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Arena Stage Announces Cast For World-Premiere Musical American Prophet: Frederick Douglass In His Own Words

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Arena Stage Announces Cast For World-Premiere Musical American Prophet: Frederick Douglass In His Own Words
New York, NY (Top40 Charts) Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater announced today the cast for the much-anticipated world-premiere musical American Prophet: Frederick Douglass in His Own Words, which kicks off the historic theater's "Surviving and Thriving"-themed 2022/23 Season. Powered by Frederick Douglass' own speeches and writings, and filled with soaring new melodies, this riveting new musical stars Cornelius Smith Jr. (ABC's Scandal, All My Children) and Kristolyn Lloyd (Broadway's Dear Evan Hansen, CBS's The Bold and the Beautiful) as freedom fighters Frederick and Anna Douglass, exploring Douglass' rise from slavery to national prominence, and from forced illiteracy to the heights of literary and oratorical renown.

Created by Charles Randolph-Wright (Arena's Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, Broadway's Trouble in Mind, Motown the Musical) and Grammy Award winner Marcus Hummon ("Bless the Broken Road," "Born to Fly"), American Prophet is the recipient of a prestigious Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, with choreography by Lorna Ventura and music direction, orchestrations and additional arrangements by Joseph Joubert, American Prophet will run July 15 - August 28, 2022 in the Kreeger Theater. Press night will be held on Thursday, July 28 at 8 p.m.

Frederick Douglass' words serve as the inspiration, as well as the source material, for the musical. "American Prophet uses Frederick Douglass' profound words from his books, speeches and letters to tell his story, and also the story of his wife Anna," shares Randolph-Wright. "Those words inspire the stunning music Marcus has created to illuminate their phenomenal journey." Hummon adds: "It's the story of a man in the 19th century who had every reason to hate the Constitution and hate our country, yet taught us new ways to love our country and to make it better."
"When Charles Randolph-Wright first shared with me a few of Marcus Hummon's songs, they took my breath away," says Molly Smith, Arena Stage Artistic Director. "Celebrating the legacy of Frederick Douglass is timeless, and yet so very much needed for our time. The renewed and fueled social justice movement in our country looks very different now than back in Douglass's day. His words, however, echo with even deeper meaning and impact. What Douglass has to say about freedom and life in America continues to resonate with great power."

American Prophet marks Randolph-Wright's 12th Arena Stage production. "Arena Stage is my theater home, and I am thrilled to return to my favorite audience, an audience that is so open to the multitude of stories the theater delivers every season." Other Arena writing and directing credits include Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story (2016/17 Season) Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies (2009/10 Season), Blue (1999/00 Season) as well as Guys and Dolls (1999/00 Season) alongside American Prophet Choreographer Lorna Ventura, to name a few.

American Prophet stars Cornelius Smith Jr. as Frederick Douglass alongside Kristolyn Lloyd as the fierce abolitionist's wife, Anna Douglass. Click here to watch them perform "Let the Storm Come" from the show.

Returning to Arena Stage are Carolyn Agan (Arena Stage Cabaret Nights), Kurt Boehm (Carousel, Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story), Thomas Adrian Simpson (Disney's Newsies, Anything Goes) and Kanysha Williams (Step Afrika!'s Drumfolk).

Joining the cast and making their Arena Stage debuts are Erica Aubrey (Playwrights Horizons' Far From Heaven), Zoë Bryant (Howard University's Flying West), Cicily Daniels (Broadway's Once on This Island), Christopher B. Portley (Cleveland Play House's Antigone), Christopher Michael Richardson (Woolly Mammoth's A Strange Loop), Chris Roberts (Broadway's The Civil War), Brendon Schaefer (Imagination Stage's P.Nokio: A Hip-Hop Musical), Correy West (Broadway's Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations) and Curtis Wiley (Broadway's Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations).

The creative team for American Prophet also includes Set Designer Arnulfo Maldonado, Costume Designer Dede Ayite, Lighting Designer Rui Rita, Sound Designer Dan Moses Schreier, Associate Music Director Paul Byssainthe, Jr., Dramaturgs Jocelyn Clarke and Otis Ramsey-Zoe, Casting Directors Tara Rubin Casting CSA and Joseph Pinzon, Stage Manager Rachael Danielle Albert and Assistant Stage Managers Marne Anderson and Alex Murphy. The production also credits Douglass Consultant Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., the great-great-great grandson of Frederick and Anna Douglass and the great-great-grandson of Booker T. Washington.
CAST BIOGRAPHIES (in alphabetical order)

Carolyn Agan (Ensemble / Swing)'s favorite regional credits include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Parade, Freedom's Song, Hello! Dolly, 1776, Liberty Smith, A Christmas Carol (Ford's Theatre); Little Shop of Horrors (Olney Theatre Center); Two Gents: A Rock Opera (Shakespeare Theatre); Pinkalicious! (Adventure Theatre MTC); Ragtime (Craig Noel Award - Lead Actress), South Pacific (San Diego Musical Theatre); Wild Goose Dreams, Home of the Brave (La Jolla Playhouse); The Phantom Tollbooth (Kennedy Center TYA); 1776, Man of La Mancha, Bold Girls, The Hostage (Keegan Theatre). She is a teaching artist and acting coach having worked with Levine Music, Shakespeare Theatre, Smithsonian Associates, La Jolla Playhouse and The Old Globe. Carolyn is also the lead singer for local pop/rock cover band, Vertigo Red. IG: @Vertigo_Red

Erica Aubrey (Mary Todd / Ensemble) is honored to be making her Arena Stage debut. She played Mrs. Newton in Amazing Grace (Chicago out-of town) and Off-Broadway she has been seen in Far From Heaven (Playwrights Horizons) and Music in the Air (City Center Encores!). Some regional credits include roles at New York Stage and Film, Ogunquit Playhouse, Gateway Playhouse, Flat Rock Playhouse and Theatre Aspen. Her TV credits include Jessica Jones and the Late Show with David Letterman. An accomplished studio singer, her voice is in Disney theme parks, on video games and on recordings for Music Theatre International. She holds an MA in musical theatre from NYU Steinhardt, and is a professor in the musical theatre BFA program at Belmont University. Instagram: @erica_aubrey

Kurt Boehm (Reverend Gore / Ensemble) last appeared at Arena Stage as Enoch Snow in Carousel. Regional credits include Born for This (Arena Stage, Alliance Theatre, Broad Stage, ArtsEmerson). Previous Arena credits include Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma! and She Loves Me. Additional D.C. credits include Daddy Long Legs, Helen Hayes Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor (Monumental Theatre Company); Assassins, Billy Elliott, West Side Story, Cabaret, Les Misérables, Kiss of the Spider Woman (Signature Theatre); South Pacific, A Chorus Line, Godspell, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, The Producers (Olney Theatre Center); Little Shop of Horrors (Ford's Theatre); Chicago, The Full Monty, (Keegan Theatre). He holds a B.M. from Catholic University. @Kurtb617

Zoë Bryant (Ensemble / Swing / Betsey u/s) is excited to be making her Arena Stage debut after graduating from Howard University's Musical Theatre program in 2022. She last appeared as Minnie in Howard University's production of Flying West. This is Zoë's first professional show and she is excited to begin her journey. She hopes to return next season so she can keep chasing her dreams. Instagram: @Zoe_jillian

Cicily Daniels (Betsey Bailey / Elizabeth) is thrilled to be making her Arena Stage debut, particularly since she originally hails from Potomac, Maryland. She appeared most recently on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning revival of Once on This Island. Her other Broadway credits include Disney's The Little Mermaid (original cast), All Shook Up and Rent. She has performed throughout the country on the National Tours of A Night with Janis Joplin, The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess and Caroline, or Change. Her film and television credits include Dear Edward, Mozart in the Jungle, Ugly Betty and Across the Universe. Cicily has appeared in commercials, and recorded voice-overs for companies including Ford Fusion, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Covergirl. Cicily is a graduate of Yale University. She would like to thank her agents, and her family for their amazing support.

Kristolyn Lloyd (Anna Douglass) is a Grammy and Emmy Award-winning actress. Her directing credits include Dainty (BOLD Festival, The Garden Workshop), Nick & The Prizefighter (Modern Works Festival), A Patriots Place (B-Street Theatre, BOLD Festival) Acting credits include Broadway: Dear Evan Hansen; Off-Broadway: Confederates, Paradise Blue (Signature Theatre), Fairycakes (Greenwich House), Little Women (Primary Stages), Blue Ridge (Atlantic); Hamlet (The Public Theater), Invisible Thread (Second Stage Theater), Heathers The Musical (New World Stages), Cabin In The Sky (Encores! City Center); Selected Regional: Paradise Blue (Williamstown), Witness Uganda (A.R.T.), Hairspray, Rent (Hollywood Bowl). TV: Random Acts of Flyness (HBO), Elementary, Kevin Can Wait, Madam Secretary, The Bold and the Beautiful (CBS), ER (NBC) and Lie to Me (FOX).

Christopher B. Portley (Demby / Ensemble) last appeared at Cleveland Play House as Haemon in Antigone. Christopher recently received his MFA degree from the Case Western Reserve University/ Cleveland Play House Acting Program. Last summer he made his Chautauqua Theater Company debut playing De'Andre in Dominique Morisseau's Blood at the Root directed by Stori Ayers, and Zanni and Flavio in Commedia Dell'Arte directed by Andrew Borba. Other theatre credits include Light It Up! (Cleveland Play House); Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) (African American Repertory Theater); The Tempest and Measure for Measure (Shakespeare Academy at Stratford); and Memphis (Music Theatre of Denton). Christopher's film credits include Sing Canary, Sing. Instagram: @Christopherbportley

Christopher Michael Richardson (Ensemble / Swing) is an actor, director, and teaching artist in the Washington, D.C. area, and he is excited to be making his Arena Stage debut! His most recent theater credits include Our Town (Shakespeare Theatre Company) and the pre-Broadway run of A Strange Loop (Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company). Christopher is the creator/composer of Everyday Magic (Arts on the Horizon), and some of his other favorite D.C. credits include Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (The Musical) (John F. Kennedy Center TYA), Matilda (Olney Theatre Center), The Book of Will (Round House Theatre) and his Helen Hayes-nominated performance in The Wiz (Ford's Theatre). He holds a B.A. in English and Theatre from The College of William & Mary. Instagram: @chrismichrich

Chris Roberts (John Brown) is a Grammy-nominated, multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter from Nashville, TN. He was in the original Broadway cast and National Touring company of The Civil War. His songs have been recorded by artists like H.E.R., Ashley Mcbride, Matt Stell, Ashley Campbell and others, and used for film and TV in spots like the Super Bowl, Assasin's Creed, Fox Baseball, Nashville, Reign, Call of Duty, 12 Strong, Audi and others. Chris was a founding member of the band One Flew South. Signed to Decca/Universal, the band released its album Last of the Good Guys in 2008 to much critical acclaim and played Farm Aid with Willie Nelson and the Newport Folk Festival with Jimmy Buffet. As a solo artist, Chris has released an album of bluegrass songs called Mountain Standard Time and a pop/folk album, The Way West. His writing for the theater includes a musical commissioned by the Smithsonian for their D-Day Museum in New Orleans called The Boat that Won the War. Love to Wendy, Emily and Abby and thanks for letting me spend the summer in D.C. with this wonderful show! Instagram: @discohiker

Brendon Schaefer (Ensemble / Swing / Abraham Lincoln/John Brown u/s) is proudly making his Arena debut! His most recent jaunt across the boards was as Fox in P. Nokio: A Hip-Hop Musical (Imagination Stage). Other D.C. credits include Fame (GALA), Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, Twelfth Night (STC), Plays From the Front Lines (Theater J). Before making D.C. home, Brendon spent some time with the National Tours of Pippin (King Charles), The Wedding Singer (Glen Gulia) and All Shook Up. Internationally, Hear Our Song played the Black Ship Festival in Japan, and Norwegian Cruise Line's The Illusionarium showed him the wonders of Central and South America. He thanks his parents for being so supportive of his artistic quest. Go Further! Instagram: @beyond_the_realm

Thomas Adrian Simpson (Abraham Lincoln / Garrison) Is ecstatic to be back inside a theater and at Arena Stage, where he first performed more than 30 years ago. Favorite Arena appearances include collaborations with Molly Smith: Whitney in Anything Goes, Pickering in My Fair Lady, Roy in A Light in the Piazza; and Tazewell Thompson: Lindner in A Raisin in the Sun and Lincoln in Mary T. & Lizzy K.. Favorite regional credits include: El Gallo in The Fantasticks with Infinity Theatre, Caiaphas in Jesus Chris Superstar at Signature Theatre and Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd at Olney Theatre Center. Tom can be seen in season 4 of Netflix's House of Cards and is a proud graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Cornelius Smith Jr. (Frederick Douglass), proud native of Detroit, MI, is delighted/grateful to be making his debut at Arena Stage. After completing his MFA at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and one of the last classes hand-picked by Zelda Fichandler, Cornelius booked a contracted role on All My Children which landed him a nomination for a Daytime Emmy and an NAACP Image Award. Other TV credits include Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, God Friended Me, SelfMade, Forever, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Manhunt: Deadly Games. Cornelius can next be seen leading opposite Vera Farmiga in Apple TV+'s limited series Five Days at Memorial from Carlton Cuse and John Ridley and ABC Signature. Big ups to my loving/supportive wife Stephanie. This one is for Legend! Instagram: @corneliussmithjr

Correy West (Ensemble) is a native of Dallas, Texas and attended Northwestern State University. His credits include: Broadway: Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations (Imperial Theatre), Nice Work If You Can Get It (Imperial Theatre), South Pacific (Lincoln Center); National Tours: Love Never Dies (1st National - US Premiere), Anything Goes (1st National), 42nd Street, The Radio City Christmas Spectacular (Chicago/Toronto); NY Theatre: The Ballad of Johnny and June (Workshop - Des McANuff), The Right Girl (Workshop - Susan Stroman), Show Boat (NY Philharmonic/Live from Lincoln Center), Lunch (NYMF), An Evening with Jason Robert Brown (The Cooper Union); Regional: Oliver (Virginia Stage Company), The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Arkansas Rep Theatre), Smokey Joe's Cafe (Capital Rep Theatre), Shrek (NSMT). Instagram: @CorreyWest

Curtis Wiley (Gabe / Ensemble / Frederick Douglass u/s) is overjoyed to be making his Arena Stage debut in American Prophet under the direction of Charles Randolph-Wright, and is thrilled to be creatively reunited with Marcus Hummon, TUT (New York Musical Festival). He made his Broadway debut in the Original Broadway Company of Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. Other NYC credits: The Total Bent (Public Theater). Rothschild & Sons (York Theatre Co.); Straight Faced Lies (FringeNYC); Pageant: The Musical (Off-B'way Revival); The Great Society (York Shakespeare Co.); King Lear (Exit, Pursued by a Bear). Other musical credits: Diner: The Musical; Jersey Boys; The Lion King. Curtis is an alum of Sundance Institute Theatre Program, Wig Out! (Tarell Alvin McCraney). Stay in touch on IG: @Curtis_Wiley

Kanysha Williams (Ensemble / Anna u/s) is so excited to be spending her summer at Arena Stage! A Washington, D.C. area native, Kanysha's most recent credits include Drumfolk (Arena Stage), A.D. 16 (Olney Theatre Center), Acoustic Rooster's Barnyard Boogie (The Kennedy Center), Always...Patsy Cline (Creative Cauldron) and Sister Act (Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre). Kanysha is a graduate of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and George Mason University. Offstage, Kanysha is a voice and piano instructor, and a recording artist. Be on the lookout for her debut single, "ALIVE", coming to streaming platforms this summer! To God Be The Glory! Twitter: @KanyshaMusic Instagram: @StrawberrySings
For full company biographies, please visit

By special arrangement of Reggie Hill as Producer with Kathleen O'Brien and ShowTown Productions as Executive Producer
American Prophet: Frederick Douglass in His Own Words
By Frederick Douglass, Charles Randolph-Wright & Marcus Hummon
Music & Lyrics by Marcus Hummon
Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright
Choreographed by Lorna Ventura
Music Direction, Orchestrations and Additional Arrangements by Joseph Joubert
In the Kreeger Theater | July 15 - August 28, 2022

ABOUT: Charles Randolph-Wright (Arena's Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, Broadway's Motown the Musical) returns to Arena Stage with a groundbreaking musical powered by Frederick Douglass' own speeches and writings. Coupled with soaring new melodies and an original script from Grammy Award-winning songwriter Marcus Hummon and Randolph-Wright, Douglass rises as a fierce abolitionist and distinguished orator. Filled with an electrifying new score, this world premiere celebrates the revolutionary legacy of one of history's first freedom fighters, whose fire is needed now more than ever.

Ensemble / Swing: Carolyn Agan*
Mary Todd / Ensemble: Erica Aubrey*
Reverend Gore / Ensemble: Kurt Boehm*
Ensemble / Swing / Betsey u/s: Zoë Bryant
Betsey Bailey / Elizabeth: Cicily Daniels*
Anna Douglass: Kristolyn Lloyd*
Demby / Ensemble: Christopher B. Portley*
Ensemble / Swing: Christopher Michael Richardson*
John Brown: Chris Roberts
Ensemble / Swing / Abraham Lincoln/John Brown u/s: Brendon Schaefer*
Abraham Lincoln / Garrison: Thomas Adrian Simpson*
Frederick Douglass: Cornelius Smith Jr.*
Ensemble: Correy West*
Gabe / Ensemble / Frederick Douglass u/s: Curtis Wiley*
Ensemble / Anna u/s: Kanysha Williams*

By: Frederick Douglass, Charles Randolph-Wright & Marcus Hummon
Music & Lyrics: Marcus Hummon
Director: Charles Randolph-Wright
Choreographer: Lorna Ventura
Music Direction, Orchestrations and Additional Arrangements: Joseph Joubert
Set Designer: Arnulfo Maldonado
Costume Designer: Dede Ayite
Lighting Designer: Rui Rita
Sound Designer: Dan Moses Schreier
Associate Music Director / Replacement Music Director: Paul Byssainthe, Jr.
Dramaturg: Jocelyn Clarke
Dramaturg: Otis-Ramsey Zoe
Casting Director: Tara Rubin Casting CSA
Local Casting: Joseph Pinzon
Stage Manager: Rachael Danielle Albert*
Assistant Stage Manager: Marne Anderson*
Assistant Stage Manager: Alex Murphy*
*Member of Actors' Equity Association

American Prophet is made possible through generous funding from Exelon.
American Prophet is the recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award.

This production is sponsored by AARP, Dan and Gloria Logan and Tiffeny Sanchez and Reg Brown with additional support from Andrew R. Ammerman, Judith N. Batty, The Drutz Family Fund for Musical Theater, GEICO, Dr. Donald Wallace Jones, Dr. Betty Jean Tolbert Jones and Tracey Tolbert Jones, PNC, R. Lucia Riddle and David Bruce Smith and The Grateful American Foundation.

Special thanks to Sandy and Jon Willen.


TICKETS: Tickets for American Prophet are $51-105, subject to change and based on availability, plus applicable fees. For information on savings programs such as pay-your-age tickets, student discounts, Southwest Nights and Hero's discounts, visit

Tickets may be purchased online at, by phone at 202-488-3300 or at the Sales Office at 1101 Sixth Street, SW, D.C. The Sales Office is open Tuesday - Sunday, 12:00-8:00 p.m. for phone purchases and beginning 90 minutes prior to each performance until curtain for in-person purchases. Please note that proof of vaccination against COVID-19 and photo identification must be shown to enter the building.

Sales Office/Subscriptions: 202-488-3300
Group Sales Hotline for 10+Tickets: 202-488-4380
TTY for deaf patrons: 202-484-0247
Info for patrons with disabilities: 202-488-3300

Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Weekday matinees at noon on Wednesday, August 3, Tuesday, August 9 and Wednesday, August 24
Sunday, August 7 at 6 p.m.

Closed captioning: GalaPro begins Friday, July 29
Audio-described performance: Saturday, August 6 at 2 p.m.
Southwest Night: Tuesday, July 19 at 7:30 p.m.
Full Calendar:

STAY SAFE: Proof of vaccination against COVID-19 and photo identification must be shown to enter the building. Arena Stage is requiring that patrons, staff and volunteers wear facial masks inside the Mead Center regardless of vaccination status. Enhanced cleaning and sanitization will take place throughout the building. For superior air quality, we have upgraded our ventilation/filtration systems and have implemented a full digital ticketing system that will include contactless ticket scanning and digital programs. These conditions are subject to change. For the latest information, visit

METRO: Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater is only one block from the Waterfront-SEU Metro station (Green Line). When exiting the station, walk west on M Street toward Sixth Street, and the main entrance to the Mead Center is on the right.

PARKING: Parking is available in Arena Stage's on-site garage. Subscribers may purchase parking in advance for $18. Single ticket buyers may purchase parking in advance for $25 or on the day of the performance for $27 on a first-come, first-served basis. Limited accessible parking is available by reservation. Advanced parking must be reserved by calling 202-488-3300. The entrance to the Mead Center garage is on Maine Avenue between Sixth and Seventh streets, and the garage closes one hour after the day's last performance ends. Patrons can also park at the Public Parking Garage at 1101 Fourth Street, one block from the Mead Center, for $18 when pre-purchased and $22 on the day of the performance.

VALET PARKING: Arena Stage offers valet service at no additional cost to patrons with accessibility needs who call 202-488-3300 in advance to request valet parking. On days when valet parking is being used for accessibility, it is also available to general patrons one hour prior to show time for $30, based on availability. To use valet parking, pull up to the main entrance on Sixth Street. For complete 2022/23 Season details, visit

Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director Molly Smith and Executive Producer Edgar Dobie, is a national center dedicated to American voices and artists. Arena Stage produces plays of all that is passionate, profound, deep and dangerous in the American spirit, and presents diverse and ground-breaking work from some of the best artists around the country. Arena Stage is committed to commissioning and developing new plays and impacting the lives of over 10,000 students annually through its work in community engagement. Now in its eighth decade, Arena Stage serves a diverse annual audience of more than 300,000.

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