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Kingsport to stage reading for fall production of 'Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of the Cherokee'

July 9th, 2014 5:30 pm by Katherine Scoggins

Kingsport to stage reading for fall production of 'Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of the Cherokee'

The City of Kingsport's Office of Cultural Arts and the Kingsport Theatre Guild will present the musical "Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of the Cherokee" in its Tennessee debut in mid-October at the Renaissance Center Theater.

A public staged reading will take place at the Allandale Mansion Amphitheatre at 7:30 p.m., July 10. Admission for the staged reading is free.

"Hobbs' and Sweet's interpretive story of Nanyehi is a world-class musical production. As one of her descendants, the story of Nancy Ward is both inspirational and deeply personal to me. The stirring compositions, riveting dialogue and modern choreography make this a must-see piece of musical theater. Cherokee Nation history enthusiasts and theater fans will be mesmerized by Becky's wonderful creation," said Bill John Baker, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief.

"Nanyehi" is a two-act musical by Grammy Award nominated songwriter Becky Hobbs and co-playwright Nick Sweet, based on the life of Becky's fifth-great grandmother, Nancy Ward, who was first honored as a Cherokee warrior, then as a peacemaker in the 1700s. She was first named Nanyehi, which means "she who walks among the spirit people," and later known as Nancy Ward. She was born around 1738, in Chota, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, in the area that is now eastern Tennessee. On the day she was born, a white wolf appeared on the horizon. This was very significant to the Cherokee people, as the color white symbolized peace and Nanyehi was born into the Wolf clan, one of the most prominent of the seven Cherokee clans.

"That Nanyehi could be such a strong woman back then when women weren't considered important, just shows that in the Indian culture they were," Hobbs said.

"I am thrilled to have a production of our musical on the very ground where Nancy Ward gave her most famous speech: 'our cry is all for peace!'" Hobbs said of the reading and production in Kingsport.

Hobbs hopes to inspire and make a difference with people after they watch the production. She came up with the idea of telling Ward's story via a musical after writing some of the music now in the production as far back as the 1990s. It was after meeting Nick Sweet, who directed the Cherokee Heritage Center's "Trail of Tears" drama, that the musical "Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of the Cherokee" was set into motion. Today, the production contains 17 songs and was awarded a grant from the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in 2010.

Cherokee Nation citizen Jenna Stocks choreographed the dances for the production. "The music is really contemporary and they use contemporary instruments, so the dancing is more contemporary and less traditional," Stocks says. "It's a very meaningful play, especially to the Cherokee Nation, because Nanyehi was a strong leader. I think it's very touching."

Highlights from the musical include the Battle of Taliwa; a Cherokee marriage ceremony; a stickball game; and Ward saving the life of a white settler. The production also includes several dance numbers and songs including "Song of the Nunnchin" (Spirit People), "Pass the Whiskey," "This Land Is Not Our Land" and "There Will Be Blood."

Hobbs is best known for writing "Angels Among Us," which was recorded by Alabama, as well as writing and recording her hits "Jones on the Jukebox" and "Honky Tonk Saturday Nights." Her co-writer, Sweet, is a freelance stage director who has directed more than 100 productions, including the historical drama "Trail of Tears" in 2002.

For the Kingsport performances of "Nanyehi," Tina Radtke will serve as stage director, with Hobbs as musical director.

Following the staged reading at Allandale on July 10, auditions for the full production will take place the next day (July 11) from 10 a.m. to 12 noon and from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Renaissance Center Theater. The cast calls for 37 actors and singers, and includes adult men and women, a girl, a teenaged male and a boy. The cast list will be posted on July 16 with rehearsals set to begin the last week of July, three evenings per week. Tech rehearsals begin the last week of September. Performance dates are Oct. 10-12 and Oct. 17-18.

For more information, contact Tina Radtke, Executive Director, Kingsport Theatre Guild, at 423-392-8427 or email KingsportTheatreGuild@gmail.com.

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