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Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical Interview with Richard Allen and Taran Gray.

"an encouragement to everyone that there’s a place for their voice in the pursuit of a better/fair world."

Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights musical created by Richard Allen and Taran Gray has released its world premiere recording. 

The show tells the true story of college-age activists who boldly challenge the legality and optics of the Jim Crow Laws in 1961 by riding buses in mixed groups through the South; a soaring portrait of the fearless voices who used nonviolent direct action to initiate change.

The show first premiered back in 2016 and won the Beta Award at the New York Musical Festival. In 2017 the musical returned to the festival where it took home the award for Outstanding Music as well as receiving special recognition with an award for Social Impact and Relevance. The 2017 production was visited by Congressman John Lewis who described the show as "extremely accurate. It brought tears to my eyes.” 

The 18 track album features a 15 strong ensemble cast including; Brynn Williams (The SpongeBob Musical / Bye Bye Birdie / 13) playing Diane Nash, Anthony Chatmon II (Hadestown, Be More Chill) as John Lewis, Deon’te Goodman (Hamilton) as Bernard Lafayette, and Payson Lewis ("The Sing-Off," NBC) as John Siegenthaler. The rest of the superb ensemble includes Jennifer Sun Bell (Comfort Women), Kevin “Blax” Burroughs (In The Heights), Aja Downing (Legendary), Eboni Muse (Hairspray), Patrick Ortiz (West Side Story / Tarzan), Scott Redmond (Oklahoma!), Erin Vaderhyde (Legally Blonde the Musical), and Joy Yandell (Jersey Boys). 

The album artwork. Photo courtesy of Skollar PR.

After listening to this lovely album. I had a chance to discuss the album with writers Richard Allen and Taran Gray.

We discussed the research that came when writing the project with Allen saying "all of the usual research for anything that is a documentary style of writing. We centered most of the research around the act and didn’t look too deep into our Riders' lives personally. This wasn’t how did Clark become Superman. This is Superman saving the planet despite the dangers to himselfOne thing we have gleaned from this process is that research is never done."

Allen describes that the musical fans led them to the point of releasing the album. Describing the inspiration for releasing it he explained it came "from our fans and supporters of the show. They wanted this. They helped us!"

Over the 5 years since the musical premiered it has gained a loyal supportive following. It was this following that inspired the writers to record and release the album. Gray explained "we’ve built a close following since 2016 and our community’s number 1 request since then was this album. It’s awesome to finally deliver on that." Allen added  "its been a great way for us to dive into this world. I dont think we were ready artistically or technically before this moment. Over these years weve matured as artists." 

Allen described further that the inspiration for the release came "from our fans and supporters of the show. They wanted this. They helped us!".

Gray explained what he wants the audience to take away from listening to the album "we both have always wanted it to be clear that this is the story of America. A nation that wasnt made in our image but is being forged in ours by the actions and courage of everyday people who stand against injustice and inequality.  The music and performers behind the songs are a reflection of that, and we hope that’s an encouragement to everyone that there’s a place for their voice in the pursuit of a better/fair world.

Richard Allen, Congressman John Lewis, and Taran Gray. Photo courtesy of Skollar PR.

Having had the chance to listen to the brilliant album myself talk turned to the writer's favourite tracks (I tried to decide mine which proved difficult but I'd probably say 'Come Down To The River' or 'You Are The Wind'). Gray explained how he "fluctuates on this probably every interview. Haha! “Come Down To The River” is the one we wrote that when we first listened back to the final demo, we knew we were given a real gift and responsibility. My favorite right now though is “Upside”. I think Anthony Chatmon II’s performance on it, and the performance of Erika Boras on the cello, creates a very touching moment that lives far beyond Richard and me as composers. Deciding proved harder for Allen who said "I can’t pick one. I think the album is one of those that you think you have your pick then another song comes on and you suddenly have a new favorite, ya know."

With the strength of an album release and an already loyal following talk ended on what the future may hold for the show with Allen explaining "we are currently putting that executive team together to lead the next production of Freedom Riders. We believe something is coming in 22!"

To stream the album head to Spotify or head to wherever you get your music. To find out more about the writer's Taran Gray and Richard Allen head to their website 

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