By Travis Sloat
TAHLEQUAH — Nick Sweet spent some time before rehearsal on Thursday night encouraging his cast.
Sweet, the director of “Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of the Cherokee,” told the cast and crew how important the story they were sharing is.
“You’re not just actors and singers and dancers,” Sweet said. “You’re telling a very important story. Never forget the incredible spirit of Nanyehi, and her courage. It is very important her story is heard.”
The musical, which is in its second year of production and fifth year of development, was conceived by Sweet and Becky Hobbs, the co-playwright and composer. It will be shown at the Northeastern State University Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.
Hobbs, who is a direct descendant of Nancy Ward (Nanyehi), said she always knew she would pay tribute to her grandmother somehow.
“All my life growing up, I knew I was her descendant and what she stood for,” Hobbs said. “I thought my tribute would take the form of a record, then I met Nick. I performed a few of the songs I had written about Ward in front of him, and he approached me after the show and told me he knew who she was.”
After that conversation, collaboration between Sweet and Hobbs began, with Sweet responsible for the dialogue, and Hobbs responsible for the music portion.
Sweet said it wasn’t too long before he realized he needed more help than that.
“She got to a point where she had five songs written, and I had about five paragraphs,” he said. It became obvious we needed to become co-playwrights, and from there it took a life of its own.”
The musical stars Michelle Honaker as Ward, who followed her husband into battle at the age of 17.
When her husband was killed, she picked up his gun and shot his attacker, then led the Cherokees into the rest of the battle.
Honaker, a Hawaii native, is reprising the role she played in the production a year ago in Georgia, and said it was a great honor.
“She is a huge historical figure,” Honaker said. “To me it’s one of the biggest honors to play her. Everything she stood for, it means a lot to convey that message of peace to today’s world.”
Honaker also said she was thrilled to play the part in a historic place like Tahlequah.
“Being here in Tahlequah, it’s like being in the heart of it all,” she said. “Our cast is unique, and we even have descendants of Ward in the cast and crew, and that makes it special. It puts things in perspective for me and brings it more to life.”
The musical also features several actors from the Muskogee area.
Sweet said Muskogee was special to him, and particularly the Muskogee Little Theatre.
“I owe the MLT a lot,” he said. “I’ve done four shows for them in the past and they’ve really supported me.”
If you go
WHAT: “Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of the Cherokees” the musical.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 27, 30 and 31.
WHERE: The Northeastern State University Center for the Performing Arts.
COST: Admission is free, but seats must be reserved.
INFORMATION: NSU Box Office, (918) 458-2075.
Reach Travis Sloat at (918) 684-2908 or tsloat@ muskogeephoenix.com.