them,” James said.
Odom said he could relate to the storyline since he was involved in an interracial relationship.
“It’s something to talk about,” he said. “Besides doing a show with Effie before, I was immediately okay with all the other great music and singers that would be involved.”
Odom last appeared on stage at the Renaissance Theater in “Dreamgirls.” He will participate in a few Renaissance projects during the next season.
Odom said he hopes people get a message from watching “The Family Matters.”
“I want people to understand how similar we all are, how much we all have to look within,” he said. “Flaws can be found in anyone. Without judging each other, we can all find ways to move forward.”
Lisa Brown stars as the peacekeeper in the game
Lisa Brown plays Gram. She also contributes background vocals. She has been singing since the age of 14.
“Gram is trying to keep the peace in the house,” Brown said. “She cooks dinner and makes sure everyone eats.”
Brown said she didn’t grow up with her grandparents. She has a godmother whom she is close to.
Brown said she grew up participating in “The Family Matters.”
“I really found peace in this role,” she said.
She also worked with James before and was looking forward to doing so again.
“He holds us together in a special way,” Brown said. “He’s a great writer. For him to invent this play…OMG.”
Teana Sykes and James Williams play Diane and Charles, a married couple struggling to make their blended family work.
“They’re struggling with the transition,” Sykes said. “I too come from a blended family. I could relate to the character.”
She said her teenage son in the room was “hard to love”.
Sykes describes James as a “longtime friend”.
The actress hopes the public will understand the message
“What I hope people take away from this piece is that they’re not alone,” she said. “Families have to stick together. Sometimes the lows seem to be forever, but families are forever.”
Williams said her character walks into the marriage that already has a mother-son dynamic.
“He feels he is not being heard by his wife and the son is being disrespected,” he said.
A singer most of his life, Williams said he jumped at the chance to work with James.
“He’s trying to do something positive for the community, and I’m definitely behind that 100%,” Williams said. “Whatever he does, I try to support him because I know he’s talking about something.”
James promises “The Family Matters” will be fun. He suggests it could be a family night out or a date night.
“We’re going to have people who are hopefully smiling when they leave,” James said.
If you are going to
What: “Family Matters”
When: 7 p.m. on April 30
Or: Mansfield High School, 124 N. Linden Road
Tickets: $5 for general admission, $25 for the VIP ticket which includes reserved seating and a dinner/reception with distribution afterwards. To purchase tickets, go to thefamilymatters.net.