Henry Box Brown, the acclaimed musical inspired by the true story of an escaped 1850s slave, is returning to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Performed by a superb cast of New York Gospel singers and Broadway actors it was described by The Times as “compelling … bold … wonderfully written and portrayed” and as “an inspiring tale” on BBC1’s Sunday Morning Live.
This emotional musical journey follows the story of a young man’s bid for freedom, transported across America by train and boat while nailed inside a box just 3fy by 2ft, after his children and pregnant wife were sold by the slave owner.
Many of the themes are highly resonant today – oppressed people forced into exile by brutal regimes, the destruction of families when parents and children are forcibly separated. But it is equally about the triumph of the human spirit – and the discovery of decency and kindness in the most unexpected places.
Last year’s Fringe performance earned a string of excellent reviews ★★★★ Fringe Review, ★★★★ The List, ★★★★ Broadway Baby ★★★★ Broadway World plus a nomination for Best Musical from Musical Theatre Review.
The show has been updated with new music and choreography and will feature live African drumming. Appearing at The Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose – Big Yin, Henry Box Brown is a compelling and crowd pleasing fusion of Gospel, R&B, blue grass, traditional and original negro spirituals.
Mehr Mansuri, the show’s writer (whoherselfescaped her native Iran due to the regime’s persecution of the Baha’i religious community),said:“Henry’s story truly resonates today – a father thrown into despair and exile after the brutal separation of his family by the greedy and the powerful.
“But it’s also about just how profound Henry’s faith was in the face of evil, maintaining his belief in the simple goodness of people and the human capacity to make great sacrifices for others. It is Les Miserables set in the American south.
“And it’s also that very rare thing – a musical with an African American hero.”
Brown’s escape to freedom was made possible by the help of African American and white abolitionists. Some members of the cast are the descendants of African American slaves andsome are descendants of slave owners.
Presenters, CTC New York Ensemble, wanted to retrace Henry’s steps to the UK and Scotland, but also to return to Edinburgh in part as a “thank you” to the Fringe for helping propel it to wider success.
Since last year the show has been performed for over 25,000 people and will soon be touring to six major US cities including Chicago.
Henry Box Brown is directed by Tony Award winner Ben Harney (Broadway’s Dreamgirls) with original compositions by New York Composer, Frank Sanchez and Mehr Mansuri; arrangements by renowned Gospel Music Director, Eric Dozier- and topped off with with Co-Director Najee Brown’s popping choreography.
The score is by Oscar nominee – Best Original Score, Jack Lenz (Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ) with new contributions by top NYC recording artist, Davon Redmond and the show’s star, Paul Gee.
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Notes for editors
For more about Henry Box Brown see https://www.henryboxbrownthemusical.com
- Venue: The Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose – Big Yin (Venue 45)
- Dates: Jul 31 Aug 1-11, 13-18, 20-26
- Previews: 31 July to 2 Aug
- Time: 19:30
- Duration: 60 mins
- Ticket prices: £11 to £13 (previews £8)
- Box office: 0131 622 6552 or https://gildedballoon.co.uk/programme/
- Advisory: Ages 5+ (contains distressing themes)
For media information contact Matthew Shelley at Matthew@ScottishFestivalsPR.Org or on 07786704299.
About the real Henry Box Brown
Born into slavery in Louisa County, Brown worked in a Richmond tobacco factory. In 1848 his children and pregnant wife were sold to new owners in North Carolina. Brown resolved to escape slavery and enlisted the help of a white churchman and a slave-owning gambler. In later life Brown became a prominent abolitionist, a performer, musician and a published author. Facing the risk of being captured by slave hunters, Brown left for Britain, where slavery was illegal. During his years in this country he composed songs and created a show about slavery, and his personal experiences, which he toured round the country. He is known to have brought it to Scotland and appeared in Kirkcaldy.
About Mehr Mansuri
CTC’s Artistic Director, Mehr Mansuri, an Iranian born, British schooled, American citizen. Mansuri, who escaped her native Iran due to the regime’s persecution of the Baha’i Community (Iran’s largest non-Islamic, religious minority), was in search of building a social-change theater that had a social-justice imperative at its core. Inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s epic theater, the Iranian born, British schooled, American citizen (Mansuri) eventually founded the Children’s Theater Company in NYC in 1999 and the professional adult ensemble- the CTC New York Ensemble, with a mission to explore the power of theatre as a tool for moral reasoning. CTC brings together her roles as an educator, storyteller, community builder and human rights activist.
She wrote and co-composed the book and songs with co-composer, Frank Sanchez, with score by Oscar winner, Jack Lenz and additional orchestration by NYC recording artist, Davon Redmond. The production won a “space grant” at the prized Dizzy Gillespie Theater in the heart of Greenwich Village, NYC and was co- presented by the Baha’i Office of Schools & Education – in association with New York University Office of Community Affairs and in partnership with International film star / comedian, Omid Djalili. In collaboration with Tony winner, Ben Harney and three time Tony winner, Hinton Battle, with dramaturgy provided by best selling African American author and speaker, Dr. Joy DeGruy- the consulting team was also able to bring to light the rich contribution of Negro spirituals- which permeates the musical, and ultimately give homage to the musical contributions of the early African Americans to the world of music. Additional music and lyrics was written by Gospel Music Director and African American historian ERIC DOZIER; composer, SAM URDANG.
CTC NEW YORK ENSEMBLE has a SOCIAL JUSTICE IMPERATIVE at its core. By developing musicals that cultivate an understanding of the personal and cultural forces that shape society, CTC’s original musicals explore the theatre’s power to impact diversity, to develop empathy and compassion for the human condition, and to allow us to learn from lives we’ve never lived.
The musical is championed by the Baha’i Office of Schools & Education and New York University’s Office of Governance and Community Affairs.It has grown into a thrilling a 16-person production with fabulous singers, led by Paul Gee, a Gospel / R&B recording and video artist and presented at New York’s Christian Cultural Center and University of Michigan – where it had a brief run which attracted praise from many quarters.