Seven cast members standing in a row on stage


January 25, 2024 - January 27, 2024 | Yardley Hall

Past Event

Ages 10 and up

In her debut theatrical production, Ashli St. Armant presents “North,” a powerful new musical about a teenage boy and his mother who escape slavery in the Deep South through the Underground Railroad.

Pre-show Discussion

Join us for a panel discussion, "Kansas and the Underground Railroad: Legend, History, and Art," at 1 p.m. (prior to the 2 p.m. performance) on Saturday, January 27, in the Virginia Krebs Room (MTC 107). The discussion is free and open to the public; no reservation is required.

Panelists include:

  • Ashli St. Armant is a jazz vocalist, composer, musician, and playwright. She is the creator and director of NORTH: The Musical, which is based on actual accounts of escape through the Underground Railroad network, as well as St. Armant’s personal family history of overcoming slavery in Louisiana.
  • Rev. Stacy Evans is an AME minister and chairs the Western University Board and the Quindaro Ruins Project Foundation Board. For the last 14 years, she has spearheaded preservation of the Quindaro ruins townsite in Kansas City, KS – an Underground Railroad town settled by Wyandot Nation members, abolitionists, and African Americans that was eventually home to the first HBCU (historically black college/university) west of the Mississippi river, Western University.
  • James Leiker is a JCCC history professor and prolific and award-winning scholar of the American West and Kansas history. He is the author of Racial Borders: Black Soldiers Along the Rio Grande(2002), co-author of The Northern Cheyenne Exodus in History and Memory (2011), and co-editor of the special issue of the journal Kansas History documenting Quindaro’s history (2019).

“North” is a moving story that explores the multi-faceted reality of Black life during the antebellum period, and which aims to bring out the full range of experiences of freedom seekers. While acknowledging the realities of slavery, the narrative and original musical compositions by Ashli St. Armant explore themes of optimism, bravery, playfulness, wonder, suspense and mystery. The musical is intended for intergenerational audiences, ages 10 and up.

Inspired by true accounts of escape through the Underground Railroad, the story begins in Vacherie, Louisiana, in the middle of the 19th century where Lawrence, a precocious teenage boy, and his cautious mother, Minnie, are making the best of their lives, enslaved on Mr. Newsome’s plantation – the only reality they’ve ever known.

When Minnie makes a shocking discovery that Lawrence’s life is in jeopardy, they make the brave and difficult decision to run away that night. While navigating the complicated relationship between mother and son, and Lawrence’s emerging promise of manhood, the pair must also find their way through the intricate network of the Underground Railroad. Together, they discover more about the world and themselves than they ever would have had they stayed on the plantation. Will their new understandings and their bond be enough to carry them all the way to freedom? Relationships, grit, betrayal, ingenuity, finding joy and ultimately, humanity, drive the story.

St. Armant’s own ancestors were enslaved in Vacherie, and her research for this project led her down many paths where she discovered incredible connections to her own family and experiences. Many of those findings influenced the final story, including characters like Tham the Brave, a real-life leader in a Maroons community who had been enslaved on the same plantation as St. Armant’s family members in the 1780s. The set design and the song “Oh What These Trees Have Seen” come from her personal experience visiting the area where this plantation was located.

Presented in collaboration with the Kansas Studies Institute.