Fans of live theater and musicals should mark their calendars for Nov. 4 and 5—that is when the new musical NORTH will be performed at Chandler Center for the Arts.
The theatrical production tells the story of a young teenager named Lawrence, his mother Minnie, and their journey on the Underground Railroad. It is the first musical theater piece from composer, musician, and vocalist Ashli St. Armant.
“I began writing this piece because I realized how much is missing in our history books and literature about the real-life experiences of Black folks during the 18th and 19th centuries,” St. Armant says, adding that she also used her own experiences as a mother of Black teenage sons to write the story of Lawrence and Minnie.
St. Armant’s own ancestors were enslaved in Vacherie, Louisiana; she notes that her research for this project, which is set in the 1850s, led her down many paths where she discovered incredible connections to her own family and experiences.
Many of those findings influenced the final story, including characters like Tham The Brave, a real-life leader in a Maroons community who had been enslaved on the same plantation as St. Armant’s family members in the 1780s.
In addition, the set design and the song “Oh What These Trees Have Seen” come from her personal experience visiting the area where that plantation was located.
“NORTH is a musical to entertain and discover the depth and personalities of these characters, and we hope people will learn more about the Underground Railroad along the way,” St. Armant says.