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New American musical ‘Visionary Man’ at Hudson Mainstage celebrates inspired art

Will North and Jimmer Bolden.
Will North and Jimmer Bolden.Ed Krieger

Spirited Hands Productions is presenting a new American musical based on the fascinating true story of visionary artist J.B. Murray. The world premiere of “Visionary Man” performs at the Hudson Mainstage in Hollywood through August 31, 2014. Adapted from the book “In the Hand of the Holy Spirit: the Visionary Art of J.B. Murray” (winner, Georgia Author of the Year Award) by visual artist Mary Padgelek, “Visionary Man” features music and lyrics by Padgelek, who also co-wrote the musical’s book with director Tom Coleman. Musical arrangements are by Teresa Ruiz and Bryan Shaw, musical director is Jeff Bonhiver, and choreography is by Ali North.

Murray was an illiterate African American farm worker living in a shack in rural Georgia without water or electricity. He had the first of what he called his “visions from the Holy Spirit” at age 70. “Over a period of 10 years, Murray’s vision-inspired paintings and non-semantic script, initially on scraps of writing paper, envelopes, adding machine tape, poster board, wood paneling, old stove tops and televisions picture tubes, and eventually on archival art paper, would capture the imagination — and the wrath — of his family, friends and neighbors. Today, his work is recognized and sought after by an international community of museums, galleries and collectors. A brilliant colorist who wrote and painted obsessively, Murray’s prolific output resembles a kind of vernacular version of illuminated manuscripts.”

“I’ve always seen such beauty in his story,” says Padgelek. “It is a story of mystery. A story of hope. Most of all, it is a story of one person following his call with persistence, courage and faith. From my first introduction to the strange art of J.B. Murray in 1993, I believed his passion and vision made his story ‘sing and dance.’ The mystery and power of his story need more than mere words. I could imagine a string of songs led by ecstatic dancing to a finale of choral explosion.”

Noted jazz singer Jimmer Bolden takes on the title role. Yorke G. Fryer portrays Murray’s politically ambitious son, Samuel, who seeks to have his father committed to a mental institution. Chante Carmel and Ovation Award-winner Jacquelin Schofield alternate in the role of Murray’s daughter Sara. Will North plays Dr. William Rawlings, Jr. the young white doctor who becomes Murray’s friend and eventually brings his work to the attention of the art world. Ernest Williams is Murray’s spiritual counselor, Reverend Crawford; Caitlin Gallogly and Joshua Leduc are Anne Hanes and Paul Nelson, professors of art at the nearby university in Atlanta; and Sequoia Houston, Stephanie Martin and Courtney Turner play neighborhood gossips Juanita, Rhetha Mae and Mamie.

“Visionary Man” performs Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through August 31. General admission is $28. Student price (with valid ID) and previews are $15. Call 323-960-7787 or visit www.plays411.com/visionary.

The Hudson Mainstage is located at 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles.