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Triad Stage performs 10th anniversary production of Beautiful Star: An Appalachian Nativity

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One of the most repeated stories in history is that of the birth of Jesus. The Biblical nativity story traditionally depicts the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph seeking shelter for the night, and the tale of the Three Wise Men who follow the North Star with their gifts. But what about what happened before the birth of Christ? And where does a banjo fit in? Answering these questions is Triad Stage with an anniversary production of its Beautiful Star: An Appalachian Nativity.

The light-hearted, country production highlights the fictitious Open Heart Community Fellowship and the congregation’s down-home telling of the nativity story. Using toe-tapping folk music, they spin a holiday tale that starts where it all began: Genesis.

This year will be the 10th anniversary of its creation.

“It is a wonderful thing to live with a play for 10 years,” said Preston Lane, playwright and Triad Stage artistic director, “to come to know it not only as I did when I wrote it or when I first directed it, but to see it with fresh eyes because of the artists who have invested their time and talents to bring it to life each December and because of the audiences who respond to it with such enjoyment.”

Lane says that the play has a long history—even longer than its 10 years of life—and its origin is rooted in many things. It began when he was a graduate student at Yale University and received a grant from the Fox Fellowship to research and create an adaptation of the Medieval English Mystery Cycles, a community-based drama that told the story of the Bible from Creation to Judgment Day.

The concept for the play was also inspired by Lane’s family, which is based in the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee. “My Aunt Shirley wrote and had the family preform in the basement of her home for several years,” Lane said. “I’ve always been fascinated by self-taught artists who make art to glorify, to explore, to praise. The idea of that art being theater is what I was trying to get to in Beautiful Star.”

Once the play was fully conceptualized, it was developed into a full-length play titled Wondrous Love. “It had traditional religious music in the play, so I always knew I wanted a musical element,” Lane said. “The idea of taking the first half of Wondrous Love and turning it into Beautiful Star came about because of the great collaboration I found with Laurelyn (Dossett) on Brother Wolf.”

Local musician Laurelyn Dossett has collaborated with Lane on several productions, including writing the musical score for his Appalachian nativity story.

“Laurelyn’s music is the soul of the play,” Lane said. “In the original production it served as a kind of narrative force for the story. I think that is very much true in this year’s production.”

In honor of it’s 10th anniversary, for the first time ever, Dossett will be performing with the band on stage. “Having Laurelyn in the band has given us the strong central voice that ties the stories together,” Lane said. “She’s joined by two fabulous musicians to become a kind of community observer that calls us to worship and to wonder.”

Dossett, composer and music director, says that part of the reason they added her to the band on stage was to refresh the production for its anniversary.

“I knew that I would be bringing Eric Robertson back to be in the band; he was in the original production in 2006,” she said. “Gailanne Amundsen was in the band for Radiunt Abundunt. So this is a homecoming for all of us, completing an historical musical circle.”

The music that complements Lane’s moving story is best described as “Appalachian-sounding,” simply put by Dossett. “But there is not just one way to sound Appalachian,” she added. “The instrumentation is out of the bluegrass and old-time tradition, but the band has a somewhat modern and chordally sophisticated take on that music. So it is both grounded in the past and very much of the present.”

Together, the lyrics, on-stage string instruments and energetic storyline create a heart-warming, mind-opening and magical performance.

“Laurelyn and I don’t really write musicals,” Lane said. “I think we’re inventing our own form of theater in which music and acting can exist in a unique way.”

Wanna go? Triad Stage performs Beautiful Star: An Appalachian Nativity Nov. 25-Dec. 24 at The Pyrle Theatre, 232 S. Elm St., Greensboro. Tickets are $10-$42. For tickets and more information call 336-272-0160 or visit triadstage.org.

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