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Mark Twain/Samuel Clements Farewell Jan.7 at Cumming Playhouse
Local tribute performer has presented show all over the U.S.
Twain smoking

Kurt H. Sutton has traveled the country portraying one of America’s favorite authors and his witty literary alter ego. Soon though, Sutton will hang up his white suit for good. After performing as Mark Twain and Samuel Clements all over the U.S. for more than a decade, Sutton will present a special farewell performance at 8 p.m. on Jan. 7 at the Cumming Playhouse.

Sutton, a resident of Buford who has presented his tribute to the great American author in “42 or 43 states, all the way from Florida to Washington State,” said he wanted to give a special local farewell performance since the Cumming Playhouse was where he got his start.

“I did an audition at the Cumming Playhouse for Linda Heard [executive director] about 12 years ago, and I owe a lot to her in terms of giving my career on stage a boost.

“Audiences at the Cumming Playhouse have always been very responsive to the show, so as I have been thinking about easing out of this [show], I knew I wanted the Cumming Playhouse to be one of my farewell performances.”

Sutton, a native of Germany who immigrated to Chicago as a young child and soon after moved to the Canton area with his family, developed his love of Twain over the course of several years — first as a student and later as a history teacher.

“Like most everyone, I read ‘Tom Sawyer’ in high school but didn’t really think that much about it,” Sutton said. “Then later as a history major at the University of Georgia, I ran across a lot of information about Samuel Clements and learned that he was a real Renaissance man … that got me interested in him and I started reading more about him and the Mark Twain persona.”

A few years later, after he had become a history teacher, Sutton said, his wife gave him a unique Christmas gift that would eventually help him in developing his onstage tribute to Clements and Twain.

“She had a tailor-made white suit in the style of Mark Twain that she gave me, but at that time I wasn’t quite ready to play him yet,” he said. “That suit hung in my closet for about 15 years before I sat down and wrote the play.

“Luckily,” he added with a laugh, “my wife had had the suit made about two sizes too large so when I finally got around to doing the show, the suit fit just fine.”

In his studies of Clements, Sutton discovered he was known for much more than the signature white suit (which Sutton has had a few more tailor-made over the years of performing). One of the things that intrigued Sutton most about Clements was his musical ability, which Sutton, who performed with a band for about seven years, happens to share.

“I knew I wanted to make my tribute show different than any other Mark Twain show, so when I found out that Samuel Clements was a good musician who would perform for his guests in his home, I knew that was something I could do to make my show different.”

Sutton uses guitar, banjo and harmonica to perform songs in conjunction with the legendary author’s beloved tall tales.

“I’ll tell a story and then do a song from Clements’ era that reinforces the point of that story … and that musical element makes my show very different,” Sutton said.

That difference seems to have bolstered Sutton’s onstage career as he has performed the iconic author all over the country.

“I’ve played little theaters, big theaters, schools, gymnasiums, retirement centers,” Sutton said, noting that some of his most memorable performances were part of a tour presented by the National Endowment for the Arts; at the World War II Museum and Theatre in New Orleans; and at Lincoln Square Theatre in Illinois (where Abraham Lincoln announced his run for the presidency in 1860).

But despite the many places he has performed all over the country, the Cumming Playhouse holds a special place in Sutton’s heart.

“I started this show in Cumming and I want to end it in Cumming,” he said. “This farewell show is my tribute to the Cumming Playhouse, to [executive director] Linda Heard, and to the Cumming Playhouse audiences. They have all been excellent for me in terms of support over the years, so I want to give something back.”

All tickets to Sutton’s “Mark Twain & Mr. Clements Farewell Performance” at the Cumming Playhouse are $15. Go to www.playhousecumming.com or call (770) 781-9178 to order tickets or for more information.