“Beautiful Dreamer” rekindles memory of Stephen Foster’s patriotic anthems

Created, produced and directed by Richard and Cathie Craig Barry, the Geneseo Riviera Theater brought a lively and interactive side-by-side performance called “Beautiful Dreamer” to the Geneseo community on Saturday Feb. 27. “Beautiful Dreamer” is a performance piece in which Richard Barry is an informative and creative resurrection of Stephen Foster, offering everyone a chance to get to know the “Father of American music.”

Foster was born on July 4, 1826. He struggled his whole life to make a prosperous career with his compositions, but he never gave up. His most prolific period was when he married his wife Jane and became a father a year later.

Richard Barry has acted for most of his life. He has appeared in performances at Geva Theatre Center in Rochester and in many live theatre venues, commercials and films. In the Riviera performance, he demonstrated his passion and talent as an actor while narrating each story behind Foster’s songs—which are thought to be autobiographical.

Accompanying Barry and playing all of his music was the musical duo The Dady Brothers. The music of John and Joe Dady transcends genres and generations by the melding of American Folk roots and Irish traditional influences. These Rochester natives have traveled around the world for their music. John Dady’s daughter Mara also accompanied the band.

The Dady Brothers performed a variety of songs including “Beautiful Dreamer,” “Oh! Susanna,” “Nelly Was a Lady,” “Ah! May the Red Rose Live Alway!,” “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!,” “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” “De Camptown Races,” “Gentle Annie,” “Nelly Bly,” “Hard Times Come Again No More,” “Comrades Fill No Glass For Me” and “Old Folks at Home.”

Foster’s song “Oh! Susanna” is influenced by a variety of musical traditions, taking its beat from the polka. This is one of the more well known American folk songs—the San Francisco 49ers unofficially adopted it as their theme song.

“Nelly Was a Lady” was one of many pieces that portrayed Foster’s progressive views on diversity. This was the first song in which a black woman was referred to as a “lady.”

“My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” was eventually adopted as the state of Kentucky’s official anthem. It appears that Foster took inspiration for this song from the popular anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Written during the first half of the 19th century, “Gentle Annie” is a tribute to Annie Jenkins, the daughter of a grocer who died. It was debated whether or not Annie was black or white, but in this performance, Foster inquires, “Does it matter?”

“Comrades Fill No Glass for Me” was very popular during the temperance movement, written after Foster turned to drinking in order to cope with the loss of his wife. “Old Folks at Home” is more uplifting, centering on the notion that home will always be where our parents are and that the reflection of them within us is comforting. In this song, Foster expresses his belief that this comfort is what allows us to dream.

Foster died young at just 37 years old on Jan. 13, 1864. At the time, his wallet contained only 38 cents and a scrap of paper upon which he had written, “Dear friends and gentle hearts.” His last song was “Beautiful Dreamer”—after which this performance was named—and he died having written nearly 200 compositions.

This side-by-side performance was distinct, informative and entertaining, with the audience being encouraged to sing along. It was amazing to learn the story behind each of Foster’s famous songs and it thoroughly traced the narrative of his creative life.