Alabama Shakespeare Festival to Present JUBILEE, An A Cappella Celebration of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

The score features over 40 spirituals, including "Balm in Gilead," "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and more.

By: Jan. 13, 2023
Alabama Shakespeare Festival to Present JUBILEE, An A Cappella Celebration of the Fisk Jubilee Singers
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Alabama Shakespeare Festival will present Jubilee written by Tazewell Thompson with composer and lyricist Dianne Adams McDowell, Jan. 5 - 29 on the Festival Stage.

In 1871, the Fisk Jubilee Singers began a journey around the world to raise funds for Fisk University in Nashville - a school dedicated to educating African Americans and former slaves. The bold ensemble born on the campus of one of the nation's premiere HBCUs blended their rich voices together to share a heritage of suffering, strength and endurance. They would perform for a number of prominent figures, including Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain and Queen Victoria, and would popularize the Negro Spiritual globally.

This groundbreaking a cappella production honors the legendary choir, recounting their stories before, during and after their journey. The score features over 40 spirituals, including "Balm in Gilead," "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Ain't That Good News." The show originally premiered at Arena Stage in 2019 and is being remounted at ASF.

Writer and director Tazewell Thompson became captivated by Negro Spirituals after being introduced to them in Catholic school - he began collecting sheet music, catalogs, records and cds of every spiritual he could find. After years of collecting hundreds of songs, he wanted to write a show using this music to tell the story of the singers who made the genre a phenomenon.

"I wanted the world to know them," said Thompson. "So I created a celebration of the Fisk Jubilee Singers."

All of the music is sung a cappella - with no orchestra or accompaniment - as the Jubilee Singers would have performed it. Thompson said audiences can expect to laugh, to be entertained and to learn about the songs that are the foundation of music in America.

"It is the root, the blueprint and, ultimately, the heart and soul of what gave way to blues, jazz, gospel, rock and roll and hip-hop," said Thompson, "and it all started with these former slaves."

The ensemble cast includes Jarred Jordan Bedgood (Isaac Dickerson), Noah William Canales (Thomas Rutling), Kenya Carroll (America Robinson), Hallie D. Chapman (Jennie Jackson), Sarah Joyce Cooper (Maggie Porter), Camryn Hamm (Minnie Tate), Garfield Hammonds (Frederick Loudin), Courtney C. Long (Georgia Gordon), Subiya Mboya (Ella Sheppard), Elexis Morton (Mabel Lewis), Aaron Shealey (Edmund Watkins), Ben Toomer (Greene Evans) and Greg Watkins (Benjamin Holmes).

Scenic designer Donald Eastman recreates a proscenium stage reminiscent of theatres where the Jubilee Singers would have performed across the world, accented by vibrant projections designed by Shawn Duan. Costume designer Merrily Murray-Walsh uses bold, post-Civil War period costuming, for which she earned a Helen Hayes Award in the Arena Stage production. Other members of the production team include assistant director Greg Watkins, sound designer Fabian Obispo, lighting designer Robert Wierzel, fight director Ron Piretti, stage manager Rafi Levavy, and production assistant Olivia Tippett.

Ticket prices start at $25. To purchase, call 334.271.5353, visit the ASF Box Office (Monday - Saturday, doors open at 12:00 p.m.), or purchase online at Evening performances begin at 7:00 p.m.; matinees begin at 2:00 p.m.

ABOUT Alabama Shakespeare Festival:

Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the State's theater, builds community by engaging, entertaining, and inspiring people with transformative theatrical performances and compelling educational and community programs. From its founding in a high school auditorium in Anniston in 1972 to its designation as the State Theater of Alabama in 1977 to the stunning $21.5 million performing arts complex in Montgomery (built in 1985), ASF has been a leader in the performing arts throughout the state, region, and country. As a beloved Alabama arts institution, ASF broadens the cultural identity of the South by producing classics, Shakespeare, contemporary plays, musicals, theatre for young audiences, and exciting new works. Since its inception, ASF has provided education programs to more than one million students; annually, SchoolFest, a student-matinee program, presents high-quality theatrical experiences to nearly 35,000 students.


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