As an Outer Banks resident working for local media outlets for the past 26 years, I’m sure I have seen The Lost Colony close to 20 times, although this is nothing compared to some of the people in Dare County. The Lost Colony is in its 84th season, and there are lifelong natives around here who have seen the show every single year. In many families, it is never-missed annual tradition.
Almost every year there are subtle changes to the production. The basic story is always the same, of course, but each new director brings his own changes to the production while sticking to playwright Paul Green’s original script.
So, I, like most people on the Outer Banks, was very intrigued to see the 2021 production with new director and choreographer Jeff Whiting, a director, actor, dancer and choreographer with a distinguished list of Broadway, Disney, opera, television, concert and special events credits.
In advance of the show, The Lost Colony said viewers could expect “new musical compositions, spectacular special effects, beautiful choreography and an entirely refreshed production,” and the reviews I’d heard from locals were positive but somewhat mixed, with traditionalists feeling nostalgic for the old show and modernists loving the changes.
The night I visited Waterside Theatre this week was perfect, cool with a light NE wind. Everyone around us was eager for the show to start, and my seatmates were anxiously chattering when the show kicked off with a huge surprise – American Indians dancing in modern-day brightly colored regalia. It took us a minute to get our heads around what was happening (this isn’t the traditional Lost Colony Indian attire!), but then the narrator explained that this was present day and that the story would be going back in time. The modern dancing and drumming is an uplifting new welcome to the show.
A new narrator is another of the wonderful new aspects. The narrator of The Lost Colony has always been a man, but now it’s a traditional American Indian woman relating the story from her people’s perspective. This shifts the narrative of the play from the start, immediately reminding viewers that English Colonialism required exploitation of an already settled land. The storyteller gently weaves in and out of numerous scenes, ever returning our attention to this fact. She also weaves mentions of American Indian spirituality into the story, and a giant owl puppet, representing the angel of death in the Indian tradition, also brings spiritual elements to the play.
While it’s a shift in perspective to The Lost Colony, it works very well, so well that even the Paul Green Foundation likes it.
“The collaborators freshened the script, enlivened the dance and lifted up aspects of Native American spirituality and culture as a more historically accurate and seamless part of the drama,” the foundation writes in its newsletter. “We believe Paul Green would be proud of this effort and hope that visitors to the Outer Banks will revisit the play in its present form.”
The owl puppet, along with giant stick puppets, are only a fraction of the newness in the show this year. There are new dances, new costumes, new lighting techniques (including Kabuki style shadow play), new music (lots of drums) and more. There’s more sophisticated visual pageantry to the production as a whole, and less dialogue in the play.
Some people love that and some people miss some of the old aspects, but the new Lost Colony definitely holds everyone’s attention, notably children’s. With more music and dancing, faster pacing and less of the complicated storyline to follow, I noticed that the children around me were less wiggly and restless than they have always been in years past.
I don’t want to give away all the surprises here. I just want to let it be known that The Lost Colony has been updated to be a drama that is much more relevant for 2021. It’s fun, exciting, beautiful, thought-provoking and worth every penny.
The Lost Colony runs through August 21, Monday through Saturday nights at 8:30 p.m. Adult tickets start at $20, and kids age 5 and younger get in free every night. Go to thelostcolony.org or call (252) 473-6000 for tickets.