In 1952, Alaskan artist Rie Muñoz was living on remote King Island. She witnessed a most extraordinary feat when an impending storm threatened the fall/winter arrival of the supply ship, the North Star. Rather than spend the winter without goods and their village priest, the villagers carried their oomiak (kayak) over the mountain to meet the ship in the calm, leeward side. It was an extraordinary feat, one she later told her friend Jean Rogers about after moving to Juneau.
Rogers, a children’s author, was so taken by the story she changed the timing from fall to “much closer to Christmas” and wrote a children’s book illustrated by Muñoz. In the mid-90s, award-winning playwright Deborah Brevoort wrote a libretto to which composer (as well as conductor, musical director and vocal arranger for a number of Disney musicals on Broadway) David Friedman, put music. The result was King Island Christmas, a tribute to the tiny Alaskan community that saved Christmas due to creativity and determination.
Originally produced in Juneau by Perseverance Theatre, the show was an annual holiday offering for a number of years, but eventually ran its course. But in 2010 Sharon Gaiptman, Deborah Smith and Missouri Smyth were determined to revive the show as a tribute to Rogers and Muñoz.
In the past, King Island Christmas had been produced as a full scale production, with costumes and props and even sets. The trio decided to keep it simple, relying on Brevoort’s libretto and Friedman’s music to tell the story, performed by children from the Alaska Youth Choir and adults from throughout the community. Smith and Smyth directed the production, stage and music, respectively; Gaiptman produced and promoted it. The end result was seven sold-out performances and a contribution to the arts endowment in the Juneau Community Foundation for almost $13,000 in Rogers’ and Muñoz’s names. Now, two years later, the trio is not only bringing the production back to Juneau for the upcoming holiday season and again donating a portion of the gate receipts to the Foundation in the original authors’ names, but they’re hoping to take the almost-60-member cast to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next August. The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, which is co-sponsoring the production, is selling tickets to the performances, which will take place in two locations over two weekends: Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Nov. 29, 30, and Dec.1; and the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, December 6-9. The final weekend’s performances are held in conjunction with the Capital City’s annual Gallery Walk.
Tickets are available online at jahc.org, in person at Hearthside Books, at the door or by calling 907-586-ARTS (2787).