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Lees-McRae College Debuts New Musical Celebrating Norman Rockwell

A world-premiere musical about one of America’s most popular artists debuts during Lees-McRae Summer Theatre, July 25 to Aug. 1.

“America’s Artist: The Norman Rockwell Story” showcases the life of a beloved painter who created more than 4,000 pieces of art. Rockwell captured the essence of America with each brushstroke, from Rosie the Riveter to The Four Freedoms. His Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations reflected small-town America at its most endearing.

Written and directed by Janet Speer, Lees-McRae professor emeritus and Summer Theatre artistic director, the show transports audiences from Rockwell’s career beginnings in the early 1900s through his final years in the 1970s. Speer’s in-depth research included discussions with Rockwell’s granddaughter, Abigail Rockwell.

“His story certainly revolves around his reputation as one of the most popular artists of all time, but the complexity of his life is another engaging storyline, quite different from his work,” says Speer. “He painted life ‘as it should be,’ while experiencing life as it is, with joys, sorrows, falls from grace, and moments of sanctity.”

Speer has taught, acted, choreographed, written, and directed for 50 years. She came to Lees-McRae in 1976 and her career includes more than 600 productions. In 2019, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper awarded her the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest state-service award.

For lyrics and music, Speer called upon the father/son duo Tommy and J.T. Oaks from Knoxville, Tennessee. Speer and the Oaks have collaborated previously on other musicals, including “The Denim King: The Moses Cone Story.”

The jazzy, ragtime-style music for “America’s Artist: The Norman Rockwell Story” takes the audience on a journey through seven nostalgic decades of American culture.

Eight performances of the musical will be held in the Hayes Auditorium at Lees-McRae College. Matinee shows are July 25, 29, 31, and Aug. 1 at 2 p.m. Evening shows are July 27, 28, 30, and 31 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18-$20 for children and students and $38-$43 for adults. 

Tickets are available online at www.lmc.edu/summertheatre or by calling 828.898.8709. For lodging and restaurant info, go to www.BannerElk.com.