Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Tony Award winner Ben Harney (Broadway’s Dreamgirls), and writer Mehr Mansuri, lead this musical about an 1850s Virginia slave who ships himself to freedom in a box. In a fusion of original songs blending gospel, R’n’B and bluegrass, as well as a cappella spirituals, it is performed by New York’s finest gospel singers and top Broadway artists.
Viewed by over 20,000 people from New York to Los Angeles, it is a crowd-pleaser that shines a light on our capacity to transcend. ‘Stirring…rousing songs’ (New York Times on Family Fare).
“I’m always gonna be free.” These are the words of writer Mehr Mansuri’s Henry Brown. Brown was a real person, a Virginia slave in the 19th century who shipped himself 300 miles to freedom in a box 3 feet by 2 feet small. From the very first stage picture of the show, director Ben Harney highlights the two very different worlds of the Virginia slave-holding south: the one that Henry Brown, as well as his mother, brothers, and sisters inhabit, and the world that Brown’s master and his family live within. For the master’s children, Brown and his siblings are no more than play-things to be abused and they are instructed from an early age that the slaves on their father’s plantation are “less than a whole person.”
The musical makes it clear that the order of this world has been created to enrich the slave-holding class of white plantation owners. With money as a driving force, Brown is stripped away from his mother as white promises are broken and her family is torn away from her one-by-one and sold to different owners. This is only the first time that Brown will face the indignity of being separated from his family.
Highlighting the many daily horrors of 19th century plantation life, Henry Box Brown also highlights a host of wonderfully written and portrayed characters who refuse to accept the world the way it is and take action to make a change. The actor playing Brown portrays his inspiring commitment to freedom admirably and with moving tenderness, particularly when interacting with his younger self. Brown is helped along the way by a white pastor who risks his livelihood by preaching against slavery to his congregation. A shop-keeper also comes to Brown’s aid, though he risks far less than Brown himself or the pastor.
The music for the show is beautiful, championed by the Baha’i Unity Center and New York University’s Office of Governance and Community Affairs and with wonderful singers from New York’s Christian Cultural Center. The songs mix opera, traditional musical numbers, spirituals, gospel, R&B, and bluegrass all together for a truly unique sound. The individual performances are impressive with the audience moved to deliver thunderous applause to those performers right in the middle of many numbers, after particularly impressive solos.
Go and see the incredible true story of Henry Brown in Henry Box Brown. This is an Excellent Show and one that is certainly worth your time.