Underground Railroad musical debuting in Chandler - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Underground Railroad musical debuting in Chandler

July 7th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Underground Railroad musical debuting in Chandler

By Get Out Staff

The Chandler Center for the Arts will premiere “North,” a new musical by writer and composer Ashli St. Armant, in November.

Set to a powerful score filled with jazz and historically Black music genres rooted in New Orleans, “North” tells the story of Lawrence and his mother, Minnie, as they escape the Deep South and travel north through the Underground Railroad, to seek freedom.

“North The Musical” has been co-commissioned by four performing arts centers from across the U.S.: the Lied Center of Lawrence, Kansas, Chandler Center for the Arts in Chandler Arizona, the Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa, California, and Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio.

Set in the 1850s, it is based on actual accounts of slave escapes through the Underground Railroad network, as well as St. Armant’s personal family history of overcoming slavery in Louisiana.

“In this beautifully crafted musical, ‘North’ brings forth the full experience of freedom-seekers: optimism, bravery, playfulness, wonder, suspense, and mystery,” the arts center said in a release.

On Oct. 25, it will premiere in Lawrence, Kansas, an important historical location of the Underground Railroad in the 1800s and one featured prominently in the story.

The production then moves to Chandler, where it will premiere at Chandler Center for the Arts. Audiences attending the 2022 premiere performances will be the first to see it prior to its 2023-24 tour, which is setting its sights on Broadway.

Chandler performances of “North The Musical” are Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 5 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N. Arizona Ave.

Tickets are on sale at chandlercenter.org or 480-782-2680. Tickets are $42 and $32 with $15 tickets for youth. The musical is intended for intergenerational audiences (ages 10 and up).

Surrounding the public performances, Chandler Center for the Arts will hold discussions and events related to the creation of the new musical. The production will also be part of Chandler Center for the Arts educational programs with study guides, educator workshops, classroom visits and a student performance for area schools.

“North is a testament to the ingenious, enduring, and multifaceted lives of Black folks throughout our nation’s history,” said St. Armant.

“In our own family lineage, I learned that there were people who survived the unimaginable in the most creative ways, and they deserve to have their stories told. I want my children to know that their ancestors were more than just a line item on a bill of sale.”

St. Armant created the original score to reflect the musical legacy of her roots in New Orleans.

“You can’t tell the story of the people of New Orleans without our music. This music is the glue that has held us together throughout the centuries.”

To complement the story, the musical genres are equal parts jazz, musical theatre, and St. Armant’s own signature style. For inspiration she drew from an array of musical heroes, including Nat King Cole, Mahalia Jackson, Fela Kuti and Stephen Sondheim. Songs include “Never,” “Git On Board,”“Oh What These Trees Have Seen,” “On The Run,” “Head Straight, Shoulders Back” and more.

The commissioning the musical is part of Chandler Center for the Arts’ efforts to give voice to new works and artists through its community engagement and audience development programs.

“Ashli St. Armant has captured through the intersection of music, storytelling and history a brilliant and uplifting piece of musical theatre. Chandler Center for the Arts believes that new work which reflects the stories of people of color are vitally important to people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds,” said General Manager Michelle Mac Lennan.

“This piece, in particular speaks to the history of Black Americans during slavery, but also helps us relate to the characters as individuals with their own dreams, doubts and unique personalities.”

A jazz vocalist, composer, musician and musical theater playwright, St. Armant is known for her award-winning work in education and entertainment including her band, Jazzy Ash and Leaping Lizards, and her Audible mystery series, Viva Durant, which includes the New York Times bestselling story, “Viva Durant and the Secret of the Silver Buttons.”

“North” is her debut theatrical production.