Alabama Shakespeare Festival to Present The World Premiere Of FREEDOM RIDER

Freedom Riders Kredelle Petway, Rev. Alphonso Petway, Hezekiah Watkins and Dr. Bernard Lafayette were in attendance for the premiere.

By: Apr. 25, 2022
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Alabama Shakespeare Festival to Present The World Premiere Of FREEDOM RIDER

Alabama Shakespeare Festival will present the world premiere of Ricardo Khan's Freedom Rider in April.

Freedom Rider follows the journey of four young people from across the country as they embark on a bus traveling through the South to challenge segregation in travel. Risking their freedom and their lives, together they discover the power in themselves to change America.

Portraying the ensemble of original characters are Kelsey Anne Brown (Once, The Sound of Music, Pride and Prejudice) as Joan, a woman from California willing to fight for her interracial relationship and something bigger than herself. Josh Lerner (Broadway Bound, She Loves Me, Brighton Beach Memoirs) plays Phillip, a Jewish student eager to prove he can contribute something to the world.

Martin K. Lewis (seen Off-Broadway at New York Theater Workshop and New Light Theater Project) plays Carl, a first-generation student at Howard University and son of immigrant parents. Alexis Young (RENT National Tour, Once on This Island, Fun Home) boldly takes on Jennifer, a 17-year-old aspiring opera singer from Detroit who knows she is neither too young nor too fragile to make a difference.

The show was written and conceived for the stage by director Ricardo Khan (Fly, The Colored Museum, Spunk, Black Eagles), artistic director and co-founder of Tony Award-winning Crossroads Theatre. The characters were written in collaboration with authors Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, Nathan Louis Jackson, Nikkole Salter, and Tony Award-winning playwright Murray Horwitz.

"I wanted to have different writers involved, to give each character with a different background an authentic voice," said Khan. The project has been in development since 2015 and will make its world premiere at ASF before transferring to Crossroads Theatre in New Jersey.

Khan said the intention behind creating original characters was to avoid giving a one-dimensional history lesson, and to instead embody the spirit and bravery of the Freedom Riders. The director said this show is about and for young people, who often need to be reminded that they can change the world.

"It was a time in America that we should be proud of - we crossed racial lines, gender lines, generational lines and geographic lines - and we made a difference," said Khan.

Freedom Riders Kredelle Petway, Rev. Alphonso Petway, Hezekiah Watkins and Dr. Bernard Lafayette were in attendance for the premiere.

"The memories were brought back," said Kredelle Petway. "It was incredible to see the production as a person that actually lived it. I thought the production was riveting and mindful of the history."

Audiences will have the opportunity to step into history for themselves when they visit the theater. ASF is partnering with the Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery, an organization under the Alabama Historical Commission, to bring exhibits and immersive experiences to the theater.

Opening weekend featured a talk-back from Freedom Rider Dr. Bernard Lafayette, and audiences could walk onto a refurbished 1960's Greyhound bus for a tour of the transportation that would have taken the Freedom Riders on their journey. Exhibits from the Freedom Rides Museum will remain at the theater for the duration of the run.

Dorothy Walker, site director of the Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery, said the organization is ecstatic the show will run on the 75th anniversary of the Journey of Reconciliation - what is considered the "First Freedom Ride" that took place in 1947, 14 years before the Freedom Rides Movement.

"We wanted to be involved with this production because it tells the history in a richer and deeper way," said Walker. "The play brings history to life while reminding us that the Freedom Riders were actual people with their own stories. Hopefully, this will make people interested in learning about them."

The cast is completed by Amy Bodnar, Ryan Foreman, Henry Gardner, Mattilyn Rochester Kravitz, Jamil A.C. Mangan, Cassandra Ogbozor, Alex Scoloveno and Debra Walton.

Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt sets the stage of 1960s America with a deconstructed American flag, built to incorporate powerful images of the Civil Rights Movement, weaved seamlessly into the show by projections designer Katherine Freer. A mix of sixties folk, gospel, and freedom songs compliment the story, arranged by music coordinator Joel Jones.

Other members of the production team include assistant scenic designer Romello D. Huins, costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee, lighting designer Victor En Yu Tan, assistant lighting designer Travis Craft, assistant projections designer Clara Ashe-Moore, sound designer Christopher Kriz, stage manager Kelli Karen, assistant stage manager John Concannon, and fight choreographer Rick Sordelet.


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