CRESTVIEW — A chance meeting at a coffee shop was the final impetus playwright and Crestview resident Mike Smith needed to make the dream of producing his musical come true.
Initially, Smith envisioned a show that pays homage to the 20th century's influential black music. He produced a forerunner of "Generations: A Collection of Black American Music" while he was a Texas student performing with a group called The Legacy Singers.
"We were invited to do a show for Black History Month in college and it was 'Generations,'" he said. "The campus and community took ... to the show and it was so well received that I thought, 'We may have something here.'"
Back home in Crestview, at his favorite Starbucks table, Smith mulled ways to polish, improve and tighten the show.
At a nearby table, Paul Hinton, First United Methodist Church's contemporary worship music minister, was wrestling with creative challenges as he polished his historical novel.
Hinton and Smith got to chatting and, with each other's encouragement, the book and musical progressed.
"I told him, 'Man, you should do something here,'" Hinton said.
Smith and Dr. Cliff Herron, the Mattie Kelly Performing Arts Center's executive director, discussed bringing "Generations" to the Mainstage at Northwest Florida State College.
"Mattie Kelly decided to bring us onboard in July, so we've been practicing for quite some time now," Smith said. "It's been a lot of work. It's been a little more work than I anticipated."
In 10 acts, beginning with the early 1900s, "Generations" brings each decade's music, history and culture to the stage, starting with what Smith called a "soul-stirring Negro spiritual."
Each member of the 10-actor cast respectively introduces each decade.
"It is 10 monologues of what was going on in black history, entertainment, sports (and) politics," Mike said. "After each monologue, the band strikes up and the cast comes out and performs the music of the most popular artists of that decade."
Historic events often influenced selections, Smith said.
"You can hear how the music was real relevant and how the music started to evoke what was going on in black history," he said.
"In the 1960s, as the fire hoses were being turned on and the dogs were being released, you hear Aretha Franklin singing 'R-E-S-P-E-C-T.' Yeah, it was about a man, but it had hidden meaning.
"In the '70s you hear Earth Wind and Fire singing, 'We made it, but we have a ways to go.'
"In the '80s you had black-on-black crime, and you had Michael Jackson singing, 'I'm starting with the man in the mirror; I'm trying to make a change.'"
"Generations" runs Feb. 28 at the Mattie Kelly Performing Arts Center, with a Feb. 1 sneak preview for the Democratic Black Caucus' Okaloosa County chapter.
Smith said response to sneak preview showcases has surpassed his expectations. He said he was gratified to see "Generations" had, as he hoped, touched audiences' emotions.
"You’ll smile, you’ll cry, you’ll sing out loud, you’ll dance, you’ll reminisce," Mike said. "You’ll shout 'amen!'"
WANT TO GO?
WHAT:"Generations: A Collection of Black American Music"
WHEN:7:30 p.m. Feb 28
WHERE:Mattie Kelly Performing Arts Center, Northwest Florida State College, Niceville
TICKETS: Advance: $20 from producers, 499-3627; $25 in person, at the door or by phone from the Mattie Kelly Center box office, 729-6000