LUMBERTON — Motown legends, homespun comediennes and a reluctant dragon are just a few of the characters heading to Carolina Civic Center as part of the historic theater’s upcoming season.
“It’s our seventh season after reopening and more than any previous season, it’s built on what we’ve learned and what our audiences have told us they would like to see,” Richard Sceiford, the center’s executive director, said. “It’s a diverse season but it hits a lot of high notes in a row, which is hard to do for different audiences. “
This year’s lineup consists of a dozen main stage shows, six art exhibits and 10 acclaimed films. The main stage series will kick off with “Masters of Soul” on Sept. 18.
Returning from a sold-out performance in January, “Masters of Soul” is a musical tribute to Detroit’s storied Motown Records. Known as “the sound of young America” during its heyday in the early 1960s, the label introduced the world to R&B icons like the Supremes, the Temptations, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.
“It was a priority to bring them back as soon as possible and to make them an opener for the season,” Sceiford said.
Committed, a Christian a cappella group from Huntsville, Alabama, will perform Oct. 24. The six-piece group shot to stardom after winning the second season of NBC’s reality singing competition, “The Sing-Off.”
“They won the competition on pop, but they have a lot of gospel built into their repertoire,” Sceiford said.
The Birmingham Children’s Theater will present “The Reluctant Dragon” on Nov. 5. Described in a press release as a “fun, whimsical, imaginative tale with very charming songs,” the show will mark the Alabama touring company’s third visit to the center. It follows productions of “Play to Win: The Jackie Robinson Story” in March, and “Country Mouse, City Mouse” in 2013.
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke Jazz Ensemble will tackle Billy Strayhorn’s songbook with a concert on Nov. 10. A native of Hillsborough, Strayhorn is one of the most celebrated composers in jazz history. He rose to prominence as a pianist in Duke Ellington’s orchestra before Ellington’s death in 1967.
Directed by Aaron Vandermeer, the concert will coincide with what would have been Strayhorn’s 100th birthday.
On Nov. 14, the three funny ladies behind Southern Fried Chicks will bring their Cage-Free Comedy Tour to the center. Etta May, Sonya White and Karen Mills became fixtures on the blue-collar comedy circuit following the premiere of an hour-long stand-up special on CMT.
Southern Fried Chicks will continue a tradition of down-home comedy at the center, which has previously hosted southern humorists like Jeanne Robertson and James Gregory.
Speaking of tradition, a holiday staple will return from Dec. 11 to Dec. 13 when the center holds its fourth annual production of “A Robeson County Christmas.” As always, local singers will belt an assortment of holiday hits and spiritual standards during the musical revue.
Created and written by Kendrix Singletary, “A Robeson County Christmas” features an all-local cast that will again be fronted by former Miss North Carolina Johna Edmonds and Brent Tyler, a state trooper-turned-“X-Factor” contestant.
Balsam Range, a bluegrass band from Haywood, will ring in the new year with a concert on Jan. 23 — the center’s first event of 2016. The band’s most recent album, “Five,” spent six weeks on the Billboard chart and led to accolades from the International Bluegrass Music Association.
“This is a very strong group and we know there are bluegrass enthusiasts in the area,” Sceiford said.
Other shows scheduled for 2016 include the Mardi Gras-themed “A Night in Old New Orleans” on Feb. 6; WKML’s Singer-Songwriter Showcase on Feb. 27; the third annual “My Time to Shine” talent competition on March 19; the fab four tribute, “Yesterday and Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience” on April 2; and a live production of “Steel Magnolias” from April 15 to April 17.
The Carolina Civic Center is located at 315 N. Chestnut St. in downtown Lumberton. The historic building served as a vaudeville and silent film theater when it opened in 1928. Following a $2 million renovation that took two years to complete, the center reopened its doors in 2009.
For a more detailed look at the center’s upcoming season, visit carolinaciviccenter.com. A schedule will also be included in Lumberton residents’ utility bills for September.
Jaymie Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5771 or on Twitter @Jaymie_Baxley.