The Play-Goer: I Have a Dream

King’s words resound in drama and music this weekend

Josh Greenfield’s I Have a Dream musical recounts the rise of the civil rights movement through King’s writings, dramatizing them with 28 songs of struggle and victory.

      Fifty-five years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed “I have a dream!” from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the 50th anniversary year of King’s death, those rousing words will resound in Annapolis.

       Their repetition is an act of faith renewed by Herman LaVern Jones for 33 years. As artistic director of TheatreSouth, Jones has taken playwright Josh Greenfield’s I Have a Dream musical nationally and internationally to over 130 cities, now including our capital city.

    Greenfield, who would later become famous as writer of the screenplay for the Academy Award-winning man-and-cat movie Harry and Tonto, recounted the rise of the civil rights movement through King’s writings, dramatizing them with 28 songs of struggle and victory.

      I Have a Dream opened in 1976 at the Ambassador Theater on Broadway, starring Billy Dee Williams. When the play went on tour in 1983, Jones — fresh out of grad school — was asked by director Woodie King to join the cast.

      The one-year tour lasted 17 years.

     From his base in Homestead, Florida, Jones continues to bring the play, and King’s message, to new audiences.

      Jones’ original roster of six multi-cast actors now expands to include all available talent.

     “I never turn anybody down that wants to be in the show,” Jones says. “That’s my gift to the community. It gives me the chance to work with young, budding actors in a production that counts.”

     The Annapolis cast has 35 actors, five from Broadway along with professionals and amateurs from Florida — including high school interns — and Chesapeake Country. All the music is sung by the Glen Burnie Fresh Start Gospel Choir.

        The youngest player is local fifth grader Ariana Dillard, playing Yolanda King as well as acting as narrator in some scenes. Ariana’s mother, Jamela Dillard, was lured into her own role.

       “I brought her to the audition, and Herman looked over at me and said, come up and play something for me quickly. I went up and thought I was just reading and next thing you know, we’re both in the show,” Jamela Dillard explains.

       Coretta Scott King is played by Samantha Davis, a company member who is nearing completion of her undergraduate degree at Florida International University.

         “One of my biggest motivators,” Davis says, “is engaging young people. It teaches them about the movement, more about who Dr. King was, but not just him because it wasn’t just him. It teaches about all the other people who were behind him, around him, too.”  

       Jones and the troupe have partnered with local activist Carl Snowden and Marc Apter with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee to bring the play to Chesapeake Country audiences. The U.S. Naval Academy Gospel Choir will sing selections from the play at the 30th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner.

30th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner: Friday, January 12, La Fontaine Bleue, 7514 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie

I Have a Dream: Saturday, January 13, 7pm, St. John’s College Francis Scott Key Auditorium, 60 College Ave., Annapolis, $35 w/discounts: www.mlkjrmd.org.