Frederick Douglass’ musical life hits the stage – The Hilltop

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Cornelius Smith Jr. (Frederick Douglass) and the cast of American Prophet. Photo by Margot Schulman.

A musical performance of the life of abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass will run through August 28 on the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater.

“American Prophet: Frederick Douglass In His Own Words” follows Douglass’ life, portrayed by Scandal’s Cornelius Smith Jr., from his early childhood as a slave in Maryland, to the challenges he faced as a as an adult fighting for abolition and freedom in America.

The piece encapsulates themes of resistance, new beginnings, death and love, paired with moving musical numbers throughout the production. Director Charles Randolph-Wright worked with composer Marcus Hummon to co-write the musical production, believing Douglass’ lyrics to be “poetic” and “lend themselves to the music”.

“A musical is about getting into character, and being able to do that with an icon is exhilarating,” Randolph-Wright said in an interview with the Hilltop. “One most exciting and rewarding aspect of this is that we were able to give voice to Frederick’s first wife, Anna, who has been overlooked in history, as is too often the case with women in the history, especially women of color.”

The play also came as the first professional on-stage role for recent Howard graduate Zoë Bryant, who was part of the whole play, a partial swing, and a stunt double.

“I didn’t know what an opportunity it was, honestly, until I stepped on the stage. I was like, ‘Oh, this is the major leagues, this is a great way to start.’ I did my research on the director, the music and the overall story of Frederick Douglass,” Bryant said.

Bryant shared his excitement for the public to see “another side” of Douglass. “There’s still so much we need to do about racial injustice in America, but also how much Frederick Douglass contributed to that fight, even back then. There’s so much more to him. I think that’s It’s really cool to see it, coming from a younger perspective, that it’s all really a journey,” Bryant shared.

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“Nobody started where you see them, there is always a starting point. Seeing Frederick fight on which side he wants to fight and how he wants to fight is truly magnificent. I’m so excited for the public to see this,” Bryant added.

Bryant aspires to pursue a professional career in the arts, as well as a musical career under the name Baÿbe Blaze.

When asked what advice he would give young Howard students, especially freshmen looking to pursue a career in the arts, Randolph-Wright replied, “Find your voice and don’t be afraid of the let it be heard. Look for opportunities in Howard and the city of DC to find like minds and souls. It helps to find comrades and create your artistic family. I still have my chosen family from my freshman year in college too many decades ago. I’m especially proud that a recent Howard graduate is making her debut on our show. Watching her find her voice brings me the ultimate joy.

Tickets for “American Prophet: Frederick Douglass In His Own Words” are available on the arena stadium website, with various discounts available, such as a “Pay Your Age” promotion for customers under 30.

Copy edited by N’dia Webb

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