December 12, 2012
Alumna, Actor Bring 'Looking Over the President's Shoulder' to Life
Two Arkansas natives—Carolina alumna Cindy Murphy, ’74, English, a patron of theater and ballet, and Broadway actor Lawrence Hamilton—made a unique White House story come to life inside Drayton Hall.
Staged by Theatre South Carolina this past fall, the one-man show Looking Over The President’s Shoulder
tells the real-life story of Alonzo Fields, the first African-American Chief Butler to the White House. The grandson of a freed slave, he served Presidents Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower for 21 years.
Murphy not only produced Looking Over the President’s Shoulder: Her philanthropy made it possible by supporting the fees of Hamilton and Director Gilbert McCauley of Amherst, Mass. Murphy developed her love for the show after viewing a Hamilton-McCauley’s team-up for Arkansas Repertory Theater audiences.
How Donor Philanthropy Makes a Show Happen
Murphy’s philanthropy exemplifies the influence philanthropy can have in bringing the arts to the College of Arts and Sciences
. In the past, donors have helped fund performances in USC’s Department of Theatre and Dance, “but never to this extent,” said Jim Hunter
, department chair, who designed the show lighting. He commended Murphy for bringing Hamilton’s talent to USC audiences. “Lawrence Hamilton brings a very real kind of gravitas to the performance,” Hunter said. “His portrayal of Alonzo Fields is the perfect vehicle for his acting.”
"When you experience a gripping and touching play like Looking Over the President's Shoulder, you instantly realize the power of bringing history to life,” said Murphy, whose husband, Chip, supports the arts with her. “I immediately knew after Lawrence's brilliant four-week run of this play at the Arkansas Repertory Theater that I wanted to bring it to Carolina. It was perfectly suited to an academic environment, rich with ‘inquiring minds’ who love learning about history from one who has created it."
Cindy Murphy: A True Patron of the Arts
As a partner of The Murphy Group of Little Rock, Ark., a marketing and media relations firm, Murphy has worked with numerous clients, including the Arkansas Repertory Theater, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, and the Gelsey Kirkland Academy for Classical Ballet (New York). She has acted as a nonprofit liaison for organizations such as Ballet Arkansas, for which she was a founder and President of the Board.
Looking Over the President’s Shoulder is a prime example of a USC Theatre and Dance production involving multidisciplinary collaboration among students and faculty over several months. Meredith Paysinger
, a Master of Fine Arts student in her second year, designed the three-tier stage.
Students of instructor Jeffrey Ranta’
s “The Carolina Agency,” a student-run advertising and public relations firm, provided show promotions and publicity that included color posters and releases disseminated to area media. They booked Hamilton for interviews on WIS-TV and WACH-TV, and their efforts even included a show “synopsis” for 50 Carolina faculty members who attended a Sept. 6 McCutchen House luncheon.
The luncheon featured an appearance by Hamilton along with food favored by four presidents. Students in the School of Hospitality, Restaurant, and Tourism Management provided the meal. As one attendee put it, “FDR loved hot dogs—and so did we.”
Ironically, Hamilton, whose singing in Broadway hits such as Ragtime
and The Wiz
has spurred his success, shares a musical bond with his character: Fields attended a prestigious music school with the dream of becoming a singer. The “economic realities” of life instead meant becoming a butler for four presidents. Fields’ imagining “what could have been” creates the show’s inner conflict.
–Larry Di Giovanni, Development Communications