Lady Liberty’s Brush with Deportation

Actors performed a staged reading of Liberty: A Monumental New Musical. Left to right: Chelsea Stock, Vincent McCoy, Jennifer Butt (Photo by Antonia Massa)

Actors performed a staged reading of “Liberty: A Monumental New Musical.” Left to right: Chelsea Stock, Vincent McCoy, Jennifer Butt (Photo by Antonia Massa/Voices of NY)

A new musical is tackling the weighty subject of American immigration – and the Statue of Liberty plays much more than a symbolic role in it.

“Liberty: A Monumental New Musical,” an upbeat retelling of the statue’s forgotten history, features Lady Liberty as a living, breathing, singing (even belting) character.

Two staged readings of the show were performed on April 3, to audiences that included potential investors and educators.

Playwright Dana Leslie Goldstein said that Liberty came about as she was trying to write a historical stage play about 19th century poet Emma Lazarus, author of “The New Colossus,” the sonnet immortalized at the base of the Statue of Liberty. As Goldstein learned more about Lazarus and Ellis Island, she began to imagine Lady Liberty in a role of her own.

“The idea of having the statue be a walking, talking person was really what made the whole thing come alive,” said Goldstein.

Like some of the immigrants the monument came to represent, the Statue of Liberty met with a frosty reception when it arrived in New York Harbor in 1885. The U.S. had agreed to finance a pedestal for the statue, created as a symbol of Franco-American friendship and shared democratic ideals. But the U.S. was reluctant to hold up its end of the bargain. Critics even insisted it be sent back to France.

Regina Schuyler and Francis A. Walker criticize the Statue of Liberty in "The Charity Tango" (Jennifer Butt, Bif Carrington). (Photo by Antonia Massa)

Regina Schuyler and Francis A. Walker criticize the Statue of Liberty in “The Charity Tango” (Jennifer Butt, Bif Carrington). (Photo by Antonia Massa/Voices of NY)

In the show, Liberty struggles for acceptance in the United States alongside a diverse group of immigrant characters.

Theresa Wozunk, the show’s producer, said that the show immediately struck a chord with her when she first saw a shorter version of it called “Lady of Copper” in 2006.

“I fell completely in love with this particular show,” said Wozunk. “I just felt that it was so important and timely.”

Wozunk said the play reminded her of the struggle of her own grandfather, an Italian immigrant who taught himself English by reading the newspaper. The show, she said, reaches many different kinds of people, from tourists visiting the city for the first time to lifelong New Yorkers and immigrant families.

In one musical numbers, two immigrants (Suzanne Grodner, C. Mingo Long) compete over who was worse off back home.

In one musical numbers, two immigrants (Suzanne Grodner, Sean Jenness) compete over who was worse off back home. (Photo by Antonia Massa/Voices of NY)

But finding financing has been a struggle. Wozunk is still seeking funds to mount the show in an Off Broadway theater. By cutting significant costs – doing shows during the day instead of the evening, sharing a theater, vying for venues beyond plum Midtown locations – Wozunk estimates Liberty will need to raise $100,000 for its initial run in the fall.

“It’s very hard to get anyone to pay for new work, period – especially for a piece with political and historical content,” she said. “But ‘Les Miz’ is similar and has been a huge success. This is a similar tone of show, and it’s about something that’s at the heart of our country,” said Wozunk.

Readings and presentations of Liberty have already been done in venues around New York and Washington, D.C., and a full production was performed in summer 2012 at the Warner Theatre in Connecticut.

What’s on the horizon for Liberty? Wozunk dreams of providing audience members with translation units similar to those at the Metropolitan Opera, which would offer real-time translations of the musical in 10 different languages.

“This is not just for the tourist component of New York,” said Wozunk. “It’s for locals, too.”

 For more information on “Liberty: A Monumental New Musical,” visit libertythemusical.com

Antonia Massa is a student at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter

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