Mark Anthony

Aretha Franklin stands 16 feet tall in artist Mark Anthony’s artistic rendering of the iconic musical “Queen of Soul.” Halifax County Little Theatre’s upcoming musical “Smokey Joe’s Café” will feature six large works of art by this unique artist. Tickets are on sale at The Prizery for the April 25 opening.

Sometimes, life brings one full circle. A person starts somewhere and plants his or her roots a certain place but moves on during another stage of life. Yet later, that person comes back to where he or she started with a whole new perspective. Such is the life of Mark Anthony, Halifax County Little Theatre’s artist-in-residence for several weeks now in South Boston.

Anthony calls herself the typical “Army brat” kid, with her dad in the service, so the family bounced around from home to home during his years in the Army, living all over the United States.

Art was always a part of her life though, and she eventually went to James Madison University and got a BA in Studio Art and has been painting ever since. And what a life she has had.

Anthony commented that music frequently was the inspiration for her work. Listening to classical music helps her paint certain types of work, while listening to hard rock puts her in the mood for other types of her paintings. And she has done it all: large murals, backdrops, portraits, large canvasses for a variety of venues, trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye art), poster art and more.

Anthony originally moved to the area after seeing an ad for a rental property in Nathalie. She commented that she doesn’t always do a lot of preliminary planning; she moves on as she feels it is the right time. So she arrived in Halifax County and eventually decided to audition for a Halifax County Little Theatre show, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” in the fall of 2007.

That next spring, Vicky Thomasson directed “Smokey Joe’s Café,” and Anthony volunteered to paint several large panels of musical greats, including Elvis, Louie Armstrong and Robert Johnson, a great blues guitar player often referred to as the Grandad of Rock n’ Roll. The panels amazed everyone with their size and scope and whimsy, and several were purchased after the end of the show.

After moving around some, including some time living and painting in Puerto Rico, Anthony eventually ended up in Johnson City, Tennessee, and continued painting larger than life murals and musical giants, except now she was selling them all over the country. She has been commissioned for major art projects all over the United States and was even flown to Las Vegas to paint a swimming pool with a large octopus, whose tentacles spread throughout the pool and overflowed onto the concrete.

And now, 12 years after first working with HCLT, Anthony is back, working on Little Theatre’s revival of “Smokey Joe’s Café.” It seems only fitting that she should be a part of the project. And as before, she is earning rave reviews for six new large panels of rock legends.

Each panel is 16 feet tall, so the work involved in each one is phenomenal. New renderings of Aretha Franklin, Louie Armstrong, Elvis and more will be revealed and proclaimed for their larger than life glory.

Director Thomasson said, “Where most of us listen to music, Mark can see the music. Many of us play music, but Mark paints the music. Many of us sing beautiful songs, but Mark’s work is a beautiful song. She is courageously unafraid to take a rainbow and turn it upside down.

“Mark throws away convention and establishes her own norms of vivid purple, electric green, neon yellow, gold nugget and nickel silver, which magically sing together in harmony to create Aretha Franklin.”

One truly must see these panels in person to capture the glory of their size and the personality Anthony captures in each one.

Thomasson continued saying, “I am so humbled by her extraordinary talent that shows her undeniable passion for art and this musical. The community will be treated to a gift of visual wonder with her passion as our spectacular backdrop for this show.”

The six large iconic works of art by Anthony will be for sale after the run of the show, and information will be in The Prizery lobby where people can place bids. One single panel would be a wonderful addition to any business or government building that promotes the arts and the local community.

“Smokey Joe’s Café” will open at 7:30 on Thursday night, April 25, to warm everyone up to a hot weekend, and the show will continue Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 and Sunday afternoon at 3. Then, the show continues Tuesday, April 30, and that Thursday and Friday nights. Then, there will be a special Saturday afternoon matinee at 2, followed by the show that night at 7:30 and a final Sunday afternoon at 3.

Tickets are currently on sale at The Prizery at 434-572-8339 or prizery.com. Tickets are also on sale for all Prizery events at the Visitor Center.

For all evening performances, Little Theatre will be hosting a Smokey Joe’s Cocktail Hour starting at 6:30, including some special signature drinks based on songs in the show, with all profits going to support the purchase of a special modern imagery projector The Prizery needs for their summer shows.

“Please help HCLT to support The Prizery because the arts in Halifax County are alive,” said Becky Donner.