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Family with local ties bonds on the stage
‘Legends’ being staged at PHCC
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Michelle Johnson-Epps (from left), Alijah Johnson and Roger Epps Jr. stand in front of the Walker Fine Arts center stage at Patrick Henry Community College, where “Legends: A Music Revue” opened Thursday night. Michelle and Roger are performing in the production, and their son, Alijah, is working backstage. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Friday, May 31, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Theater doesn’t just bring audiences together; it also can draw families closer.

Michelle Johnson-Epps, her husband Roger Epps Jr. and their son, Alijah Johnson, all are participating in “Legends: A Music Revue,” the new production from Martinsville’s TheatreWorks Community Players. The show opened Thursday night at Patrick Henry Community College’s Walker Fine Arts building.

Although Michelle and Roger are Martinsville natives, the family now lives in Winston-Salem, N.C. Roger has lived there since 2007, and Michelle and Alijah moved there in 2011.

They don’t let the distance stop them from participating in theater in Martinsville, however.

“We spend a lot of time on the road, obviously, traveling back and forth from practices and things like that,” Roger said. “It makes it special to be able to share this opportunity with my family.”

By day, she said, Michelle works as a customer service representative at Carolina Bank.

“I’m very blessed to have such a great manager, because he’s allowed me to leave work an hour early every day just so I could be here” at rehearsal, Michelle added. “It means a lot to me to be able to give back to my community.”

The schedule isn’t easy, Roger said. When he gets off from work from Wake Forest Baptist Health, where he works as senior patient transporter, he goes home to sleep before driving to Martinsville for rehearsal with his family. After rehearsal and a return trip to Winston-Salem, he goes right back into work.

“This is our time together, here” at rehearsal, Michelle said.

Michelle has been involved in TheatreWorks productions since the company debuted its first show in 2005.

“I was in the very first show TheatreWorks ever put on, ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’ I’ve been in seven total shows,” she said, including “Beehive,” a 1960s girl group musical, “Chicago” and four other music revue programs.

At his wife’s insistence, Roger finally decided to audition for a role, although he has been involved in previous productions.

“This is actually my first show on stage,” he said, “but it’s my third or fourth show. Before, I was working behind the scenes, running cameras, running the different effects, running a little bit of the mics and sound board.”

“I auditioned,” he added, “and I was luckily chosen. I’m definitely looking forward to being on the other side of the spectrum this time, instead of behind the scenes. Music is just a passion of mine. To be able to get on stage this time ... I find that a great opportunity and a great blessing, to be able to just do something that I love to do with my wife and my son here.”

Roger said his interest in theater began in the eighth grade at Drewry Mason, thanks to teacher Anita Ray.

“We have roots here,” he said. “This is where we were brought up. I don’t think the commute is (so far that) we can’t come back home and give back.”

“Legends” offers a collection of musical numbers written by a wide selection of entertainers, according to Roger, including Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston and even Guns N’ Roses.

“We have a little bit of everything for everybody, all genres of music,” he said. “We’re just doing our best to vocally portray these legends.”

In the program, the family said, Michelle will be performing music by Whitney Houston, Roger will be performing songs by Lionel Richie and Prince, and Alijah, who is in high school, is helping run the show backstage.

According to Michelle and Roger, however, Alijah might soon have his own moment in the spotlight.

“He’s been taking acting lessons in Charlotte, N.C., for the past three months,” Michelle said, “so we’re going to allow him to display his talent on stage” and audition for an upcoming show.

In spite of the commute, the family has no plans to stop being involved in Martinsville theater any time soon.

“We still love it here,” Michelle said. “We’re going to continue to come back, no matter what. This is our home.”

“Legends: A Music Revue” is at the Walker Fine Arts Center at Patrick Henry Community College. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., and Thursday, June 6, through Saturday, June 8, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15, and are available at Piedmont Arts and


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