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Alice Flagg (Emily Casey) returns to the Hermitage after falling ill. Her brother (Matthew Woorman) and mother (Christine Browne-Munz) discover her secret.
Tanya Ackerman/Coastal Observer

Arts: Murrells Inlet legend brought to life on the opera stage

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

When members of the audience leave an opera singing memorable lines, it’s reasonable to assume they enjoyed the show.

That was the case Monday night at the Winyah Auditorium in Georgetown after “Alice Flagg,” made its hometown debut before a sell-out crowd. Composer Joseph Kaz, a graduate of Waccamaw High School, brought his interpretation of the Murrells Inlet ghost story from Washington, D.C., where it made its debut last year at the Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage Festival. Kaz is an alumnus of the “Young Treasures of the Tidelands” program of the Cultural Council of Georgetown County, and those connections proved beneficial in bringing the show to his hometown, according to Leslie Ayers, executive director. The Cultural Council was the sponsoring organization. Kaz said his parents helped find benefactors and hosts for the production, too. His mother Troi is an agent at DeBordieu Real Estate, his father Jeff is general manager at the DeBordieu Club. The opera’s program paid tribute to a mentor of Kaz, the late Thom Martin.

Logistics were a much bigger challenge than gathering an audience, Kaz said. There were only 50 tickets left when the cast arrived last Friday. While the five principals, the director, the conductor and some crew members were working in Washington, the seven members of the chorus were rehearsing with pianist Brian Monroe in Pawleys Island and the set was being built on the auditorium stage. They all came together for the first time on Friday before the production. “Very interesting,” is how Kaz described the process before starting rehearsals.

The Memorial Day holiday provided a window for the cast to travel. They all have other jobs, Kaz said. The Kennedy Center debut last Labor Day weekend was a staged reading without costumes. The Memorial Day presentation in Georgetown was a finished product. “It’s in their skin,” Kaz said of his cast members. He found pleasure in the relationship of the two holiday performances. “Here’s another American day for another American opera,” he said.

Like many, Kaz took some license with Alice’s story, made popular by the late Clarke Willcox at the Hermitage. Alice was the sister of Dr. Allard Flagg, who owned Wachesaw Plantation. She died in 1849 at 15. Legend says she became engaged to an unsuitable beau – a Northern artist, a turpentine merchant — and they kept it secret. Kaz gave Alice’s suitor a name, John Braddock, and made him a lumberjack. Alice’s brother and mother found his profession most unsuitable, and her line, “He’s a lumberjack,” was one that stuck in audience members’ minds. Soprano Emily Casey delivered a winning performance and made young Alice a sympathetic and lovable character who had to hide her engagement ring on a ribbon around her neck. Her brother banished Alice to a boarding school in Charleston, where she contracted malaria. Allard, a doctor, insisted on bringing her home, and the four-day trip left her exhausted and near death. Allard found her ring while attempting to treat Alice and threw it away. She died of the fever, and legend holds that Alice’s ghost is looking for her ring.

Kaz took the cast and crew to All Saints cemetery and paid homage to the legend by walking backward 13 times around the commemorative stone marked “Alice” in the Flagg family plot to summon her. “We did the whole shebang,” Kaz said.

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