Theatre UAB will present “Savage,” an original musical based on the true story of Ota Benga, a Mbuti man put on exhibition in the United States in the early 1900s, with world premiere performances April 10-14 at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
UAB Professor of Theatre Karla Koskinen conceived and developed the musical with a skilled team, and the story is replete with an elaborately crafted elephant puppet, actors playing multiple characters, original music, dance, a dazzling array of costumes, artistic projections that whisk the action from St. Louis to the Congo and more. Composers Tommy Newman and Jaime Lozano created the show’s music, and Newman wrote the book and lyrics. Students and faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Theatre are bringing it to life on stage.
The musical blends fiction and history with dance, traditional African Congo music and ragtime with contemporary melodic and rap styles. It is the startling, true tale of Benga, taken in the early 1900s from Africa by missionary and anthropologist Samuel Verner for exhibition at the St. Louis World’s Fair and, later, The Bronx Zoo. Displaced and cruelly exploited for his physical characteristics, including his skin color, short stature and ritually filed teeth, Benga is left to marginally exist in a world he does not understand, never able to return to his homeland.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. April 10-13 and at 2 p.m. April 14 in UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center, Sirote Theatre. Admission is $15 and $20; student tickets are $6. Tickets for UAB employees and senior citizens are $10. For tickets, call 205-975-2787 or go to www.AlysStephens.org. Visit Theatre UAB online at www.uab.edu/cas/theatre.
Explore the production and the process of creation, read the blog, and buy tickets at https://cas.uab.edu/savagetheplay/.
This project has been made possible by grants from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Alliance of Musical Theatre.
“Savage” is directed by Koskinen and Valerie Accetta, with musical direction by Carolyn Violi and choreography by Roy Lightner. Translations were provided by Kazadi Wa Mukuna, Ph.D., and native speakers of Chiluba, the language that Benga spoke.
The production has provided innumerable opportunities to students, both as performers and as crew members, to create the show from start to finish. Students have been involved assisting in direction, choreography, costume design and creation, set design, dramaturgy, and as documentarian of the entire process. This innovative production is included in UAB’s “50 Years of Dreams and Discoveries” celebration this year.
UAB Theatre faculty have contributed their considerable talents to the new play, with dialect and text coaching by Marlene Johnson, costume design by Kimberly Schnormeier, scenic design by Cliff Simon and production management by Ed Zuckerman. The animal puppets were created by J. Marc Quattlebaum, properties master, with Amy Page, costume director, and guest artist and alumna Kendra Peine Weeks. Projection designs were created by guest artist Stephanie Busing.
|Performances are at 7:30 p.m. April 10-13 and at 2 p.m. April 14 in UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center, Sirote Theatre. Admission is $15 and $20; student tickets are $6. Tickets for UAB employees and senior citizens are $10. For tickets, call 205-975-2787 or go to www.AlysStephens.org. Visit Theatre UAB online at www.uab.edu/cas/theatre.|
The cast includes Royzell D. Walker of Cincinnati, Ohio, as Ota Benga, with Toy Matthews of Birmingham as the Storyteller; Caleb Clark of Munford, Alabama, as Samuel Verner; Joe Condon of St. Petersburg, Florida, as Man, Zoo Attendant and ensemble; Victoria Cruz of Birmingham as poet Anne Spencer and ensemble; Devin Franklin of Birmingham as Shamba and ensemble; Gary Fuqua of Florence, Alabama, as Malengo, Rev. Dr. James Gordon and ensemble; Raiya Goodman of Houston, Texas, as Kalubi and ensemble; Kristen Hall of Cumming, Georgia, as Mrs. Guggenheim and ensemble; Eboni Janaé of Toney, Alabama, as Elima and ensemble; Matthew Kelly of Phenix City, Alabama, as Kalamma and ensemble; Azalea Grace Martin of Birmingham as Kasala; Antonio Mitchell of Phenix City, Alabama, as Kondola and ensemble; Justine Nelson of St. Petersburg, Florida, as Woman and ensemble; Chance Novalis of Madison, Alabama, as Mr. Guggenheim, Carnival Barker and ensemble; Peyton Overstreet of Tallahassee, Florida, as Hattie Verner and ensemble; Khalia Reeder of Florence, Alabama, as Soloist, Batwa Woman and ensemble; Brian Wittenberg of John’s Creek, Georgia, as McGee, Hornaday, Bumpus and ensemble; and Nina Ballon of New Orleans, Louisiana, Briana Hernandez of El Paso, Texas, Nick Linhardt of Andover, Kansas, and Jori Rutledge of Mobile, Alabama, as the ensemble. Understudies include Joe Condon of St. Petersburg, Florida; Gary Fuqua of Florence, Alabama; Matthew Kelly of Phenix City, Alabama; Tess Lenzen of Madison, Wisconsin; Nick Linhardt of Andover, Kansas; Justine Nelson of St. Petersburg, Florida; Chance Novalis of Madison, Alabama; Brooke Payne of Birmingham; and Jori Rutledge of Mobile, Alabama.
The crew includes Addie Counts of Chattanooga, Tennessee, stage manager, and Lilly Bateh of Jacksonville, Florida, and Jenn Palmieri of Alpharetta, Georgia, as assistant stage managers; Claire Stewart of Fairhope, Alabama, assistant costume design; Austin Helmers of Montevallo, Alabama, and Anna Shows of Orlando, Florida, assistant scenic design; Joey Aaron Parker of Kansas City, Missouri, assistant music director; Camillah Almond of Dunwoody, Georgia, and Tyler Stidham of Chelsea, Alabama, as assistant directors; Diego Villanueva of Houston, Texas, assistant choreographer; Jenn Palmieri of Alpharetta, Georgia, dramaturgy; Rachel-Marie Strazza of Bronx, New York, documentarian; Lauren Macari of Weston, Florida, Anna Medders of West Jefferson, Alabama, and Sunday Owens and Kierra Price of Birmingham, wardrobe crew; David Parker of Birmingham and Isah Ceesay of Minneapolis, Minnesota, run crew; Akiera Wilson of Birmingham and Brett Everingham of Atlanta, Georgia, spotlight operation; Mel McComber of Birmingham, audio technician; Rachel-Kate McGee of Birmingham, audio makeup technician; and Ian Black, projections operator.