Editor's Note: Performances have been suspended after Sunday, March 15, 2020 because of the COVID-19 concerns.
A new musical based on the life of a cloistered-in-Spain nun who somehow ministered to people in the 17th Century New World by means of bilocation is about to debut at Queensbury Theatre.
Lady of Agreda, A Mystical Journey with book by Marley Singletary and music and lyrics by Cynthia Jordan, builds on historical accounts of the life of Maria of Jesus of Agreda, Spain, who was also known as the Lady in Blue. The nun is beloved to this day not only in Spain and Europe but also in San Angelo, Texas where she "appeared" to the native people there from 1620 to 1631.
As Director Bruce Lumpkin explains it, audience members can regard the story as myth or miracle but it is a compelling one. Originally, Jordan began work on it ten years ago and designed it as a ballet. She brought it to Lumpkin a year and a half ago and the decision was made to turn it into a musical. "We brought Marley in to write the book," says Lumpkin, who in his former position as artistic director at Theatre Under the Stars had worked with Singletary who directed there before moving on to Queensbury.
Maria was born to a strict Roman Catholic family (although her father was a converso of Jewish descent.) She decided at a very young age to become a nun and eventually was elected abbess of her order. But her claims that she visited the inhabitants of what became Texas and New Mexico while still physically inside her Spanish convent raised questions about whether she was a witch — upsetting her fellow nuns and attracted the attention of the Spanish Inquisition.
The Inquisition found her not-guilty after trying her for heresy. "When they questioned her about bilocation she said 'I don't really know how it's done, whether it's spiritual, whether it's metaphysical. I know that I never left the convent. And I do know that these people that I saw these people and they gave me these gifts to bring back that only exist in [what later became Texas and New Mexico].'"
Fortunately, as Lumpkin explains, "She also caught the eye of King Phillip IV of Spain, who became her mentor, who became her savior pretty much. And she became his spiritual and political adviser when she was in her 20s. The story is about that journey that she took to save her life. She wrote a book called The Mystical City of God which was burned twice by the Spanish Inquisition."
Creating this musical was an unusual experience for Lumpkin.
"The songs came first. She wrote this as a musical ballet. We've written a lot of new songs for the show. I’ve done a lot of musicals in my life and I’ve lived my life in music theater but I've never done a project like this. It’s not a standard musical, it's not a play with music, it is a different kind of storytelling with music and the form is different and the rules are different and in some ways it's releasing and in other ways it's frightening but it's an exciting way to tell the story. Because it came to us the way that it did and because we're adding a book to it later, it's almost a backwards approach to writing a musical."
Lead producer for the show is Donna Cole who founded Lady in Blue Prductions, LLC to focus on the development of this special musical. The 16-member cast includes Nick Szoeke as King Felipe, Brian Mathis as Benavides, Preston Andrews as Marcilla, Krissy Richmond as Catalina, Jordynn Godfrey as Maria; Mia Heckler as Jeronima, Gia Martinez as Tula, Jared Barnes as Torre, Rodrick Randall as Don Luis and Joel Sandel as Antonio del Moral.
"I think the story itself is a little bit universal," says Lumpkin. "We're talking about the 17th century and the conflict between the Spanish Inquisition and they were scary people and people were being burned at the stake and then we're dealing with a nun who supposedly could bilocate to transport herself to different locations.
"If you were to travel to San Angelo, they know all about her. And in Spain she is a rock star. They do pilgrimage to her convent where her body lies in a glass coffin. That's the other thing. Her body has never decomposed. Actually some water had gotten inside it and condensation on part of her face but the rest of her body hadn't decomposed. And she wasn’t mummified.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"I’m not asking you to believe it. She would take back gifts to the convents things that did not exist in Spain at that period of time like blankets and she brought all of that back to them. Even her fellow sisters thought she was a witch, that she was Satan’s daughter. Supposedly there were stories that she would levitate at nighttime in her sleep. and the nuns actually drilled holes in her door to see that.
"Fear of the unknown is something that we’re trying to say with this. The fact that this woman was such a major influence in the 17 Century in Spain, in the world. It was a man’s world at that time," Lumpkin says.
"This woman, although she was in the 17th Century, was struggling with things that women are struggling with today," Lumpkin says. "And she succeeded even though they put her through three inquisitions, each of which she had to do on a kneeler for 11 hours a day. They couldn't prove that she was anything bad which is pretty incredible."
Performances are scheduled for March 12
through April 5 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursday, 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at Queensbury Theatre, 12777 Queensbury Lane, Houston. For information, call 713-467-4497 or visit ladyofagreda.com/tickets. $55-$75.