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History + Talent + Imagination = Honour, the Musical

Simon Spalding and Bill Hand
Simon Spalding and Bill Hand take a break at a recent rehearsal.

The Team that Made it Happen

NEW BERN, NC – Rogers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe and now Hand and Spalding? This New Bern duo is too modest to assert the connection, but they are very excited for the opening of their brand-new historical production, Honour, The Musical at Orringer Hall at Craven Community College on Jan. 23. If you ask them, how did such a large project happen, both Bill Hand and Simon Spalding agree, the seed for Honour the Musical came as they both worked for Tryon Palace at the turn of this century.  Simon’s wife Sara also worked for the Palace and organized the very first re-enactment of the Stanly-Spaight duel there. Bill credits Sara for planting the idea of a musical.  That seed of an idea has now borne fruit in an exciting new stage presentation.

From that re-enactment, the duel and surrounding events grabbed Bill’s attention. He explains, “The story has always fascinated me, because the people involved were in their days such prominent figures, and because of the public way in which it came about (duels were usually very private affairs). I have always wondered what went on in these men’s heads as the crisis developed, and always believed the story received short shrift both locally and statewide and nationally.”

“When I realized what Sarah Rice’s [Spaight’s favored slave] story was, I became even more intrigued. The idea of a play was in my head for probably 3 years before I acted on it and began the research and writing. It was a bit of a challenge deciding how to put across the duel’s story, because so much of it was the result of a long exchange of letters, then of circulars spread around the town over several days. That kind of wordiness could be dull to watch. Through some creative scene management, I believe I was able to express that exchange while building tension; I also believed the story’s mood would be greatly enhanced by employing music.” So, he went to work on the lyrics.

That brought in Simon Spalding. He was already drawn in by the story from their work at Tryon Palace. When Hand brought Spalding the script in 2018, he says, “I was excited to create a score for it: incorporating a mix of actual songs and tunes from the period, as well as new material that combined Bill’s lyrics with my music. I’ve been playing music of this and other historical periods for decades, so it was a cinch to find period music, and to write new music in the style of the era.”

You can feel the energy and enthusiasm as these two talk about the show. What do they want the audience to take from the experience? They agree that entertainment is primary. Bill notes “I really want people to have a fun night where they will appreciate a good story and the theatrical talents of this town.” Simon points out the excitement of a premiere, “watching a completely new show that has never been performed anywhere before. Combine this with a live “pit orchestra”, historical dancing, and an extremely talented cast – who wouldn’t want to see the show?”

But a close second in desired take-aways is the history. Hand explains, “I do want them to come away with a better understanding and appreciation for an important story in their city’s history, and of the difficulties and differences of a time that was very far away from them — but in some ways, not far at all. People were the same flawed, complicated yet hopeful things in their day that they are in ours.” Simon points out, “The script offers in-depth exploration of the institution of slavery, and how it affected daily life. Among the principal characters are Sarah Rice, an enslaved house servant of the Spaights; and John Carruthers Stanly, a free black businessman and a slaveholder himself.”

The result of the Hand/Spalding collaboration is an entertaining presentation of one of the most compelling stories in New Bern’s history. It moved from page to stage with a wide range of support, starting when New Bern Historical Society took on the role of Executive Producer. The leadership at Craven Community College immediately agreed to provide the first-class venue. Hand and his Producer, Nancy Hitchcock gathered a stellar group of local sponsors led by CarolinaEast Health System, the New Bern Sun Journal and Public Radio East.

Everyone involved in Honour, the Musical wears many hats. Bill Hand is researcher, writer, lyricist and director. Simon Spalding is composer, co-musical director (along with John Stilley), lead musician and choreographer. They all invite you to come and enjoy the show running weekends Jan. 23 – Feb.2 at Orringer Hall at Craven Community College. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and are available at HonourtheMusical.com or by calling the New Bern Historical Society at 252-638-8558.
The mission of the New Bern Historical Society is to celebrate and promote New Bern and its heritage through events and education. Offices are located in the historic Attmore-Oliver House at 511 Broad Street in New Bern. For more information, call 252-638-8558 or go NewBernHistorical.org or Facebook.com/NewBernHistoricalSociety.

Submitted by: Kathy Morrison on behalf of Mickey Miller, New Bern Historical Society