The relationship between President and patriot Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings has raised eyebrows in the later half of the 20th Century as DNA testing revealed that the author of the Declaration of Independence had probably fathered children with the slave.
But that scandal was not new. In 1802 a journalist out to get Jefferson printed the accusation that the then sitting president had a mistress among the slaves at Monticello. Jefferson refused to comment and the newly formed newspapers ran rampant with rumors, parodies and editorial attacks, both against Jefferson and his Republican party and his rivals, the Federalists.
This moment in history is the subject of Leroy Aarons-Glenn Paxton opera, Monticello, making its world premiere with L.A. TheatreWorks radio program April 26-30 at the Skirball Cultural Center.
John Rubinstein directs. Rubinstein won a Theater World Award with his Broadway debut in Pippin and Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Children of a Lesser God with roles in Hurlyburly and M. Butterfly following. In L.A., he garnered both the L.A. Drama Critics and Drama-Logue Awards for his performance as Father in Ragtime.
Christopher Schuman sings Jefferson with Shana Blake Hill as Sally Hemings. Also in the cast are Annette Daniels (Betty), Cynthia Jansen (Patsy), Haqumai Sharpe (Madison) and Michael Paul Smith (James). The gospel ensemble Kaleo & Angels will serve as the chorus. All L.A. TheatreWorks performances are recorded for future broadcast on KCRW 89.9 FM. Monticello will be recorded for a CD release.
Tickets are $36-$32. The Skirball Cultural Center is located at 2701 N. Sepulveda Boulevard. For tickets, call (310) 827-0889. L.A. TheatreWorks is on the web at http://www.latw.org.
-- By Christine Ehren