Live, Loud & Full Of Life
It’s Rock and Roll Just as It Should Be!
STORY BY: LISA P. STITES
The seventh annual Rock and Roll Party at the historic Amuzu Theatre in Southport will feature some of the best sounds of the 50’s and 60’s, with live musicians and singers primed to take listeners back in time.
The band includes musicians on guitars, keyboard, synthesizer, saxophone and drums. Male and female singers join in on songs from The Temptations, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, Patsy Cline, Percy Sledge, The Shangri Las, Martha and the Vandellas, Wilson Pickett, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Four Tops, Tony Bennett and more. Songs include authentic reproductions of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “Land of 1000 Dances,” “Fever,” “Bye Bye Love,” “Woman, Woman,” “Just My Imagination,” “Heat Wave,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Ragdoll,” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman,” “I Know a Place,” “Stop! In The Name of Love,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Leader of the Pack,” “He’s a Rebel,” “Witch Doctor,” and “I Can’t Help Myself.”
Musical director Cathy Furpless is also part of the family that owns the Amuzu. She said when planning a musical revue, they try to pick songs that made it to the top 5 during their time. They also do plenty of research so they can share some of the music history during the show as well. Furpless said they do repeat some of the most popular songs, but try to make each show new to keep audiences “surprised and appreciative.”
“I enjoy the creative aspects of these shows which naturally is manifested when you bring top quality, local performers together. We are so fortunate to have volunteers who share not only their musical and dramatic talents, but their organizational and critical thinking skills as well. They all work together as a family to help each other give the best performances possible,” Furpless said.
The show runs August 5, 6, 18, 19 and 20 at 7:30 p.m. Matinee shows will be at 3 p.m. on August 7 and 21. Tickets are $20 and are on sale in Southport at Ricky Evans Art Gallery (211 N. Howe Street) and Color Me Carolina (414 Colfax Lane SE). These shows typically sell out quickly.
The Rock and Roll Party features some staple singers of its own, with several veteran cast members making another appearance on stage, but a few newcomers will make their debut with the group too.
The Amuzu Theatre, at 111 N. Howe Street, is owned by the Furpless family – Bill and Catherine. The Theater has a long history as an entertainment venue in Southport. It was 1912 when Price Furpless and Charles Gause, partners in the operation of a marine supply store on the waterfront in Southport, decided to expand their partnership and open a movie theatre. Price was Bill’s grandfather. The original theater was actually in a building next door to the current location. At the time the theater opened, silent movies were shown and admission was just 5 cents for children and 10 cents for adults. Price wanted to build a larger theatre to be used for movies, theatrical troupes and other amusements. Price was a building contractor and a brick mason, and he did most of the work on his new theatre building himself by 1918. He and his wife Lilly ran the business – he managed the door and crowd, and she sold tickets and peanuts.
There was also a small stage for live entertainment, such as local talent and traveling troupes or magicians. The Theater was closed for a time in the 1935, for repairs and possibly due to economics of the times during the Depression. Operations of the Amuzu changed to a father and son team in the early to mid-1940s, with the declining health and death of Lilly Furpless. B.L. (Bremen) Furpless (Bill’s father) worked with Price and took over management of the theatre in 1945. During World War II, the business was supported by the military presence at Fort Caswell and the fishing industry. The Amuzu Theatre opened for its first-ever Sunday showing in 1954.
In 1962, the Theatre celebrated its 50th anniversary. Though still a teenager at the time, Bill was helping his mother run the Theatre by then. The opening of multi-cinemas in Wilmington, the introduction of cable television, and many more recreational activities being available in the area led to declining attendance in the 1970s. The theatre was only open full time in the summer and on weekends the rest of the year. The last movie shown was the re-edited version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind on October 25, 1980.
But also in the 1980s, the theatre took on a new role in the movie industry, playing host to the first of a few major films. In 1986, the front of the theatre was used in a scene in the movie Crimes of the Heart.
In 1997, the interior and the exterior of the theatre were used in several important scenes in the movie I Know What You Did Last Summer. The Amuzu was called the Southport Community Theatre in the movie. Interior shoots included Sarah Michelle Gellar’s beauty pageant scenes and the murder of Ryan Phillippe’s character in the balcony. There was another scene of Jennifer Love Hewitt running into the empty building looking for her friends after the pageant. On June 2, 2000, a black tie affair was held in the Amuzu to premiere Randy Jones’ The Dosher Documentary.
In 2005, the newly-formed Stage II Productions presented its first play, Jekyll and Hyde. During 2005 Stage II presented three other plays in the Amuzu. Between 2006 and 2010, 16 community theatre productions, including Jesus Christ Superstar and Chicago, were presented on the stage of the Amuzu, with Bill’s wife Cathy involved as one of the musicians. A concert promoter also presented six concerts during those years. In 2008 interior and exterior scenes of the movie The Secret Life of Bees were filmed at the Amuzu. Bill and Cathy, with the assistance of Amy and Matt McCarthy, also started producing original, live musical variety shows in the summer of 2009. These shows are produced to provide quality entertainment and also raise funds to help restore, remodel, and expand the historic theatre building.
Cathy Furpless said the family has done some remodeling recently, by painting the façade and doing some repair work done on the metal work. They also replaced the windows across the front and opened that wall up as it appeared originally.
“We have ordered a new Amuzu sign which hopefully will be installed before our August show,” she said. It will be in the same design as the present sign, but it will be lighted. We are very excited about the upcoming new look, but will keep the historic sign preserved as a historic relic for display at some point.
Bill and Cathy formed the Amuzu Theatre, LLC was in 2012. Bill is the theatre manager/operator, Cathy is the keyboard player, musical creator, and director of most of the shows. Daughters Laura and Catherine are both active in the shows. Laura has been involved in all of the Amuzu productions as a singer, musician, dancer, or director. Catherine is married to Matthew Smutko; Catherine stays involved as a singer, musician, dancer, or lobby assistant and Matthew helps in the lobby with concessions while their young daughter Lilly keeping them company during rehearsals and inspiring the cast. Furpless said it’s truly a family affair, a feeling of community which extends to the cast and crew and their families as well.
“All of our shows are labors of love, the love of performing and admiration for our beloved Amuzu which is truly a Southport treasure reminiscent of a time gone by,” Furpless said. “We greatly appreciate the overwhelming support we have received from our community and invite everyone to come see what promises to be yet another memorable step back in time to this great era of American music.”