Come see ‘Georama’


From: Frances Edstrom

I had a chance to sit in on a music rehearsal of the Great River Shakespeare Festival’s new musical, “Georama.”

I bet you’re wondering what a georama is, and why anyone would write a musical about it. A georama is a scrolled painting, and the first one was painted in the mid 1800s by the artist John Banvard.

According to the script notes, Banvard was a “starving sketch artist” when he came up with the idea of the georama, which was huge, three miles long, and depicted various scenes along the length of the Mississippi River. It was a precursor to “moving pictures” — a panorama that moved in front of the audience when a crank was turned.

Banvard begins traveling to show the georama, and along the way, he meets Elizabeth Goodnow, a musician and the daughter of a small-town pastor. She is anxious to escape the humdrum of her life under the microscope, and leaves with Banvard. She composes piano music to accompany the georama, much as in later years piano and organ music accompanied silent movies in the theater.

Banvard also met up with P.T. Barnum, who was anxious to promote the georama. Banvard, however, thinks of his art as pure, not a gimmick to draw in crowds, and deflects Barnum’s interest, to his regret.

John and Elizabeth travel the country showing the georama, where in Boston, it was seen by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, inspiring his epic poem “Evangeline.” John and Elizabeth eventually get to London, where they show it to Queen Victoria, engendering a lot of laughs, not from the queen.

It is a love story, a comedy, a musical, and a tragedy all in one. The script notes say, “Georama illustrates an artist’s rise and fall, and the choice he must make between the art he loves and the life he’s always longed for.”

Audiences will find it is rollicking fun, with tunes you’ll be humming all the way home.
Traveling to Winona to be in-house musical director for “Georama” is Jack Herrick — of the famed Tony Award-winning “Red Clay Ramblers” — who is also the composer of the musical. Director is Paul Barnes.

Welcome back, GRSF!


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