Who Remembers the “Louisiana Cavalier,” Presented Out at Grand Ecore?

By Joe Darby

This week let’s take a little walk down memory lane.

Who can recall the huge, ambitious drama, “Louisiana Cavalier,” presented at Grand Ecore for a couple of seasons beginning in 1976?

I just happen to have an original program as well as a press kit, because I did a story on the production for The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

You’ll have to be fairly well into middle age to remember it, because it opened 41 years ago. I know my girls would  have enjoyed it when they were a little older, but they were left with grandparents back in New Orleans because they were only 4 and 2 at the time.

If you go to the Natchitoches shooting range up on Grand Ecore, you can still see the old amphitheater where the productions were held.

As I said, it was an ambitious undertaking.  According to the Louisiana Cavalier program, the impetus for the show did not arise in Natchitoches, but in the person of a New Orleans woman, Mrs.  Edwin H. Blum.  Interesting aside here:  Mrs. Blum was never identified in the program by her own first name, but only by that of her husband.  Sign of the times.

Anyway, she was president of the Louisiana Council for the Performing Arts and thought Louisiana should have a spectacular outdoor drama, similar to others which were popular around the country at the time.  They settled on Natchitoches and the story of St. Denis, the almost legendary founder of our old town.  His life certainly lent  itself to drama.  I’ve written before about his life and although it was certainly an exciting one, I won’t repeat it again here.

It took Mrs. Blum and her cohorts several years to develop the concept and to raise funding, a total of about $700,000 in public and private monies.  Happily, the show was ready to go by 1976, America’s Bicentennial Year when history was certainly in vogue.

As stated, I came up with my wife to do a story for my newspaper and we thoroughly enjoyed the spectacular show.  The actors, costuming and background were all superb.

That was my first real visit to Natchitoches.  Front Street then was in somewhat sad shape, not nearly as thriving as it is now, but even then there were plenty of historic sites to visit.  I enjoyed the trip, little knowing that I’d end up here as a geezer.

“Louisiana Cavalier” ran for one or two years after 1976, but a combination of declining attendance, high production costs and nightly attacks of mosquitoes, finally did it in.

It certainly wasn’t the high price of tickets.  Ticket prices ranged from $3 to $4 on weeknights and $3.50 to $4.50 on weekends.  Not bad at all, not even for 41 years ago.  I’m guessing such a show now would charge $25 or $30.

The producers secured the talents of a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright,  Paul Green, to write the script.  Young actors from all around the country were chosen for the huge cast.  Trebor Lloyd, who had national acting credits, portrayed St. Denis, and Sally Longman of Columbia, Mo., was his wife, the fiery Emanuela Sanchez Ramon.

The program itself is fun to look through.   Being in the midst of the 1970s, almost all of the young men in the cast had long hair and many of the girls had somewhat of the air of flower children about them.

And they all did a fine job.  It’s too bad that the play couldn’t last.  There was some talk about reviving it for Natchitoches’ Tricentennial in 2014, but those plans never came to fruition.

But if you, like me, were there at the time, I expect you will also have some fond memories — except perhaps for those darned skeeters.

14 thoughts on “ Who Remembers the “Louisiana Cavalier,” Presented Out at Grand Ecore?

  1. I remember it well. My first acting job! Lizbeth LaBarbara and I stay in touch on Facebook. It was a great summer!

  2. Thanks so much for writing about “Louisiana Cavalier!” It is a treasured memory for me. I was cast for two summers in the show as a Spanish Dancer and a Casket Girl. My best friend was cast as an understudy to Manuela! It was truly a blast! And a GREAT SHOW! Pyrotechnics (burning arrows) in the fort and everything! Marc Lumadue’s choreography was brilliant and his performance as “Deer Dancer,” stole the show! Unknown to the audience, there were many antics playing out behind the scene. Just before going on, our mischievous fellow cast members would put ice or pebbles or something down the backs of our Casket Girl blouses and then we had to go on with a straight face! My best friend and I still sing the “Louisiana Cavalier” song at each get together. We are 64 years old now. Louisiana needs a state play, too bad it is not still happening! The money ran out due to, as you said, production costs (flying arrows on fire), poor attendance, mosquitoes, and RAIN! Was a video ever made of the production? Betty, do you know? Is there a video in the Natchitoches Historical Archives somewhere that we can unearth? Would be WONDERFUL to get a copy of the show and relive those memories. Since I was always in the cast, I never got to actually SEE the show!

    Such fond memories of two glorious summers. Cast parties at our house were fantastic! You know you are having a great party if the cops show up. 🙂

    Sending my love to the entire cast, especially to my best friend, Marilyn, and also toRabbi, Rudy, Cal, Scott, Julie, and Sylvia!
    Melba Rhodes-Stanford (was Murphy at the time of this production)

  3. I’m still learning lots of things about Natchitoches. I thank you folks who pointed out that other theatrical productions were held there. I wasn’t aware of that. And it doesn’t seem like 40 + years since Cavalier opened, does it? Those young cast members would be in their 60s now.

  4. My family came from Houston to visit my parents, who lived here. When we came, they always took us some place special. In 1976, our special treat was to see Louisiana Cavalier. At the time, my sons were 13 and 11, and I cannot begin to tell you how much they enjoyed that show. Of course we did too, but I was afraid the boys would be bored, but their eyes were glued to that stage. We were smart though, we all wore mosquito repellent as we knew there would be plenty. Like you, I now live in Natchitoches, and I do wish the town would have that amphitheater cleaned, repaired and open again. One downtown would be nice, but it was great going to one that was basically in the woods outside of town. What a wonderful thing that would be for tourists to enjoy. What a wonderful memory you brought to us today. Thanks you so very much.

  5. Well I remember it! I was in High School during its run; later, my stepfather had a role in South Pacific that they did at the amphitheater, and I also went to a couple of other plays and concerts there. It’s really kind of a loss for us, the place was fun. I moved away in the mid-80s, and when I came back in 2004 I was sad to see it was no longer in use.

    • HI Richard,

      Long time, eh? Isn’t it fun to read this article about “Louisiana Cavalier?” Good times! I was cast as a Spanish Dancer and a Casket Girl in two summer shows. I was Melba Murphy back then. I remember how amazing you were in the show. You had such a grand presence on stage…bigger than life and perfect for an amphi-theatre production. Do you know if a video of “Louisiana Cavalier” was ever made and if there is a way I could get a copy of it? Having always been in the show, I actually never got to see it! Would be great fun to watch it after all these years! My best friend, Marilyn Anderson, was cast as an understudy to Manuela.

      Do you still sing the “Louisiana Cavalier” theme song too?

      Louisiana is our home, a land so bright and fair,
      With hearts to win her, we have come,
      And every danger dare.
      Let not our hands grow weak,
      With one brave voice, we speak.
      Sing HAIL to Louisiana, Louisiana, HAIL!
      Sing HAIL to Louisiana, Louisiana, HAIL! (high note here)

      Melba Rhodes-Stanford (Melba Murphy)

  6. I remember it well. I worked as a secretary for the Louisiana Outdoor Drama Assn. from 1976 to 1979 and we were housed in the Roque House. It was a wonderful production and I met and worked with some amazing and talented people.

    • Hi Betty,

      So great to relive the “Louisiana Cavalier” memories! Was so much fun to be in the cast for two summers!
      Do you know if a video was ever made and who I could contact to get a copy? Would a video be in the Natchitoches Theatrical Archives or would Marc Pettaway or Paul Green perhaps have a copy that they could share with us? That would be so wonderful to get to see the show. Having always been in the cast, I never got to actually SEE it! I would love to see the dance numbers I was in. Good times!
      So much fun to reminisce!

      Melba Rhodes-Stanford (was Melba Murphy in those days of the production)

  7. I remember what an awesome venue – mosquitoes notwithstanding – it was in those days. My parents and some of my siblings were cast as extras in the play “Oklahoma” that was performed there. My dad showed up wearing a white cowboy hat and the director told him he couldn’t wear it because only the lead character could wear a white cowboy hat. Thanks for the walk down Memory Lane, Joe.

  8. I was fortunate enough to see the play many times. Who knew that 20 plus years later, I would marry a 7th generation direct descendant of Manuela Sanchez Navarro…St Denis’ wife. Lori Halphen Frederick. Funny how things work…a New Iberia girl who is Natchitoches royalty, married to a Natchitoches po-dunk.

    • Luke, I bet your wife and I are cousins. If she’s from New Iberia, she’s probably descended through Louis DeBlanc, who was St. Denis’ and Emanuela’s grandson, and was commandant here before moving to the Attakapas country. One of Louis’ daughters married a Darby and they became my 3x great grandparents. Is your Mrs. in fact related to the DeBlancs?

  9. Unfortunately I was not living here during that period in our wonderful history; however, many years later when I returned to Natchitoches, I became friends with the amazing “Pop” Hymes and we discussed my having a concert there to raise money for a scholarship fund in memory of my son Kevin. I had an awesome band from Texas perform, and my dear friend Mikki Finn opened the show with the most beautiful rendition of the National Anthem that I have EVER heard…the old amphitheater seats were occupied with many people and the band was fantastic. We had food available and raised a lot of money for the scholarship fund. Pop and I were excited about the prospect of having other people doing the same thing, and perhaps family reunions, etc……Unfortunately due to liability
    issues nothing ever happened beyond that. For one day though, the old amphitheater came ALIVE…..thanks for bringing this wonderful place back to the minds of people who experienced the Louisiana Cavaliers…..

    • And thanks for letting us know about that great concert, Junior. That was before I moved here, of course. But who knows what the future may hold for that old place. Joe.

Comments are closed.