Nancy Ward musical debuts at Cherokee National Holiday
The musical production “Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of the Cherokee” makes its Tahlequah, Okla., debut on Aug. 27 at the Northeastern State University Center for the Performing Arts. One of the highlights of the production was a traditional stickball game. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Kingfisher, played by Josh Stacy, and Nancy Ward, or Nanyehi, played by Michelle Honaker, sing “O Great Spirit” during the Cherokee wedding scene of the musical production “Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of the Cherokee.” The musical made its Tahlequah, Okla., debut on Aug. 27 at the Northeastern State University Center for the Performing Arts. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Nanyehi, played by Michelle Honaker, picks up her husband’s rifle after he is killed in the Battle of Taliwa during the Aug. 27 performance of “Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of the Cherokee” at the Northeastern State University Center for the Performing Arts in Tahlequah, Okla. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Peace Chief Attakullakulla, played by Michael Stopp, places a turkey feather cape around Nanyehi after the Battle of Taliwa while Cherokee War Chief Oconastota, played by Tommy Cummings, says the cape symbolizes her as the beloved woman of the Cherokee. The musical production “Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of the Cherokee” made its Tahlequah, Okla., debut on Aug. 27 at the Northeastern State University Center for the Performing Arts. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Nanyehi sings “Donadagohvi, Until We Meet Again,” at her husband Kingfisher’s grave during the Aug. 27 production of “Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of the Cherokee” at the Northeastern State University Center for the Performing Arts in Tahlequah, Okla. Nanyehi was named Beloved Woman after taking the place of her husband in battle after he was killed. She later married white trader Bryant Ward. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The musical “Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of the Cherokee” made its Tahlequah debut on Aug. 27 at the Northeastern State University Center for the Performing Arts.
Written by Becky Hobbs, the musical is about the life of a Cherokee woman named Nanyehi, later known as Nancy Ward. Ward, a Wolf Clan member, was born in Echota, Cherokee Nation, now Georgia, and was named Beloved Woman after taking the place of her husband in battle after he was killed. She later married white trader Bryant Ward. She died in 1822.
Hobbs said she hoped to inspire and make a difference with people after they watched the production.
“There are a lot of people who have given up hope today and especially young people,” she said. “We look around and they’re living in a virtual world. I want to inspire people to do better to make this world a better place.”
In 1776, after the illegal sale of lands in Tennessee, Ward’s cousin, Dragging Canoe, organized a series of attacks against white settlers. However, Ward sent runners to warn the whites of the approaching attacks. Dragging Canoe was wounded and three of the attacks were unsuccessful.
“That Nanyehi could be such a strong woman back then when woman weren’t considered, weren’t important, but this just shows in the Indian culture they were,” CN citizen Linda Wing Garrett said. “So just having that strength all the way through the show, even to her death, that people still listened to her.”
Highlights from the musical include the Battle of Taliwa, a Cherokee marriage ceremony, Ward saving the life of a white settler and a stickball game.
The two-act production also included several dance numbers and songs such as “Song of the Nunnehi” or spirit people, “Pass the Whiskey,” “This Land is Not Our Land” and “There Will Be Blood.”
CN citizen Jenna Stocks choreographed the dances.
“The songs are really contemporary and they use contemporary instruments, so the dancing has been more contemporary and less traditional,” Stocks said. “It’s a very meaningful play. It’s meaningful to the Cherokee Nation because she was a strong leader, and so I think it’s very touching, Michelle (Honaker), the lead, does a really great job of acting and portraying Nanyehi.”
Hobbs came up with the idea of telling Ward’s story via a musical after writing some of the songs now in the production in the 1990s. It was after meeting Nick Sweet, who directed the Cherokee Heritage Center’s Trail of Tears drama that the musical “Nanyehi, Beloved Woman of the Cherokee” was set into motion. Today, the production contains 17 songs.
Hobbs of Bartlesville is best known for writing “Angels Among Us,” recorded by Alabama, as well as writing and recording her hits, “Jones on the Jukebox” and “Honky Tonk Saturday Night.” Her co-writer, Sweet, is a freelance stage director who has directed more than 100 productions, including the historical outdoor drama “Trail of Tears” in 2002 at the CHC.
For “Nanyehi,” Sweet directed the musical production and Hobbs served as musical director.
“We have a cast of over 40 and we have great, great people,” Hobbs said. “We have a lot of talent.”
New York-based actress and Hawaiian-born Michelle Honaker played the role of Ward, which she was cast for the musical’s premiere in Georgia in 2012 and for the past two summers. Honaker has also played the female lead in “Unto These Hills,” the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ outdoor drama in Cherokee, N.C.
Other characters included Dragging Canoe, Ward’s mother Tenia, Cherokee chiefs Attakullakulla and Oconastota, Ward’s first husband Kingfisher and second husband Bryant Ward and Ward’s friend Sequina.
Hobbs said she believed that almost all of the cast members, aside from Honaker, are from within the CN’s 14-county jurisdiction or surrounding area. She added that a majority of the members are CN citizens.
One of the CN citizens is Derrick Branson of Tahlequah. Branson, 18, plays a Cherokee warrior named John Stuart and Muscogee Creek warrior named Issac Thomas.
Branson said in high school he performed in productions but none were as deep as the Ward musical.
“It’s deeper emotionally than the other musicals that I’ve been in and it gives a message,” he said. “Other musicals that I’ve been in haven’t really given a clear message to society about struggles. It delivers a message about the struggles of the Cherokee Nation and struggles along the way and Nanyehi and her story of the Cherokee Nation.”
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