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By Anna Buie | Photos by John Clayton

NORTH: A Performance Rooted in History, Music

Ashli St. Armant is bringing her debut theatrical production, NORTH, to Walton Arts Center’s stage this month. NORTH is a musical for kids and families. Set in the 1850s, the story is based on actual accounts of slave escapes through the Underground Railroad network as well as St. Armant’s family history of overcoming slavery in Louisiana. 

St. Armant explained the inspiration for NORTH was her son’s lack of knowledge about the Underground Railroad as well as her first trip to Vacherie, Louisiana, where her ancestors had been enslaved. She happened to be in the area doing research for another project when she decided to visit the birthplace of her relatives. St. Armant then visited Oak Alley Plantation, a historical site just down the road from where her enslaved ancestors lived. St. Armant’s song “Oh What These Trees Have Seen” was inspired by the oak trees that lined the plantation. 

The more research St. Armant did, the more she realized that Black American music is a direct coping response to the Black American experience. St. Armant believes NORTH is a collective story, not just the story of Black Americans, and that her production can help open conversations inside communities. She also hopes everyone, no matter who they may be, will realize the stories from this period in history are the stories that make up all of us. St. Armant has big dreams for her debut production, hoping to get NORTH on Broadway in two years.

The production features original musical compositions steeped in jazz and other historically Black music genres. St. Armant drew inspiration from an array of musical heroes, including crooner Nat King Cole, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, legendary lyricist Stephen Sondheim and Fela Kuti, known as the father of Afrobeat.

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On a deeper level, the show explores the multifaceted reality of Black life during the antebellum period and aims to bring out the range of experiences of freedom seekers during that time. While acknowledging the realities of slavery, the narrative also explores themes of optimism, bravery, playfulness, wonder, suspense and mystery.  

St. Armant is a celebrated vocalist, writer, arts educator and founder of Leaping Lizards Music, a music and theater education program for students in preschool through 12th grade. St. Armant tours with her band, Jazzy Ash and the Leaping Lizards, and has produced five albums featured in Los Angeles Times. 

Experience this moving and personal theatrical production April 28 at 4 p.m. Purchase tickets by visiting the website, by calling (479) 443-5600 weekdays 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. or in person at the Walton Arts Center Box Office weekdays 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

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Upcoming Shows

The Comedy Zone: Michael Palascak | April 4 at 7:30 p.m. 

Jackie Venson | April 5 at 7:30 p.m.  

Arkansas Filmmakers Film Fest | April 6 at 8 p.m. 

Take 6 | April 12 at 8 p.m | $10 tickets!

Voice Jam Competition | April 13 at 7:30 p.m. 

Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbir
d | April 16 - 21 

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain | April 26 at 8 p.m.  | $10 tickets!

Aubrey Logan Band | April 27 at 7:30 p.m.

For more information, visit


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