Prime Stage Theatre honors famous abolitionist with youth-focused Harriet Tubman play

click to enlarge A Black woman dressed in period clothes portrays Harriet Tubman and another actor holds a lantern.
Photo: Laura Sloveko
Maame Danso as Harriet Tubman in the Prine Stage production Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad granted safe passage to thousands of enslaved Africans escaping bondage. Among the most prominent figures of this resistance movement, which lasted from the early 1800s through the end of the Civil War, and had stops in Pittsburgh, was Harriet Tubman.

Regarded by history as “The American Moses,” the abolitionist, underground "conductor," and Union spy, who herself escaped slavery, will be portrayed in a Prime Stage Theatre production geared toward younger audiences.

Prime Stage will present Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, a show based on the subject's true story. A release describes the show as a "theatrical experience with music" that "shares the joys, sorrows, and challenges" Tubman faced while "courageously freeing herself and hundreds of others from the bonds of slavery." It will run from Fri., Jan. 20-Sun., Jan. 29 at the New Hazlett Theater.

Adapted by Douglas Jones and directed by Linda Haston, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad marks the latest presentation from Prime Stage's Sprouts Series, a program tailored to bring " literature to life" for elementary students and their families by making productions accessible for children as young as five years old.

“With our Sprouts Series, this production is the perfect opportunity for children and families to be inspired by this story of an American hero — Harriet Tubman as Prime Stage brings history to life with this inspirational play filled with music," says Wayne Brinda, producing artistic director of Prime Stage. 

Brinda adds that the cast and production staff went as far as meeting with Ernestine Wyatt, the great-great-great-grandniece of Tubman, to "ensure the authenticity and accuracy of her great aunt’s life and legacy.”

That legacy includes making 19 trips between the Southern United States and the so-called "free states," where slavery was abolished, over the course of a decade. It's believed Tubman escorted 300 slaves to freedom.

While keeping track of a secretive operation like the Underground Railroad presents a challenge, some historians calculate that the complicated network facilitated the escape of around 100,000 enslaved people to the free states and Canada.

In addition to dramatizing a real-life story, the show will incorporate "spiritual songs." There will also be a sensory-inclusive performance for those with certain sensitivities to light, sound, and movement. 

“With a minimal set, the actors are going to inspire with harmony and love to ‘update’ this particular piece of history so it does not continue to repeat itself but moves forward,” says Haston.

Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Fri., Jan. 20-Sun., Jan. 29. New Hazlett Theater. 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. $14-24. primestage.com/events/harriet-tubman