A new locally written and produced musical will try to tackle one of the worst natural disasters in the nation’s history next month when it opens at the Kitchen Theatre. The show, a new musical called “Katrina,” will tell the story of fictional characters having to deal with the impending doom of a natural disaster and the desolation afterward, set in New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city. It is produced by Walking on Water Productions, a local stage and theater group.
Hurricane Katrina holds a profound spot in anyone’s memory who remembers the breathless media coverage of the storm and the images of ravaged neighborhoods and desperate residents hoping for rescue, or even just some food. It’s one of the darkest times in American history and definitively one of the bleakest times for the country in recent memory, particularly in light of the racist components many believe affected the sluggish emergency response. In total, over 1,800 people died as a result of the storm.
The musical is being directed by Priscilla Hummel, who’s also the founder of Walking on Water Productions, and was written by locals Liz Bauman and David Frumkin, who handled the music composition. It’s the musical’s world debut, taking place at the Kitchen Theatre as part of the Kitchen Sink Series on Aug. 2-4 and 9-11. Friday and Saturday showings are at 7:30 p.m., while Sunday performances are at 3 p.m. Tickets are available online. As mentioned on the flier, the show boasts 20 songs, a 12-member cast and a six-piece band.
Hummel said Walking on Water was excited about the opportunity to do the show, an original production. Once the two were put in contact, her conversations with Bauman piqued her interest that Bauman’s new work could fit well into the goals that Hummel laid out when she started Walking on Water in January
“I knew absolutely nothing about the show until I received an email from Liz for the first time after a mutual colleague connected us, and I was honestly intrigued,” Hummel said. “It made me think of other shows like ‘Ragtime’ that are based on actual events but have fictional characters.”
Hummel said one of the objectives for Walking on Water, as listed in its mission statement, is to “produce works that will engage the heart, mind and spirit,” and she feels like “Katrina” checks each of those boxes.
“I think it’s important to consider works that are going to hit all of those levels,” Hummel said. “When we go to the theater, we get to experience content that is going to stimulate our minds, woo our hearts and anchor the soul. Those are the parts of our mission statement that I saw really ring true if we were to produce this show [...] and something that an Ithaca audience would really gravitate to.”
The class and racial divides that were highlighted by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are still relevant today, Hummel said, which boosts the poignancy of the show and the themes it examines. Bauman said to form the show, she went deep with her research: watching documentaries, reading articles and viewing news broadcasts from when the storm had made landfall and afterwards. Her research culminated with a trip to New Orleans in the fall, where she could observe some of the impacts that are still visible to this day and speak to survivors. The stories that impacted her the most were talking to the people who had to live in the Superdome
“I really steeped myself in Hurricane Katrina for the last several years,” Bauman said of the writing and research process. “I talked to some evacuees, people who thought ‘Eh, it’s not going to be so bad,’ and then they were stuck in traffic and scared [...] I spoke to a lot of people, natives of New Orleans, who just hunkered down and stayed, especially people with lower incomes who didn’t have relatives around they could stay with.”
Though she began to write lyrics, Bauman said she’s unable to craft musical components for songs, which led her to recruit her violin teacher at the time, David Frumkin. Frumkin then spent a year writing the music for the show to build around the characters and scenes that Bauman had already mapped out. Fast forward to now and rehearsals are approaching their sixth month, starting with more casual workshops to craft the show and tweak the script and eventually evolving to stage readings in May and now a full stage production.
“The show is very moving, it’s a tragedy but it’s a hopeful tragedy,” Bauman said. “I’m very emotional about the whole show. We wrote fictional characters but have real media reports in it [...] I wanted it to be really rooted in the real events.”