Students Honor Late 'Kudzu' Cartoonist Marlette Cartoonist Doug Marlette was on his way to meet with high schoolers in Oxford, Miss., on Tuesday when he was killed in a car crash. The students will perform a musical based on Marlette's Kudzu comic strip next month in Scotland. They say the show will have new meaning now.
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Students Honor Late 'Kudzu' Cartoonist Marlette

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Students Honor Late 'Kudzu' Cartoonist Marlette

Students Honor Late 'Kudzu' Cartoonist Marlette

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Yesterday in Hillsboro, North Carolina, family and friends gathered to say goodbye to Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Doug Marlette. The creator of the nationally syndicated cartoon "Kudzu" died in a car crash in Mississippi this past week. He'd been on his way to meet with high school students who are rehearsing a musical based on his comic strip.

Sandra Knispel of Mississippi Public Broadcasting reports from Oxford.

(Soundbite of musical "Kudzu: The Hometown Musical")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Oh my Lord.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Oh my Lord. Oh my Lord, what a terrible loss. The whole world's run out of barbecue sauce.

SANDRA KNISPEL: While the lyric tragedy is frivolous, it's also relevant. Just last week, the 57-year-old cartoonist and author had delivered the eulogy at his own father's funeral, only to die himself a few days later on his way to Oxford, Mississippi.

Courtney Mize is a junior at the high school and a cast member of "Kudzu: The Hometown Musical." That's the show based on Marlette's "Kudzu" comic strip.

Ms. COURTNEY MIZE (High School Junior; Cast Member, "Kudzu: The Hometown Musical"): Now, I want to do it more than ever and make it just amazing in the memory of Doug and make it the best that we can make it be.

KNISPEL: Next month, the students will perform the musical at the prestigious Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. The show's assistant director, Laura Beth Whitehead, says Marlette was very excited about the project.

Ms. LAURA BETH WHITEHEAD (Assistant Director, "Kudzu: The Hometown Musical"): That's what kept us going, like, right now it's keeping us going is because we knew how excited he was. He was so involved in what we were doing. That if we didn't go on, that would, kind of, dishonor him, you know. We want to do it for him. The show's taken on a whole new meaning now.

KNISPEL: Barely 24 hours after Marlette's death, the students were back rehearsing - some wiping away tears. Show assistant director Whitehead wasn't surprised their Pulitzer Prize winner took such a strong interest in the local high school production.

Ms. WHITEHEAD: Maybe because we're actually the age of the characters. All the actors beforehand have been 30-something, you know, and they're supposed to be 17, 18.

KNISPEL: The high school's theater director, John Davenport, had picked up Marlette from the airport and was driving back to Oxford in a thunderstorm when the pickup truck hydroplaned off the road and struck a tree. Davenport broke his leg and does not want to talk about the accident.

But Oxford High Principal Bill Hovious never thought about canceling the show.

Mr. BILL HOVIOUS (Principal, Oxford High School): They will probably redouble their focus and knowing them like I do, you will probably see the best performance of "Kudzu" that's ever been performed by anybody.

KNISPEL: The students' parents are now planning flights to Scotland for Marlette's widow and grown son so they can see the performance Doug Marlette cared so deeply about.

(Soundbite of musical "Kudzu: The Hometown Musical")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) No more sauce. No more sauce.

KNISPEL: For NPR News, I'm Sandra Knispel in Oxford, Mississippi.

(Soundbite of musical "Kudzu: The Hometown Musical")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) More hard times, trouble and misery.

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