The life of Frederick Douglass takes center stage in “American Prophet: Frederick Douglass In His Own Words,” a new musical about the abolitionist that will premiere August 15 at Arena Stage.
The musical, written by Marcus Hummon and Charles Randolph-Wright, focuses on Douglass’ origin, journey and wife, Anna. It features words from his speeches by him and an original score.
“It’s Frederick Douglass. So to be able to play such a character who is really part of the fabric of American history, it’s really been a joy and an honor,” said Cornelius Smith Jr., who stars as Frederick Douglass.
Smith said the play alters expectations by focusing on Douglass’ early life and career.
“We’re actually focused on right when he was this young man really in this pivotal point of discovering and unearthing who we know him as today, this great kind of prophet, this great abolitionist, this great leader and fighter for freedom,” Smith said.
“I just think that it’s really powerful that his presence and his work has words still live and resonate with us individually and throughout culture and society,” Smith added.
“American Prophet” also tells the story of Anna Douglass, Frederick Douglass’ first wife, who played a pivotal role in his life. It’s a story audience members may not have known.
“I think it’s a beautiful thing about theater and just entertaining is when you can have the best of both worlds, where you can go and be entertained, but also actually learn something that you didn’t know,” Smith said.
“American Prophet” is playing at Arena Stage through August 28.