By Joe Darby
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.