“I Dream” Takes Audiences on Journey of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Life

Douglas Tappin wrote and composed
Douglas Tappin wrote and composed "I Dream" to bring Martin Luther King, Jr.'s story to present day audiences.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, Opera Grand Rapids will take part in an in-concert version of Douglas Tappin’s “I Dream,” which recalls the last 36-hours of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life through his memories and recollections.

The production is being presented at Fountain Street Church on Monday, Jan. 15, as part of the 32nd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration, which is being hosted by Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College, Davenport University and Opera Grand Rapids.

“The production starts on April 3, 1968. It retells the last 36 hours of his life, but through a series of dreams, reminiscences and premonitions,” Tappin, who wrote and composed the work, said. “This is a man who wakes up 36 hours before the end of his life and as he is approaching that moment, I’m saying he had some sense that a moment like that was close and in coming to terms with that he reviews certain portions of his life, or moments of his life.

He added, “It tells about 30 years of history in about two hours. The focus has become about the life experience of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his relationship with Coretta Scott King. It is more to do with his experience as I interpret it, this is an artistic interpretation, and it is my view. I’ve read and spoken with people, of course, but this is a poetic retelling of a historical story.”

Tappin, who is originally from the United Kingdom, but who relocated to Atlanta, said he has always been drawn to King’s story and the stories of the Civil Rights era.

“I grew up in the UK, and the American Civil Rights movement through the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s was something I was aware of but was distant until I moved to Atlanta and found myself right in the middle of history that was still quite recent, honestly.”

Tappin first premiered a version of “I Dream” in 2010 on the Alliance Stage in Atlanta. He has continued to work on the piece since that time, and in 2017, the fully revised version was presented as an in-concert performance at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

“Essentially, between myself, the director and the producers, it is about 55 percent new,” Tappin said, noting the new production delves even deeper into the intersection of rhythm and blues, gospel, opera and other musical influences.

Tappin said as he was conceptualizing his ideas for “I Dream” he knew music would be an integral component to telling such an epic story, which is why he selected opera as his medium.

“If a piece begins to sing, if there is a sense that it is musical and dramatic in its essence, that is when I begin to put music together for it,” Tappin explained. “The music helps you tell stories, it describes emotions for us and it helps to add to the sense of scale and the epic moments and the intimate moments.”

The Grand Rapids presentation of “I Dream” is a scaled down version of the production that will be fully staged in Toledo, Ohio and Charlotte, North Carolina later this year.

Tappin said attendees will see the production’s principal cast members alongside the Grand Rapids Opera chorus and a reduced orchestra. The cast mainly comes from New York.

“We have a mix of people who have performed in opera and on Broadway and in the gospel world,” he said.

Tappin said he created “I Dream” with a contemporary audience in mind. He noted King’s legacy is just as relevant in today’s divisive social and political climate. “It began to form itself as a story worth retelling in the current era. I’m aware that people have a historical sense of it, but I really wanted to say something about it today,” he said.

Tappin said what most struck him was King’s nonviolent approach and his commitment to love, noting King’s nonviolent approach was not the only approach taken during the Civil Rights fight.

“What was most remarkable for me about this story is that nonviolence is an extraordinary approach to violence,” he said.

“I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to face dogs and fire hoses and face death on a daily basis just to have rights basic to every human being. This is an important story to tell. There are many approaches used by people advocating for different issues, and this is one that was remarkable in its day and needs to be remembered.”

The MLK Celebration marks the commemoration of 55 years following the March on Washington and 50 years following the tragic assassination of the famous preacher and iconic civil rights leader.

The MLK Celebration will commence at 6 p.m. with the university presentation at the Fountain Street Church. The performance of “I DREAM” will follow the presentation at 7:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Seating will be available on a first come basis at the door. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m.

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