As a child, Ruth P. Watson used to listen to stories her grandmother and older neighbors shared as they sat around the kitchen table sipping coffee.
Like a sponge, Watson soaked them up.
“I wasn’t supposed to be listening,” said Watson, who grew up in Lynchburg, Va. “If I asked my grandmother about the stories, she would say, ‘Girl, shush your mouth’. She didn’t want to hear none of that.”
Watson, though, remembered them, and bits and pieces of those stories found their way into her 2012 book, “Blackberry Days of Summer.” The book, which was published by Zane Presents, is part coming of age, part romance and part murder whodunit.
The musical is co-written by Watson and Thomas Jones, founder of Via Theatrical and who directs “Blackberry Daze.” The original blues, jazz and gospel score is written by William Knowles.
“Blackberry Daze” stars TC Carson, best known as Kyle Barker on the television series “Living Single,” a recurring role as the choir director’s husband on “Greenleaf” and the voice of Kratos in the “God of War” PlayStation series.
What people may not know is that Carson, who moved to Atlanta nearly two years ago, is also a great jazz singer, with two CDs under his belt.
That combination, said Jones, made him perfect for the role of the smooth-talking Herman Camm.
“He moved very well, he’s a good actor and he sings very well. He has that kind of sensual nature to him, but he also has a lovable quality.”
The musical is set at the end of World War I in small-town Virginia. Herman Camm, played by Carson, is a provocative gambler and ladies’ man who sets his sights on Mae Lou, her daughter Carrie and Pearl, a blues singer at the local juke joint.
Carson was immediately on board.
He’s worked with Jones and Knowles before.
“They understand my voice,” Carson said. “Sometimes, when you go to musical theater auditions and what’s being written today, everything is very high. Everyone wants you to be a tenor and scream at the top of your lungs.”
Knowles knows there are other voices to be heard, in his case, to “a nice baritone place that you don’t get to hear that often.”
Carson’s character is a “smarmy” guy, but Jones told him that’s what sells. “Women buy tickets. They want to see their stories and, usually, in their stories there’s a smarmy man.”
One of the challenges was making Camm likable.
“Tom and I had extensive conversations about that,” he said. ” It’s real easy to play the one note of the villain, the womanizer and all of that. But there’s a reason why he’s able to do those things. There’s a reason why women gravitate towards him. So, the goal was to expound upon those things. To make him likable. To make him human.”
Jones read the novel over a weekend and fell in love with the richness of the story. “There was something really wonderful about the historical context. … The use of language and how elegant her storytelling was. Her characters are so special, so interesting and intriguing. Her women are so powerful.”
His idea was to compress the novel into a series of scenes. He would like to see the musical make its way to stages across the country, and there’s talk of doing a film adaptation or television series. “Right now, we just want to continue to put eyeballs on it.”
Watson always thought the book would make a great film adaptation. She was in talks with a well-known filmmaker, but it didn’t work out. Someone then suggested it would make a great musical and said she should reach out to Jones, who was co-founder of Jomandi Productions.
“I hope it resonates with people,” said Watson. “I think it’s more about girl power. I thought these women can’t lose. I wanted to write a story where the woman doesn’t always come out as the victim, but victorious.”