By Rita Thiel
Ocracoke has a way of uncovering hidden talents and “A Tale of Blackbeard” will reveal one such talent, Jesi Franklin, who plays the ingenue role of Elizabeth Farthingham.
This Ocracoke original will be revived Mondays this summer in two locations: In the Community Center June 11, 18 and 25. The rest of the shows will be July 2 to Aug. 13 in the Ocracoke School gym.
Created by Julie Howard in 1974, this delightful musical is loosely based on the days before Blackbeard’s demise on the island Nov. 22, 1718, and what the pirates found here.
Although Howard knows it’s historically inaccurate, the crews found “village girls,” a little romance and a little fun. (In 1718, Ocracoke was still an unsettled, wild island. Later in the century it was formally designated Pilot Town.)
Jesi, 16, is among the dozens of youth and adult cast members under the direction of Karen Dundore-Gulotta.
A home-schooled student finishing her sophomore year, Jesi is the daughter of Dr. Laura Trent, Ocracoke’s veterinarian. Jesi, Laura, and Jesi’s grandmother, Marian Trent, are examples of the continual multi-generational
involvement in this play as Laura and her mother were both in the 1983 production.
Laura, who was home for the summer from college that year, played a village girl and her mom was Victoria Farthingham, the town scold and mother of Elizabeth.
That Marian had a singing role was a revelation to Laura.
“I can’t imagine my mother singing,” Laura said. “I don’t think I ever heard her sing before the rehearsals.”
Both Jesi and Laura have theater experience. Laura participated in high school drama club and enjoyed several acting roles, but “was no lead.”
Jesi has had voice lessons, supporting her past roles in musicals such as “Narnia Jr.,” “Lion King Jr.,” and “Seussical the Musical,” in which she played the Cat in the Hat.
“Jesi acted just like a cat,” Laura said about that role. “She used the mannerisms and expressions we’d seen in our own cats. She really owned the role.”
Theater has helped both mother and daughter overcome shyness. Laura was encouraged by her mother to audition for the play to help her combat the fear of public speaking, and Laura similarly encouraged Jesi.
In fact, Jesi was to play a village girl in the last production a few years ago but knee surgery forced her to forfeit the part.
After hearing Jesi sing during last year’s Arts Week performance of “Black Squall,” Desiree Ricker, co-director and choreographer, asked Jesi to seek a larger singing role in this year’s “Tale.”
As Elizabeth, Jesi sings one solo and two duets with John Brodisch, who plays the young male lead, Richard.
She likes being this character, preferring “odd roles” and being the “crazy character where I can add my own to it.”
As a village girl in the 1983 production, Laura had fun imagining she was living on an isolated island so long ago.
“It was an easy role for me to play,” she said. “It felt like I was flirtin’ with the boys. I got to lasso a guy with my shawl during our last performance.”
Laura sings the praises of local artists.
“I hope visitors realize how multi-talented the locals are,” Laura said. “We’re here in this artistic enclave.”
Jesi’s talent doesn’t stop with her singing. She is a visual artist at heart and a portfolio of her paintings and sketches reveals an extraordinary talent. Some of her artwork is on display and available for purchase at The Magic Bean Coffee Bazaar, School Road.
Other multi-generational families continue the tradition.
Brothers Gus and David Sanchez are in the musical along with Gus’s son, Sebastian.
Star Ely, who plays a village girl, can claim four different generations of players before her, said Julia Howard, who remembers practically everyone who’s ever played in the show. Star’s great-grandmother Emilie Wilkes was in the play the very first year, 1974, as was Star’s 97-year-old grandmother Donna Burrus.
Star’s great Aunt Betsy and Aunt Cathy also performed.
All “A Tale of Blackbeard” shows start at 8 p.m. with doors opening at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $7 for kids.
Performances at the gym will have plenty of room for walk-up seating, but the Ocracoke Community Center has limited seating.
The cast and crew for this year’s production are as follows:
Peyton Piquard, Blackbeard
David Sanchez, William Howard
David Tweedie, Oliver Farthingham
Deanna Locke, Victoria Farthingham
Jesi Franklin, Elizabeth Farthingham
Bailey Bryan, Juliette Jordan, Katherine
John Brodisch, Richard Evans
Bill Cole, Ezekiel the Ship’s Cook
Daniel Isbrecht, Helmsman
Waylon Underwood, Sailor, Richard understudy
Kevin Alzamora, Kim France, Parker Gaskill, Sailors
Petros Burleson, Cabin Boy
Sebastian Sanchez, Cabin Boy understudy
Katy Mitchell, Miss Euphemia
Megan Spencer, Marjorie O’Neal, the Boarding House Cook
Becky Boos, Starr Ely, Tory Kane, Chloe Kelley, Emily Kerben, Caroline Novak, Mackenzie Novak, Village Girls
Karen Dundore-Gulotta, Director
Julie Howard, Musical Director, Accompanist
Desiree Ricker, Choreographer
Debbie Leonard, Stage Manager
George Roberson, Lights
Megan Aldridge, Jordan Novak, Make-Up
Mila Ortiz, Prop Manager
Community members interested volunteering as performers, staff and stage hands are encouraged to contact David Tweedie at email@example.com or 252-921-0260.
To read about when this play was revived in 2014 after a 20-year hiatus, click here.