Songs From the Tall Grass, a new musical theatre work beginning its world premiere March 13 at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., harvests the stories of America's plains states homesteaders to give voice to a forgotten chapter in history.
The new show, which opens at the historic Ford's Theatre March 19 and continues to June 3, was written by Michael Ross, Phoef Sutton, Emily Corey and Randy Hale. The team uses folk songs, letters, journals and stories to dramatize the lives of the men, women and children who settled in the prairies — America's heartland.
Writers Hale and Corey, husband and wife, explored the songs and stories of the people of the prairies by visiting museums and libraries, state historical societies and small back-road museums. When they dug up the rich cultural soil, they decided the material was right for the stage, and Ross and Sutton (veteran TV writers with "Cheers," "Designing Women" and other shows in their credits) got involved. According to a statement, the writers "wove their ideas into a tale that honors and personifies the homestead experience, while adapting the music and lyrics to make them accessible to contemporary audiences." Corey is co founder of History Through Music, an organization that teaches American history through music-based curriculums. Hale was trained as an actor and has composed music for computer games.
"While much has been done to revive the musical traditions of Appalachia, the Eastern Seaboard, the Ozarks and the South, the songs that were sung in the soddies, the prairie schoolhouses, two-room homesteads and at barn socials on the Great American prairie in the 19th-century have been all but lost," said Ford's Theatre producing artistic director Frankie Hewitt, in a statement.
Will Mackenzie (who helmed Off-Broadway's I Do! I Do! starring Karen Ziemba) directs a company that includes Tony Award-winner Scott Waara (Broadway's Most Happy Fella) as the narrator, with John Antony, Cliff Bemiss, Teri Bibb, Emilyann Cummings, Tiffany Fraser, Johanna Gerry, Josh Hawkins, Kathleen Kulikowski, Celine Massuger, James Soller, Christopher Winsor and John Leslie Wolfe. Kay Cole choreographs. Designers are David Sackeroff (set), David Zyla (costumes), Tom Ruzika (lighting) and Eliane McCarthy (projections).
Tickets range $27-$43. Ford's Theatre is at 511 Tenth Street in Washington DC. For information, call (202) 347 4833.
— By Kenneth Jones