On October 19, 1864, a group of schoolchildren watched through their classroom window as Confederate Army Lieutenant Bennett Young and his band of 19 rebel soldiers rode through St. Albans’ Taylor Park with more than $200,000 they had stolen from local banks.
This Saturday, from that same building, 150 ticket holders will watch as the St. Albans Raid — the northernmost action of the Civil War — returns to life. In what organizers foresee as a long-term artistic partnership, the Knowlton Players of Québec will bring a shortened road-show version of their hit musical Chickasaw: The Elixir of Love to the St. Albans Historical Museum.
Chickasaw weaves a love story around the St. Albans Raid, one based in part on the real diary of a failed English solicitor who moved to Canada. The musical’s primary source is Don Davison’s novel Raise the Flag and Sound the Cannon; it recounts the tale of Young’s bumbling raiders, who left one man dead in St. Albans but were never punished for their crimes.
Davison and Donald Patriquin, Chickasaw’s composer, conceived the show over smoked-meat sandwiches in 2004. The Knowlton Players premiered the musical last November and had a successful three-week run that generated 80 percent attendance at each show.
St. Albans City resident and attorney Jim Levy took his wife Ann 20 minutes over the Richford border for one of those shows. “I was just mesmerized,” Levy says. “I turned to Ann at one point during the show and said, ‘We should really take this in at home.’”
This fall, Levy organized meetings in St. Albans between Chickasaw creators and representatives of various local groups, which donated energy and money to bring the show to St. Albans. “It’s been a wonderfully gratifying experience, seeing so many people who want to help,” he says.
Time and resources didn’t allow the Knowlton Players to bring their full-scale production to St. Albans. Actually, they’ve never taken it away from home. “With Knowlton being a small town [about 1500 people], it isn’t easy to draft performers for road shows,” Davison notes.
There’s a not-so-hidden agenda here: to make Chickasaw as big a deal in St. Albans as The Sound of Music has become for the Lamoille County Players, who perform the treasured story of the von Trapp family every year in Stowe. “It could be a draw for our area,” Levy speculates. “We could design activities around it, involving the raid, and make this a weekend event for many tourists.”
Knowlton and St. Albans share many attractions, including an annual festival (St. Albans favors maple; Knowlton honors ducks) and a vibrant arts community. Given their similarities, Davison believes the Vermont town could certainly adopt Chickasaw as its own.