The cast for the upcoming production of “Blackbeard’s Ghost and the Queen Anne’s Revenge” has been announced by the show’s director, Peter Savage, visiting assistant professor of acting in Western Carolina University’s School of Stage and Screen.
The eighth show in a series of “academic-based entertainment” productions mounted in collaboration with three departments and two colleges at WCU, “Blackbeard’s Ghost” will be presented under the leadership of Savage, music director Bruce Frazier, and writer and producer Don Connelly.
The radio show is set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 17, in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $10 and proceeds will be used to fund scholarships in participating academic departments. The shows have raised nearly $40,000 for student scholarships over the years.
Each of the shows in the series hearkens back to the “golden age of radio,” featuring a live orchestra and sound effects and produced only once before a live audience in the Bardo Arts Center. The production group has won seven national broadcasting awards for its unique projects. The upcoming production will be recorded for future radio broadcast.
Actors in the show include WCU students, staff and faculty along with members of the community. “We had a large and very talented group of people audition, and some of the decisions were difficult when it came time to make final casting choices,” Savage said. Cast in the role of 94-year-old great-grandpa Robert Martin, who tells the mysterious tale of Blackbeard’s ghost, is David Redman of Sylva.
David Evanoff, a WCU nanomaterials chemist and head of the Department of Chemistry and Physics, will portray Blackbeard. Evanoff has worked with the group before, with roles in “Dracula,” “Tarzan of the Apes” and “Robin Hood.”
Howard Allman of Sylva, a WCU alumnus, will play the role of Ed, an elderly and very cantankerous beach bum who spends most of his time fishing on the beach at Nags Head. Allman was previously in the “Tarzan” production.
Dustin Whitehead, assistant professor of acting in the School of Stage and Screen, will portray Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Paul Midgett, the officer in charge of the Nags Head Coast Guard Station.
WCU student Jennifer Soulier was cast in the role of Dot, a waitress at Sambo Tillets’ Restaurant at Nags Head (the present day Sam and Omies Restaurant) who takes a liking to Coast Guard Seaman Robbie Martin, played by R.J. Thompson, another WCU student.
Other student cast members include Holly Record as the Apparition; Jennifer Soulier as the Sea Breeze receptionist; Jacob Luck as young Robbie Martin; Matt Howie as the Coast Guard boot camp company commander; Cody Shanabarger as the Coast Guard company commander at Hilton Head Island; Jimmy Kurts as Army Master Sergeant Warren Kennedy; and Cameron Someliana-Lauer as Charles Harry Whedbee. Several of the cast members also play smaller secondary roles, which was quite common in the early days of radio.
The story written by Connelly, head of WCU’s Department of Communication, takes place during the early part of World War II and is based on events that occurred just off Nags Head in an area of the ocean known as “Torpedo Junction.” Nearly 400 ships were sunk and some 5,000 people lost their lives to Nazi U-boats before the attacks suddenly stopped. The Coast Guard played a pivotal role in defending the coastline during the war. “I was honored to speak with a 94-year-old former member of the Coast Guard who was stationed at Nags Head during WW II to get details for the story,” Connelly said. Many of the people and all of the locations used in the script are real, he said.
In addition to Connelly obtaining eyewitness accounts, the Coast Guard historian’s office in Washington, D.C., provided him a previously classified Coast Guard document “that shed a lot of light on the story,” he said. As to why the U-Boat attacks suddenly stopped, “I’m still not talking,” said Connelly.
Composer and music director Bruce Frazier, WCU’s Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music, created an all-original musical score for the show. The tones and colors of the music will highlight the shifting emotions of the drama, ranging from swashbuckling adventure to tender romance, eerie late-night visitations, military flourish and maritime battle, Frazier said.
The WCU Artist-In-Residence Orchestra, conducted by Frazier, will provide musical accompaniment for the program. The ensemble represents a partnership involving WCU and the Asheville Symphony Orchestra in which WCU students play alongside professionals in a collaborative orchestral experience.
The opening of the program before the broadcast will feature symphonic masterworks played by the orchestra including Hector Berlioz’s grand overture to “The Corsairs,” with its swirling strings and pulsating brass underscoring the escapades of those masters of ships and the sea, and Ralph Vaughn Williams’ “Sea Songs.” Through special arrangement with the Walt Disney Co., the program will lead into the radio show with a medley from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Those works will showcase the virtuosity of the ASO strings and the excellent artistic abilities of WCU music students, Frazier said.
Funding for “Blackbeard’s Ghost and the Queen Anne’s Revenge” is courtesy of the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Fine and Performing Arts, the Department of Communication, the School of Music, School of Stage and Screen, and the Carol Grotnes Belk Endowment.
Tickets are available at the Bardo Arts Center – bardoartscenter.wcu.edu or 828-227-2479. The March 17 show starts promptly at 7:30 p.m. and no one will be admitted after it has started.
For more information, contact Don Connelly at 828-227-3851.