Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, August 7, 2014
Original musical about the Deer Isle-Sedgwick Bridge to premiere at Opera House
Marvin Merritt, left, a junior at George Stevens Academy; Jason Martin, center, a four octave tenor from New York City; and Chris Candage, a tenor from East Blue Hill, rehearse as a group of New York Yacht Club members opposed to the building of the Deer Isle-Sedgwick Bridge.
by Jessica Brophy
Those who heard the song “No Skunks!” belted out during the Fourth of July parade will finally have the opportunity to see the full original musical about the Deer Isle-Sedgwick Bridge.
The show The Last Ferryman will run August 14 through August 24. The show is an Opera House Arts commissioned popera, with music and lyrics by Grammy Award-winning pianist Paul Sullivan of Brooklin.
The popera tells the story—through song and dialogue—of the construction of the bridge, primarily through the eyes of Charlie Scott, a character based on a real person in Island history. Scott was the last ferryman in a line of Scotts that ran the ferry between the island and the mainland for more than 100 years.
The idea for the musical, which is directed by OHA’s founding director Judith Jerome, came out of a visit from a San Franciscan musician, who mentioned a community musical project that produced a symphony to celebrate the Golden Gate Bridge.
“I thought, ‘why don’t we do that here?’” said OHA founding director Linda Nelson. OHA has done similar community-based projects in the past, such as Quarryography and Burt Dow: Deep Water Man.
Nelson recalls a conversation with Connie Wiberg, a volunteer with the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society. Wiberg’s great-grandfather was Charlie Scott. “She said, he hated that bridge,” said Nelson. That sparked the idea to focus on Scott as a character, as someone witnessing a major cultural change for the island.
“Theatre is transformational,” said Nelson. “It reflects community stories and explores community changes.”
The idea of a popera—telling a story through song—was first introduced to OHA through Burt Dow. “It’s the idea of opera not necessarily as a high art,” said Jerome. “There’s a lot of dialogue as well as song, and it’s all in popular vernacular and is accessible.”
Sources of information for the production include a book and research by Linda Britt of University of Maine Farmington, research by the historical society and other community members, and oral histories collected by students as part of a yearlong educational project at Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School. The research brought to life portraits of key historic island figures like the Scott family, and the McGuire family, former Bridge District treasurer Raymond Small, Ralph Barter, Lewis Tewskbury, Dr. B. Lake Noyes and other members of the Stonington Lions Club.
“It’s overwhelming,” said local actor Suzy Shepard, who has a minor role in the popera. “We have learned so much about the bridge, about the people. I never thought about the engineer of the bridge, or how long it was or how tall.”
Shepard said she found the music “entirely incredible” and very catchy. “I don’t know how a man so well-known as [Paul Sullivan] could capture island life in a song so perfectly,” she said.
While a lot of the story is based on fact, there are elements that are fiction, including a character named Lucia. Lucia represents many of the island women’s efforts to see the bridge built, particularly after a child has appendicitis and is unable to be rushed to the hospital.
The production features four Actors Equity opera singers based in Boston and New York City and other local and nonlocal actors.
“It’s historical and hysterical,” said Shepard. She said there’s a particular scene with a group of men that many locals will find particularly funny. “It’s what we used to call the ‘New York Snot Club,’” said Shepard.
“This is a show not to miss,” she continued.
The show runs August 14-17 and August 21-24. For show times, to purchase tickets or for more information visit operahousearts.com.