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Junior Mints to perform two livestream of Peterborough writer’s adaptation

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/6/2021 2:24:49 PM

When Jody Hill Simpson sat down to read “The Secret of Captain Midnight,” the Music on Norway Pond artistic director and founder immediately had a vision.

It was written by Libby Fuller, a friend of hers from Peterborough who was looking for comments on her young adult book. Simpson saw the potential for a new venture under the Music on Norway Pond umbrella – since the normal way that the singing-focused organization operates was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of singing, Simpson saw an avenue to put together a read-aloud of the book and this Saturday, the Music on Norway Pond’s children’s group, the Junior Mints, will perform an adaptation of the “The Secret of Captain Midnight” via livestream at 1 and 3:30 p.m. from the Hancock Meetinghouse.

Set in 1953 at the height of the Red Scare, “The Secret of Captain Midnight” examines how the politics of fear can impact children. Fuller got the idea for “The Secret of Captain Midnight” after reading “Stalking the Academic Communist” by David R. Holmes, chronicling the saga around University of Vermont professor Alex B. Novikoff during the height of McCarthyism.

“I wondered what effect it had on children of that time,” Fuller said. “There was an awful lot of research. I’ve been working on it for years.” She didn’t see it as a performance piece, but agreed to cut it down from 36,000 words to 9,000 to see how it would work.

“It was very difficult. I had to leave characters out,” Fuller said.

The small Vermont town where eleven-year-old David Loftus lives is sharply divided. His family is targeted because of his father’s support of a man who refuses to name friends who used to be communists. Secrets and misinformation abound, and David begins to lose friends.

“There are questions of what’s the truth, what’s a fib and what’s a lie,” Simpson said. “There’s a lot of really important messages in the story,” surrounding the notions of prejudice, fearfulness, lying and kindness. Throughout the piece, the characters’ reaction to music reveals things about their pasts, their worries, and their hopes for the future.

“It’s very layered and has a lot to learn from it,” Fuller said.

Even David operates on misinformation. It is only after he finds an injured cat named Captain Midnight and observes how tenderly a gruff Turkish immigrant neighbor named Mustapha cares for it, that he begins to realize people are not always who they seem to be on the surface and that understanding each other at a deeper level is what helps to build community.

“Mustapha is a ‘Home Alone’ kind of scary guy next door,” Simpson said. “But he’s actually the opposite of scary.”

The cast includes 10 children, all from local homeschooled families, who have been working on the play as part of their curriculum. There are also eight adults, including acclaimed story-teller Sebastian Lockwood as Mustapha, Henry Walters, who performs the harmonica and plays Mr. Tolliver, the train engineer, and Tyler Shore as the narrator.

The rewrite and the rehearsal process has given Fuller insight into how to rework the full-length book, she said.

Of course, there will be music and singing, but it has been produced in the safest way possible. Two of the Junior Mints recorded singing around a campfire, and former members of Simpson’s PALS Children’s Chorus also recorded songs. As with the Feb. 14 Music on Norway Pond livestream production with Broadway’s Nik Walker, Peterborough’s Drum Production Studio is assisting with the technological aspects of the production.

Rehearsals began in the fall with an anticipated Dec. 20 performance date, but like everything else over the last year Simpson had to be flexible. They made the decision to pause “within six rehearsals of being ready to perform it,” Simpson said, but recently resumed in anticipation of Saturday’s double reading.

“I’m just super proud of being able to do it,” Simpson said. “It’s just about the most exciting thing I can think about doing.” And as things begin to work back toward normalcy, Simpson is even thinking about doing it again next fall – in front of a live audience.

The livestream is free, but donations are appreciated.

“It would be awful nice to click and donate,” Simpson said, as donations will go to support future Music on Norway Pond programming. “And in fact, we’re getting more donations than ever during the past year.”

But for Simpson, it’s just nice to get back to creating live entertainment in any way possible.

“I’ve missed it so much,” she said.

For more information and a link to the livestream, visit musiconnorwaypond.org.

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