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New Joseph Smith Musical is a Testimony Through Song and Dance

New York already has its eyes on new faith-based musical about the first leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

Like pretty much everything else in its wake, the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 derailed an excited George Nelson and cast of his new play “1820: The Musical.” The sets were built, the costumes sewn and all that was left was “lights, camera, action.” But that would have to wait a while. “1820: The Musical” is a play directed by Nelson, a professor from the Theatre and Media Arts department. The story centers around the love story between Joseph and Emma Smith through the eyes of Emma. “It’s a very loosely connected story through music and dance,” said the director. “Our hope is that ‘1820’ will provide an alternative narrative about Joseph Smith and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than the one painted by the ‘Book of Mormon Musical.’” As Nelson completed the script in 2017, he set out to find composers for the show's music. Two years after starting the search, he found his perfect composing leads in Doug Lowe, Kayliann Lowe Juarez and Kendra Lowe Holt, a team of sibling composers. “They wrote 20 songs in about 13 days of writing,” said Nelson of the musical trio. The play is not owned by the LDS Church, nor is the organization affiliated, but Nelson wanted it to paint the faith in a good light. Like its musical opposite, the “1820” show could have a potential future on the Broadway stages of the Big Apple. Nelson himself has already had conversations should the play do well on a local scale. Nelson said a producer in New York wrote to him about the play and said that this could be the “Mormon ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’” “He said, ‘The only thing I knew about your religion was “The Book of Mormon” musical and “Angels in America.” But when I read your play, it had this love story about these characters and their faith and their struggles. For me, it was a universal story,’” recounted Nelson.

The director said the production doesn’t shy away from the Church’s history and includes the often controversial hot button topics like polygamy. The play’s cast is also multiracial and doesn’t conform to the all-white portrayals of the past. “The musical ends with our testimonies in the song ‘I’m Still Here,’ that we stand by what we know, regardless of the attacks that people have made on the character of Joseph Smith,” said Nelson. He continued to say that the purpose of the musical is twofold: first, to support those who know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and second, to offer a second look to those who are struggling and wondering about him. Members from the Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith Senior family have been invited and will attend a special showing of the play. Tickets are now on sale through the Covey Center and the show will run from August 6 to September 11.