Star of Freedom
World Premiere Musical at Ivoryton Playhouse
By: Karen Isaacs - Apr 26, 2022
A world-premiere musical – developed at Ivoryton Playhouse – is at the Playhouse through Sunday, May 1.
Star of Freedom has music by Connecticut resident Jeff Blaney and a book by Lawrence Thelen. The piece began life as the concept album Exodus; Executive/Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard saw the possibilities and brought it to Thelen to write the book.
In some ways it may remind you of last fall’s The Porch on Windy Hill; they share the same musical sensibility – a mixture of folk, blues, country and more – with the cast playing multiple instruments.
While the story is very different from Porch, yet the music is similarly toe-tapping and enjoyable.
This work is set in the mid-1800s and tells the story of Sean who leaves Ireland after the famine and arrives in Boston. Unable to get work due to widespread discrimination (No Irish Need Apply read the signs), he and a friend join the Union army and are headed to Virginia.
Interwoven with Sean’s story is the story of Chloe, a slave in South Carolina. Her uncle has plans for them to escape – he brought her up when her parents were sold – but the time never seems right. Finally, some union soldiers arrive telling them of the emancipation proclamation. Uncle Lewis and she set off, though soon she is on the road by herself.
Sean (who has gone AWOL) and Chloe meet up and after initial wariness become a couple heading for Colorado.
Is it a probable story? Not really. In fact, the time sequencing of events is very confusing. For example, Sean opens the play talking about surviving the potato famine in 1849; we then jump to some unknown time when he lands in Boston. Soon we are in the midst of the Civil War.
The timeline for Chloe is less confusing though we have few references to guide us. When do we first meet Chloe and Uncle Lewis? Do they know about the Civil War? When did Uncle Lewis first plan to escape? Why was it never “the right time”?
Those are minor issues as we follow the arc of this improbable love story, which like most improbably love stories, has elements of tragedy in it.
But what is most important to the success of this production is the music and the performances. With no song list in the program, it is difficult to mention specific songs, but the one that references the north star – the star that escaped slaves used to navigate to the north – is wonderful. You will also enjoy “I Love Beer” and “Passing Bye and Bye.” Also enjoyable are the variety of instruments the cast members play – from guitar and base to ukulele and others.
Director Jacqueline Hubbard as assembled a top-notch cast. Ayla Stackhouse as Chloe has a promising future before her. She brings both warmth and strength to the role and self-possession. This is a young woman who would set out on her own, convinced that she can do it. In addition, she has a lovely voice. You can also feel the connection with Sean, played by Danny Adams.
Richard E. Waits who plays Uncle Lewis and a variety of other roles is also outstanding. In fact, each of the cast members adds both musically and emotionally to the story.
Marcus Abbott has created a multi-tiered set that is easily transformed from an Irish cottage to slave quarters, to caves for hiding and more. He also designed the effective lighting.
While dance isn’t a major part of the musical, Karlyn Ashley Surratt has choreographed the movement/dance effectively.
Star of Freedom may never make it Broadway, but you will have a very enjoyable evening in the theater.
For tickets visit IvorytonPlayhouse.org.
This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com