World Premiere of “Miss Lucy” Celebrates Roanoke History

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Helena Brown
Helena Brown

Community High School and the bluegrass group Blue Mule will co-present the world premiere staging of the folk opera, “Miss Lucy,” November 17-19, at the June M. McBroom Theatre (302 Campbell Ave SE). With music by bluegrass master Tom Ohmsen and acclaimed jazz pianist William Penn, “Miss Lucy” tells the story of Roanoke educator and pioneer Lucy Addison.

 “Miss Lucy” centers on the night of Dec. 16, 1890, when a blizzard grips the Roanoke city market and the Supreme Court sends down its “Separate but Equal” decision, freezing freedom for black Americans. A lone man, Pisces auf Gutgluck, insists on fishing along Salem Ave., while the railroad workers explain that fishing in the street is a waste of time. Gus the bookseller sells his wares, and Miss Lucy Addison arrives for another school day.

But this day will be different; this will be the day that Captain J.T. Burke finally achieves his goal of shutting down Miss Lucy’s school. Miss Lucy is Lucy Addison, a teacher, sage and pioneer. But can she keep her school open against such fierce opposition? Bravery and a traveling scarf help save the day in this bluegrass folk opera for all ages.

Benjamin Bongers

Hollins University voice major Helena Brown sings the opera’s title role, while San Francisco Opera tenor Benjamin Bongers sings as Miss Lucy’s nemesis, Captain J.T. Burke. Mezzo soprano Ada Lis Jimena tackles the “pants” role of Pisces auf Gutgluck and baritone Drew Dowdy performs the hopeful bookseller, Gus. Baritones Aaron Sifford and T.J. Anderson round out the cast as the diviner, Doc Wise, and the Sandwich Board Man respectfully.

Maestra Shelbie Whal, director of choral activities at Hollins University, will conduct the opera’s cast and chorus and Blue Mule (Tom Ohmsen, mandolin; John McBroom, bass; Ely Williams, guitar and Tim Rhodes, banjo) will accompany the opera along with pianist Cara Modisett. Community High School teacher, and the opera’s librettist, Les Epstein, directs the opera.  Roanoke native and Philadelphia-based artist Colette Fu has designed a pop-up book set design, with scenery painted by CHS teacher and acclaimed artist Brian Counihan.

“Miss Lucy” opens Thursday, Nov. 17 with a performance at 7:30 p.m., followed by a 7:30 performance on Nov. 18 and a 3:00 matinee Nov. 19, followed by a talk-back panel with singers, production team and guests. Tickets to the opera are $5 and can be purchased at the door.