Review of the musical "Stephen Foster-The Musical": Performed at the J. Dan Talbott Amphitheatre My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Bardstown, Kentucky. Directed by Rick Dildine. Script and Composition by Paul Green and Jonathan Bolt


Review: Essay Stephen Foster The Musical Performed at the J. Dan Talbott Amphitheatre My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Bardstown, Kentucky. Directed by Rick Dildine. Script and Composition by Paul Green and Jonathan Bolt. he changing color of leaves and the retreat of evening cicadas are not the only signs of the end of summer in Bardstown, Kentucky. In the last days of August, the players of the outdoor drama, Stephen Foster The Musical, retire from their bright stage at My Old Kentucky Home State Park and leave the amphitheatre to the cool autumn nights. Now having finished its forty-seventh season since debuting in 1959,Stephen Foster The Musical has become a summer institution in Bardstown as familiar as its old brick homes and the Nelson County Fair. The outdoor musical is also important for the people of Kentucky. The state legislature adopted Stephen Foster's " My Old Kentucky Home" as its official song in 1928; three years ago, in 2002, it designated Stephen Poster The Musical as the official state outdoor musical. Originally authored by the Pulitzer Prizewinning playwright Paul Green in the mid-twentieth century, the drama is a colorful celebration of the music and youth of one of the most popular songwriters of the nineteenth century. The play appeals as strongly to local tradition as to state heritage ( and thus identity); for both reasons, it is an enduring cultural icon. As a drama, Stephen Foster The Musical is a pageant of color and sound displaying all the creativity and energy evident in the music of Stephen C. Foster, by most estimations the most well known American composer in the nineteenth century. As a work of history, the story is only partially complete . For while the musical incorporates excerpts from Stephen Foster's compositions and describes a young Stephen Foster recognizable to historians, the play offers very little to explain the remarkable success of his enduring music. To tell a more complete story, the drama would need better to remind us of the powerful forces that shaped Stephen Foster and the America of the mid-nineteenth century: a land of rapid immigration, violent westward expansion, technological innovation, mocking blackface music, slavery, and sectional conflict. Like all popular phenomena, Stephen Foster's music was a product of the era even as it influenced American people and culture. To tell fully the story of Stephen Foster and his music, the outdoor drama should better introduce the audience to the complicated age in which the composer knew such success. The musical is written in two acts. The first act opens on the streets of Pittsburgh in 1849. There the audience is introduced to Stephen Foster as a young romantic a provincial artist enraptured with music and with Jane McDowell, the daughter of a respected town doctor. Dr. and Mrs. McDowell disapprove of Foster's courtship of their daughter because of the young man's poor financial prospects . The young Stephen Foster's determination to prove himself as a composer and thus win the hand of Jane McDowell serves as the central theme of the play. Foster's friends now encourage his pursuit of fame and love. In the second scene, set on the Foster front porch, the audience is introduced to Lievy Pise, the family's black house servant. Speaking in a heavily accented imitation of slave dialect, Lievy consoles Foster and attempts to cheer him as he OHIO VALLEY HISTORY 74 pines for his forbidden love. The audience is also introduced to Stephen Foster's rowdy collection of neighborhood friends, who support Foster by promoting his music and conspiring with him to win the heart of Jane McDowell. With the support of his group of male friends, Foster composes Oh! Susanna "for the groundbreaking ceremony of a local factory. The ensemble gathers for a stirring choreographed rendition of the song and afterwards, Foster begins his courtship of Jane McDowell in earnest.


History and Political Science

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

1544-4058; 2377-0600

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Article - Journal

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© 2005 The Filson Historical Society and Cincinnati Museum Center, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jan 2005