“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Emma Lazarus’ powerful words from her poem, “The New Colossus,” engraved on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, were just as powerful performed in “Liberty: A Monumental New Musical,” at the Riviera Theater this past weekend from Thursday Oct. 19 to Sunday Oct. 22
The story follows a personified version of the Statue of Liberty—named Liberty in the show and played by Katharina Nieves—as she tries to establish herself in the United States.
The show grapples with issues surrounding immigration and presents a variety of viewpoints. Characters such as Francis A. Walker, played by Dennis Dawson, and Regina Schuyler, played by Tamara Albert, are both skeptical of immigrants’ value to the country and criticize Liberty for asking for assistance in obtaining a pedestal on which she can be affixed.
One of Walker’s lines in the performance captures his disdain for immigrants perfectly, when he claims that the government isn’t in the position to give pedestals to every statue that travels to the U.S. This line draws a perfect parallel to the criticisms some politicians have of immigrants constantly begging for handouts from the government.
Other characters in the show are more sympathetic to not only Liberty’s cause, but to that of all immigrants. For example, Emma Lazarus, played by Elizabeth Giguere Kimball, tutors a young immigrant in English as he tries to learn the new language and navigate in the new country. Although Lazarus is not entirely open to the public about her role in aiding immigrants, she eventually uses her talents in poetry to write “The New Colossus” for Liberty and to help persuade Americans that Liberty should stay in the U.S.
The actors’ depiction of these themes was also noteworthy, especially their vocal performances in the show. Nieves’ voice shines when singing “Horizon,” a song about immigrants’ hopes when traveling to the U.S., and “Huddles Masses,” which closes the show quoting “The New Colossus” poem.
Darius Kimbrough’s raspy soulful voice was also memorable, especially in his character Samuel Ferguson’s song “More.” This song tells the story of Ferguson’s struggle to gain freedom as a former slave in the U.S., and he pleads Liberty to stand for rights of all those who are forgotten, not just immigrants.
“Liberty” serves as a springboard that director Ruth Henry hopes will lead to a discussion of imigration issues, Henry said. Geneseo also has some connections to the Statue of Liberty itself, according to Henry.
“The Livingston County Historical Society has as part of its collection now on loan the original trowel that was used to lay the cornerstone for the Statue of Liberty, which as far as I’m concerned should be in the Library of Congress or the Smithsonian or something,” Henry said. “The fact that it is here in this little museum on Center Street in Geneseo … it’s just preposterous that it’s such a valuable, significant item and here it is.”
The show also served as a fundraiser in order to benefit the Livingston County Historical Society. Rehearsing in the organization’s office helped the cast prepare for the show as they were able to feel the weight of history around them, according to Henry.
The base of Geneseo’s bear fountain was designed by Richard Morris Hunt, who also designed the base of the Statue of Liberty, adding another connection between Geneseo and lady liberty herself.
Many of these issues, including accepting immigrants and people from other cultures, explored in this show relate to national concerns this country is facing as well as issues that are present on the Geneseo campus.
“The whole campus gets these emails talking about how our focus is toward inclusivity and diversity. So the show falls in line with that theme, especially with various bias related incidents and things that happen. It’s certainly very timely and an important thing to keep in mind,” physics and mathematics double major sophomore James Canning, who played percussion during the show, said.
“Liberty” successfully explores these relevant themes, and the stellar performances by the actors created a significant impact on all audience members.