A Musical Journey of Huey P. Long's Legacy

By: Dec. 04, 2023

In a creative venture that promises to blend history, music and theatrical prowess, a new one-man musical is currently in the works, spotlighting the complex and captivating life of Louisiana’s legendary political figure, Huey P. Long. 

Titled “EVERY MAN A KING: A NEW ORLEANS JAZZ FABLE,” the production is generating buzz as it takes shape in London, with actor, writer and researcher Alex-Christian Lucas at the helm.

“The story of how the whole concept and idea came to be is pretty funny in hindsight,” said Lucas, who has been living in London for the past three years.

While celebrating his birthday this past January, Lucas spoke candidly with his friend director-choreographer William Spencer on a bus ride home about current setbacks he was experiencing in his acting career.

“I’m so frustrated; I’m not getting seen for roles; I’m grinding away, working as a barista for my survival job…what am I doing wrong?”

Spencer’s advice was simple. “You just need to create your own work.”

“Never at any point in my life had I ever thought maybe I should write a musical,” Lucas said, who began thinking about what he could write about that was unique to him. What he decided to bring to the table was his culture from being born and raised in New Orleans.

“People from Southeast Louisiana, specifically New Orleans, are incredibly proud to be from there,” Lucas said. “They’re proud of their history, their heritage, the food, the culture and just everything about it. There’s just a pride that never leaves you, even if you leave New Orleans.”

In 10 minutes, Lucas began researching famous people from Louisiana that he could portray. When he came across Long’s name, it was a lightbulb moment. And then, in 15 minutes, he had his production team assembled.

“That is the honest-to-God truth of how I got the idea,” Lucas laughed. “It was me mid-panic attack on the bus.”

Long, nicknamed the “Kingfish,” served as Louisiana’s governor from 1928 to 1932 and later as a US Senator until his assassination in 1935. Known for his populist policies and ambitious infrastructure projects, Long was both revered and reviled, leaving an indelible mark on the political landscape.

“When you’re from Louisiana, you grow up with the stories of him, or you at least tangentially know who he is,” Lucas said. “And I remember going on a field trip to the capitol as a kid, putting my finger in the bullet hole in the wall in the granite pillar where he was assassinated.”

Lucas and the bullet hole with Long was shot

The story of “EVERY MAN A KING” occurs after Long’s assassination, where his ghost spends the next 35 years trapped in the Louisiana governor’s office. Upon learning that his wife Rose has passed away, Long embarks on a turbulent, life-altering journey through his past to discover who killed him and why, believing this knowledge to be key to escaping his purgatory and reuniting with his wife. Through reliving past glories and mistakes, Long realizes that his single-minded devotion to power cost him his family and, ultimately, his life.

“One of the things that makes him an interesting character is he’s an anti-hero,” Lucas said. “There are aspects of him that are incredibly unlikeable, but at first, he at least used his power to help the people of Louisiana. He genuinely wanted to help the poor, but I think he eventually lost sight of that, and he lost sight of who he was and gave into the greed and desire for power and money.” 

“What’s interesting about our show is he’s stuck in this office purgatory, that is Louisiana Governor’s office, and he thinks his ticket out is to figure out who shot him and why, and that’s going to be his way out to be back with Rose. He’s investigating all the different enemies he made in his life, trying to understand why he made them and makes a list. And finally, he’s like, okay, this is who did it. And nothing happens. This is who did it. Nothing happens. And so, he quickly realizes, ‘Wait a minute. That’s not it.’ And this leads to a greater revelation that I don’t want to spoil. But that’s the twist of our show. It’s not about who killed him. It’s about a much greater point.”

The one-man show is a journey through the political landscape of 20th-century Louisiana, exploring the highs and lows of Long’s career, his populist policies and an intimate look into the mind of a political maverick, offering audiences a chance to witness history unfold. Since beginning writing the show, Lucas has gone on several trips to Baton Rouge to research Long, the original music he’s written and to read published books about him so that the show is grounded in historical accuracy from characters to quotes to actual events.

“Our show is littered with real quotes that we’ve pulled from letters and documents and countless hours of research,” Lucas said. “And that’s what makes the show sing. And that’s exactly what the people in the UK loved about Huey as a character because it didn’t seem artificial. Yet it was so absurd that they couldn’t believe it was true.”

Though the musical is being developed in the UK, the creative team mainly comprises Louisiana natives. There is Lucas, along with composer Kevin Gullage, co-book writer Sophie Trist, and lead creative producer Stephanie McCabe from New Orleans. From the UK, Spencer is the director of “EVERY MAN A KING.” 

“I’m proud to have such an enthusiastic team and people who just trusted in the idea,” Lucas said. “We made something really special from it.”

EVERY MAN A KING workshop from July

Lucas and his team held a closed workshop for theatre professionals for the musical this past July and are applying to workshop the next draft at London’s Vault Festival in February. Lucas has enjoyed sharing his culture with British audiences and receiving their feedback.

“I think the thing they were most intrigued by was actually how colorful a character Huey P. Long was,” Lucas said. “They just couldn’t believe that this was true. And that’s what I think is so interesting. It’s inherently what makes New Orleans interesting. We produce some of the most diverse, just crazy, cultural people that they’re unparalleled. It just defies words.”

As rehearsals unfold behind closed doors, the creative team is working diligently to craft a narrative that also captures period-specific music to enhance the audience’s immersion into the world of 1930s Louisiana by featuring original songs in the iconic Dixieland style of New Orleans jazz. 

“What I wanted to bring to this show was a unique perspective on our culture and city and authentic music,” Lucas said. “I wanted the music to be reflective of our culture. So, I was very intent on finding a composer who I felt understood New Orleans jazz, gospel and blues, all of these forms that are inherent to New Orleans.”

Lucas, Trist, and Nina Carazo

Incorporated into the score are four authentic compositions with lyrics by Long and music by Castro Carazo, including his campaign song “Every Man a King,” “Touchdown for LSU” and “Darling of LSU.” One of the most exciting moments for Lucas was visiting Carazo’s granddaughter, Nina Carazo, who gave him the rights to the music.

“I was grateful to Nina that she gave us the rights because it adds so much depth to our show and also to honor Castro in his legacy because he was kind of the musical voice of Huey P. Long,” Lucas said. “So, to honor that music, while also using something so historically unique, which [Huey’s] own words in song and in a musical about him like, come on, that’s crazy.”

According to Lucas, the goal is to premiere the work in the UK, then bring it to the New Orleans/Baton Rouge area, and then take it to New York. Stay tuned for updates as “EVERY MAN A KING” prepares to make its mark on the stage and bring Long’s story to a new generation of theatergoers.