Alabama Shakespeare Festival opens its 1998-99 season with the world premiere of Eric Schmiedl's adaptation of the 1988 Lee Smith novel, Fair and Tender Ladies, beginning previews Nov. 10 and opening Nov. 13.
The drama concerns a Virginia woman named Ivy Rowe (played by Greta Lambert), who looks back on her Appalachian mountain life, relating her story in letters and songs. Her world is punctuated with music and lyrics by Nashville songwriters Karren [sic] Pell, Tommy Goldsmith and Tom House.
Singer-musicians Woody Jenkins, Teresa Williams and Samuel D. Cohen sing the work, which is being called "a play with music" rather than a traditional musical. The characters' sentiments are sung by the musicians, according to ASF publicist Kay Green.
Actresses Debra Funkhouser and Kim Ders play multiple role in Ivy Rowe's world.
The staging, by director Susan Willis, draws on Appalachian folk storytelling traditions to relate the adversity, wonder and humanity of the mountain life. The piece was developed in ASF's Southern Writers' Project (SWP), an initiative that began in 1991 as a way to commission and develop new works by Southern writers. Designers are Michael Smith (scenic), Sandra Knapp (costume), Terry Cermak (lighting) and Don Tindall (sound). The music director is Thom Jenkins.
Novelist Lee Smith is a Virginia native whose works include "Oral History" and "Family Linen."
Fair and Tender Ladies is staged in the 250-seat Octagon of the Carolyn Blount Theatre. The Blount festival mainstage, where the major Shakespeare productions are mounted in the March-July repertory season, seats 750.
Tickets are $20-$26. For information about ASF, in Montgomery, AL., call (334) 271-5353 or (800) 841-4273.
Coinciding with the opening of the show is the presentation of The Fourth Annual Pionner Award, where each year the Alabama Shakespeare Fest honors Alabamians who have made outstanding contributions in the areas of Civil Rights, Education, Fine Arts, and Community Service.
-- By Kenneth Jones and Sean McGrath