Spirited Hands Productions Presents New Musical Visionary Man

Jul 27, 2014
Visionary Man

The language of the Holy Spirit... direct from God? Spirited Hands Productions presents a new American musical based on the fascinating true story of visionary artist J.B. Murray. The world premiere of Visionary Man opens tonight, July 26 at the Hudson Mainstage in Hollywood.

Adapted from the book "In the Hand of the Holy Spirit: the Visionary Art of J.B. Murray" (winner, Georgia Author of the Year Award) by visual artist Mary Padgelek, Visionary Man features music and lyrics by Padgelek, who also co-wrote the musical's book with director Tom Coleman. Musical arrangements are by Teresa Ruiz and Bryan Shaw, musical director is Jeff Bonhiver, and choreography is by Ali North.

Murray, an illiterate African American farm worker living in a shack in rural Georgia without water or electricity, had the first of what he called his "visions from the Holy Spirit" at age 70. Over a period of 10 years, Murray's vision-inspired paintings and non-semantic script, initially on scraps of writing paper, envelopes, adding machine tape, poster board, wood paneling, old stove tops and televisions picture tubes, and eventually on archival art paper, would capture the imagination - and the wrath - of his family, friends and neighbors. Today, his work is recognized and sought after by an international community of museums, galleries and collectors. A brilliant colorist who wrote and painted obsessively, Murray's prolific output resembles a kind of vernacular version of illuminated manuscripts.

"I've always seen such beauty in his story," says Padgelek. "It is a story of mystery. A story of hope. Most of all, it is a story of one person following his call with persistence, courage and faith. From my first introduction to the strange art of J.B. Murray in 1993, I believed his passion and vision made his story 'sing and dance.' The mystery and power of his story need more than mere words. I could imagine a string of songs led by ecstatic dancing to a finale of choral explosion."

Born in Mitchell, Georgia in 1908, John Bunion Murray spent much of his life as a farm worker in rural Glascock County, where he raised eleven children with his wife Cleo Kitchens. A deeply religious man, he could neither read nor write and exhibited no artistic aspirations until he experienced a transformative spiritual vision as he watered his potatoes one evening. Believing that God had charged him with an evangelical mission, Murray became a scribe in the service of the Lord, creating and proliferating a vast body of drawings and paintings he referred to as "the message of the Holy Spirit direct from God." These cryptic works feature a visually dense writing system indecipherable to most viewers - the artist himself was only able to translate the texts by peering through a bottle of "holy water."

Noted jazz singer Jimmer Bolden (theater includes Candide at San Diego Lyric Opera, CATS at Cabrillo Music Theatre and Ragtime, the Musical at Cabrillo Music Theatre and Musical Theatre West) takes on the title role in Visionary Man. Yorke G. Fryer (Fenton in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Feste in Twelfth Night, Utah Shakespeare Festival; Odysseus in Homer's The Odyssey, Will and Company) portrays Murray's politically ambitious son, Samuel, who seeks to have his father committed to a mental institution. Chante Carmel (Joanne in National Tour of Rent, Michelle Morris in Dreamgirls at San Diego Rep) and Ovation Award-winner Jacquelin Schofield (The Color Purple at Celebration Theatre) alternate in the role of Murray's daughter Sara. Will North (male vocalist opposite Alexis Gershwin in Long Ago and Far Away at the Catalina Jazz Club, My Fair Lady with Jonathan Pryce, Michael York, Cloris Leachman, and Gregory Jbara at Santa Barbara's Granada Theatre) plays Dr. William Rawlings, Jr. the young white doctor who becomes Murray's friend and eventually brings his work to the attention of the art world. Ernest Williams (Show Boat in London's West End and first National Tour at the Ahmanson) is Murray's spiritual counselor, Reverend Crawford; Caitlin Gallogly (The Women at Theatre West, The Belle of Belfast at EST/LA) and Joshua Leduc (recent graduate, AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts) are Anne Hanes and Paul Nelson, professors of art at the nearby university in Atlanta; and Sequoia Houston (Coney Island Christmas at the Geffen, directed by Bart DeLorenzo), Stephanie Martin (two-time winner on the syndicated series The Big Break, hosted by Natalie Cole) and Courtney Turner (vocalist with the reggae/rock band Gingermaker) play neighborhood gossips Juanita, Rhetha Mae and Mamie.

Set and lighting design for Visionary Man are by William Cleckler; costume design is by Helen Butler (Boardwalk Empire, Once Upon A Time In America, My One and Only, Emmy nominated for Queen); graphic design is by Olivia Weissblum; production stage manager is Susan K. Coulter; associate producer is Will North; and David Weiher produces for Spirited Hands Productions.

Author/playwright Mary Padgelek holds a Ph.D. in art from the University of Georgia, where she has taught in the Lamar Dodd School of Art. Her own art has been shown in galleries and exhibits throughout the South. She lives in Athens, Georgia.

Tom Coleman III, a native of Savannah, Georgia, has produced and directed more than 250 shows including Blood Brothers; The Last Five Years; Big River; Brighton Beach Memoirs; and Promises, Promises. He has worked with Tony-nominated actress Isabelle Keating, Blue Man Group co-founder and actor Phillip Stanton, Broadway performers Tituss Burgess, Ernest Williams and Michael Harris, novelist Chris Fuhrman (The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys) and Emmy-nominated and Broadway costume designer Helen Butler, to name a few. A graduate of the University of Georgia, he has served on the board of the Georgia Council for the Arts and the Southeastern Theatre Conference. Tom is currently developing a new musical based on the life of Johnny Mercer.

Visionary Man opens on July 26 and continues on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m through Aug. 31. There will be two preview performances, on Thursday, July 24 and Friday, July 25, both at 8 p.m. General admission is $28. Student price (with valid ID) and previews are $15. The Hudson Mainstage is located at 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038. For information and to purchase tickets, call (323) 960-7787 or go to www.plays411.com/visionary.