Curtains Raise for Cherokee Musical “Nanyehi” at Hard Rock Live
TULSA – âNanyehi – The Story of Nancy Ward,â the Cherokee musical co-written by Bartlesville native Becky Hobbs returns to Tulsa on October 29-30 for performances at Hard Rock Live at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
The two-act musical tells the story of Nanyehi (1738-1822) who is revered as one of the most influential women in the history of the Cherokee Nation. Nanyehi, who took the name Nancy Ward later in her life, was born in Chota, a Cherokee town in what is now eastern Tennessee. She was respected both as a warrior in the campaign against the Creek Nation and as a peacemaker during the American Revolution. As a beloved Cherokee woman, she headed the Women’s Council and was the only woman with a vote and a seat on the Cherokee General Council.
New York actress Michelle Honaker will reprise the title role from Nanyehi. While Nanyehi was working for peace with the British settlers, his cousin Dragging Canoe, who will be played by Travis Fite, a native of Tahlequah and a musician from Tulsa, wanted to drive them away.
âI mean we can’t find anyone else to fill their moccasins,â music director Becky Hobbs told EE. âDragging Canoe was supposed to be very tall, almost 7 feet. Travis is up there, at least probably 6’5 “and he just comes out and rocks him.”
Hobbs, who co-wrote the musical with director Nick Sweet, said they had a lot of great singers with many in the cast hailing from Muskogee, including Andy Sanchez, who plays chef Attakullakulla, Nanyehi’s uncle. . The chief’s belief that the Cherokee’s best chance for survival was to coexist peacefully with the settlers would have strongly influenced Nanyehi.
And this year’s special guest is Winnie Guess Perdue, a Cherokee citizen and direct descendant of Sequoyah, who will play Elder Nanyehi. Perdue starred in the short film “Nanyehi” as well as a supporting role in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon”.
With storytelling being one of the cornerstones of Indigenous culture, Perdue said she was grateful for the opportunity to help tell Nanyehi’s story and her message of peace.
âHis strength, wisdom and resilience are still relevant lessons for us today,â said Perdue.
Hobbs said Perdue broke the glass ceiling years ago as a fantasy dancer, which was once unacceptable to women. She even performed on the Ed Sullivan stage.
Hobbs, herself, is a Nashville-based recording artist / performer, originally from Bartlesville and Citizen Cherokee as well as Nancy Ward’s 5th great-granddaughter. Alabama, George Jones, Glen Campbell, Emmylou Harris and many other great bands have recorded Hobbs songs, but she considers “Nanyehi” to be the greatest thrill of her life.
âI was motivated by something much bigger than me to tell this story,â Hobbs said. âI prayed a lot to follow his wishes in telling his story. His story is very important in today’s world because we have to stop killing each other, we all share the same planet.
Hobbs said his mother told him about Nanyehi’s stories – how she joined her husband Kingfisher at the Battle of Taliwa in 1755 and how she would chew on his lead bullets to make them deadlier. When Kingfisher was killed, Nanyehi took his rifle and led the Cherokees to victory and was honored as a “woman of war”.
Nanyehi is a powerful example of female leadership in an era of white male domination, while Matrilineal Cherokee society at the time allowed women to vote and hold public office. She believed that women on both sides played a vital role in ending the fighting between the Indigenous people and the white settlers.
She told the US treaty commissioners in a speech, âLet the sons of your wives be ours; our sons are yours. Let your women hear our words.
Hobbs said no one knows more about the history of Nancy Ward and Cherokee than David Hampton, president of the Nancy Ward Descendants Association. Through his research, Hampton discovered that many of the cast members are related to Nancy Ward.
âHe’s our go-to for everything about Cherokee,â Hobbs said. âAnd he comes to our rehearsal every night. ”
Writing songs for “Nanyehi” became easy for Hobbs who planned to produce a tribute album in 1993. “Pale Moon”, “Let There Be Peace” and “By the Fire” were born out of this effort before she did. put aside to keep with his country music career. But in 2007, after performing in her hometown of Bartlesville during Oklahoma’s centennial celebration, she met Nick Sweet. Having directed and starred in the Trail of Tears production in Tahlequah, he knew who Nancy Ward was, which came as a sweet surprise to Hobbs.
âI just looked at it and I said ‘We should write a musical’ and a year later we got on with it,â Hobbs said.
The musical is backed by a live orchestra that features five stellar musicians from Tulsa with Hobbs as first keys and her husband and guitarist Duane Sciacqua, who played with Glenn Frey of the Eagles on the road for 16 years, as conductor. orchestra. Sciacqua will create the wild sounds of an ethereal flute on a synthesized guitar.
Although Nancy Ward passed away before the heartache and trauma that accompanied the Trail of Tears in 1838, Hobbs said she saw it coming as the final act of the musical. In 1817, at nearly 80, she sent her son to read a statement to the National Council imploring them to keep what remained of the Cherokee lands. They had done enough, Hobbs said. They were ready to share their land but not to cede it.
Hobbs said the musical honors historic events in Nancy Ward’s life and that they tried to keep them as close to the period as possible. But there are also lighter moments with a bit of romance, a game of stickball, songs of peace and war.
âIt’s not just a history lesson, it’s entertainment too,â Hobbs said.
Cherokee words flow through the songs and the script; âStickball Songâ is all about Cherokee. Executive producer David Webb said many of those who attend âNanyehiâ productions speak Cherokee so actors understand the importance of getting it right.
âPeople in the audience know Cherokee better than many of our actors,â he said.
The performance at Hard Rock Live will be the 11th production of “Nanyehi”. It has been presented six times in Oklahoma, twice in Tennessee with unique shows in Georgia and Texas. Although the musical could be seen as a requirement for Cherokee citizens, Hobbs is quick to add that it is meaningful not only to Cherokees but to all Americans, and fascinates people around the world.
âWe want to take this musical to the world stage,â she said.
Tickets are on sale now. The cost is $ 15 and $ 10 for citizens of the Cherokee Nation and children 12 and under. Call the box office at 918-384-ROCK or go to the entertainment section at hardrockcasinotulsa.com.