Fred Newman and Annie Roboff's show at the Castillo Theatre on West 42nd Street concerns the "the 35-year love affair between Sally Hemings, a slave, and Thomas Jefferson — the author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States and, as the master of Monticello, Sally's owner."
Sally and Tom (The American Way) has book and lyrics by Newman, who is Castillo's artistic director, and music by Roboff, a Nashville-based songwriter who was was the co-winner of the 1998 Country Music Award for Music Video of the Year. Her award-winning song, "This Kiss," was recorded by Faith Hill.
Sally and Tom (The American Way) is Newman and Roboff's sixth musical. It was developed in Castillo workshops. The production is co-directed by Newman and Gabrielle L. Kurlander. Musical director is David Truskinoff.
Kalia Lynne plays Sally Hemings and Johnnie Moore is Thomas Jefferson, Jonathan Frank plays James T. Callender, J.T. Michael Taylor plays James Madison, Melvin Shambry Jr. plays Madison Hemings.
Castillo Theatre is the not-for-profit midtown non-Equity theatre company that creates and produces political, humanist theatre. Heiner Muller is a favorite writer of the company. According to production notes, Sally and Tom is not about slavery but is set against the backdrop of slavery in the earliest years of the Republic. Newman said it was "an opportunity to explore our country's uniquely conflicted and contradictory history of intimacy and separatism — America's love/hate relationship with itself."
"For generations, many people have known that Jefferson fathered children by Sally Hemings," Newman said in notes. "The much publicized results of DNA tests several years ago simply corroborate what had been common knowledge. Over the years, certain highly regarded scholars defended Jefferson's 'purity,' categorically denying claims that there had been a sexual relationship between master and slave. Since those 'revelations,' some of them have retreated from their former position of 'It didn't happen' only to insist that the affair between Hemings and Jefferson was an exception. But in fact such affairs, far from being exceptional, were fairly commonplace. That's part of what I wanted to convey by 'the American way' of the title."
(A Sally and Tom subplot deals with Thomas Callender, a muckraking journalist who engineers what turns out to be one of the country’s earliest political scandals, after publishing a story about the Jefferson-Hemings affair.)
Newman has written more than 40 plays for the Castillo stage over the last two decades, including works that engage the issue of race in America —including Billie and Malcom (A Demonstration) about Billie Holiday and Malcolm X; Satchel: A Requiem for Racism, about Satchel Paige; Stealin' Home, about Jackie Robinson; and Crown Heights, a play that explored the complex tragedy that took place in Brooklyn in 1991.
The Castillo Theatre is at 543 W. 42nd Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. Sally and Tom (The American Way) runs through Dec. 4. Performances are Thursday, Friday, Saturday evenings at 7:30 PM and Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM. Tickets are $40 (with TDF, group, student and senior discounts available). For more information, call (212) 941-1234. Tickets are also available online at www.theatermania.com.
For additional information, visit www.castillo.org.
On Oct. 23 at 3:30 PM, following the 2 PM matinee performance of Sally & Tom (The American Way), the Castillo Theatre will host a special conversation with descendants of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson.
"Several years ago, DNA testing confirmed that America's third President, Thomas Jefferson, fathered children by his slave, Sally Hemings," according to Castillo. "Over the last 200 years, the Hemings-Jefferson relationship lived on in the oral histories of many generations of descendant families. These personal and family histories will be among the many subjects discussed in the conversation."
Admission to the after-show chat is free, but space is limited. For reservations, call the Castillo box office at (212) 941-1234.