Welcome to the mountains of Virginia, seen page by page and year by year through the eyes of Ivy Rowe.
We’re talking about “Fair and Tender Ladies,” the 1988 novel by Virginia native Lee Smith, which was incorporated into a musical production at Montgomery’s Alabama Shakespeare Festival in 1998.
Starting Thursday, “Fair and Tender Ladies” are back on stage in the River Region, this time at Wetumpka Depot for a run through October 8.
“I hit the jackpot,” said Depot manager Kim Mason. “It’s been such an enjoyable experience so far, and I can’t wait for the public to see it.”
In Smith’s novel, Rowe keeps in touch with the outside world through a series of letters spanning more than 60 years (from 1912 to the mid-1970s), which draws readers deep into his home in the Virginia Appalachians.
“I had the privilege of seeing this production at ASF years ago and was looking for the right time to bring it to our stage,” said Depot Artistic Director Kristy Meanor.
Rowe’s iconic role is played by Adrian Bush, a veteran of ASF productions such as ‘Sherlock Holmes’, ‘Ruby’ and ‘Macbeth’. Greta Lambert, who played Rowe for ASF Productions, praised Bush as a talented actor.
“It’s the role of a lifetime. It really is,” Lambert said.
Bush will be joined by castmates Leanna Wallace and Sarah Housley, who have multiple roles.
“They’re going to be wonderful. I know they’re all fantastic actors,” Lambert said. “I can’t wait to see how this play inspires them.”
The five musicians on stage also intervene as characters.
“The script is actually written so that the musicians are like voices in the shadows, voices in (Rowe’s) memory,” Mason said. “In our mind, we see this person, and the musician gives his voice.”
Karren Pell, part of the original team of songwriters for the piece, has some personal connections to this new production. Her husband, Tim Henderson, is one of the Depot musicians.
“He plays mandolin, fiddle and guitar, and even has a few spoken lines,” said Pell, who worked closely with Depot’s musicians for this show, and told them how the songs came to be. created. Pell said she felt a little guilty because she “worked the snot out of them.”
Pell is also friends with the author of the novel “Fair and Tender Ladies”.
“(Smith) was so happy when I called and told him it was coming up again,” Pell said. “She loves Ivy. Ivy is one of her favorite heroines.
Pell praised the voice of the cast. “These three ladies, they are really something,” she said. “Their mix is special.”
Mason said she kept the stage decor sparse, with movable and versatile furniture.
“The trunk that (Rowe) uses and takes a lot of stuff out of is used for his desk and a place to sit,” Mason said.
Performances at The Depot, 300 South Main St., Wetumpka, are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. There is also a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on October 2. Tickets are $15 and are available online at wetmpkadepot.com or at the door.
When “Fair and Tender Ladies” begins on Thursday, it won’t be alone. It’s the opening night of four other theatrical productions in the area: “Nunsense” from the Pike Road Theater Company, “The Outsider” from Prattville’s Way Off Broadway Theatre, “Clue” from the Millbrook Community Players and the world premiere from Nora’s Playhouse “Ashes & Ink” production. ” at the Montgomery Sanctuary.
“I don’t know why this is happening,” Mason said. “The schedule is just crazy. It happens every year, but this year is particularly difficult.
On Friday, Pell and his writing partner Tommy Goldsmith will have a half-hour pre-show concert in the lobby of Wetumpka Depot.
“It’s going to be fun, and then we’re going to come in and watch the show,” Pell said.
After Sunday’s performance, Lambert will talk about how she developed Rowe as a character for ASF’s world premiere.
ASF and beyond: Creating a scenic world for the “Fair and Tender Ladies”
Smith’s novel was adapted for the stage by Eric Schmiedl and received music from Pell, Goldsmith and Tom House. Pell said it was their second commission, the first being “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner. The music for that one came together well, but they couldn’t get the rights to produce it.
“We liked this process so much that we were looking for something else,” Pell said.
Soon, “Fair and Tender Ladies” came looking for her. Nancy Anderson, a friend and professor of literature at Auburn Montgomery, gave her the novel. Anderson said she had a feeling about it. This feeling led Pell, House, and Goldsmith to write a series of songs and then perform them for Smith at Pell’s apartment.
“We took (Smith’s) prose and added our own whatever we had to do to measure it and rhyme it to make songs,” said Pell, who described working on the project as a profound and humbling honor. .
After performing the songs for Smith, the author gave them permission to work on an official stage adaptation of “Fair and Tender Ladies”.
“The recipe for music and words together just creates something that touches you so deeply,” Mason said. “I can’t even explain it. I am drawn to tears.
“Their music just reaches your soul,” said Lambert, whose family is from the Appalachian Mountains. “It was a great way to connect, really.”
The adaptation of the play was submitted to ASF’s Southern Writers Project for development, where the overall script and songs were reviewed and changed, and from there very quickly added to ASF’s 1998-99 season.
“It was career changing for all of us and a big blessing,” Pell said.
Lambert remembers Schmiedl’s first draft script at the SWP. “It was about a group of people being asked about a woman named Ivy Rowe,” she said. “We were all these different journalists. We finished reading the play and said, ‘Eric, where’s Ivy Rowe? That’s who the play should be about.
Schmiedl returned the following day with a script very close to that used in the actual production, Lambert said.
“When we heard it was going up (on stage), I was so surprised and so happy,” said Pell, who said the play led her to move to Montgomery. “I called Tommy Goldsmith. His comment says it all. Tommy said, “We live.”
It would premiere in ASF’s Octagonal Theater on November 13, 1998.
“It’s by far my favorite role I’ve ever played in my entire life,” said Lambert, who said she loved being Rowe even more than roles in Shakespeare’s plays.
A memorable scene in Lambert as Rowe stood with his arms outstretched, staring into the distance.
“That’s when she leaves her husband and kids to go with the honey man,” Lambert says. “They go into the mountains, and she can see for miles and miles and miles, mountain after mountain. She appropriates the world that is beyond her and that is part of her.
Surprisingly, Lambert had never sung on stage until this role. “I’m not a singer,” she said.
Lambert said Pell helped her prepare by giving her voice lessons.
“She definitely made it a signature role,” Pell said. “She certainly brought Ivy to life.”
Directed by Susan Willis, “Fair and Tender Ladies” was so successful that it was taken on tour in the South East during the 1999-2000 season, and returned for a short tour to ASF in late October 2000 .
Lambert remembers the bus ride during the tour. The small cast (3 musicians and 3 actors) had it all to themselves, so they had “heaps and heaps” of room. Part of this space was filled with items they picked up along the way.
“We would go to antique stores in every town we were in,” Lambert said.
The tour also stopped where Smith lived in North Carolina.
“She came into production, and it was a very magical night,” Lambert said.
He returned to the ASF program for the 2006-’07 season. This time it was on the biggest stage of the festival, although it was pushed back from June to July 2007 to make way for “Menopause the Musical”.
“Anyone who saw (Fair and Tender Ladies) still remembers it,” Mason said. “It was just something that I think was so moving, so wonderful, and touched so many people.”
Lambert reprized her role as Rowe, as did multi-role actors Kim Ders (Maudy, Beulah and Geneva) and Debra Funkhouser (Silvaney, Joli and Miss Torrington).
“I think it’s something that has become a part of people,” Mason said. “When you see a show that you absolutely love, it stays with you. You want to see them again. I think it’s one of those shows.
The full production “Fair and Tender Ladies” was revived twice in 2013: as a student production by the Wetumpka High School Theater Guild (starring Blair Caton as Rowe) and by the Red Door Theater in Union Springs.
In 2009 the novel “Fair and Tender Ladies” was again adapted, this time into a solo play “Ivy Rowe” by the Brundidge Historical Society for the “We Piddle Around Theatre”. It starred Barbara Bates Smith as Rowe. This production is still ongoing with the same actor, with a performance in June of this year at the Virginia Highlands Festival.
Montgomery Advertiser reporter Shannon Heupel covers things to do in the river area. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.