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Celebration of art and joy

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

LOWELL With its themes of love, freedom, hope and beauty, The Nightingale may be just the right antidote to the tensions people are experiencing these days.

UMass Lowell Center for the Arts presents a powerful theatrical production of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, produced by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as part of its Imagination Celebration on Tour. Performances are Sunday, March 30, with performances at 2 and 4 p.m. in Durgin Hall on South Campus.

The tale tells of an emperor in ancient China who is locked away in his precious porcelain palace filled with diamonds, gold, expensive cloth and other worldly delights.

He is surrounded by bumbling courtiers and believes himself to be the wisest man in all China.

But who could blame him? All day long the court praises him, complying with his every wish, fawning over his every whim and praising him endlessly.

Then the emperor of Japan challenges his word with a nightingale. This simple bird serves as a catalyst for a lesson in true beauty and compassion.

Not until he hears the nightingale's enchanting song of freedom and joy does he realize there is something more to life.

Enthralled by her song, the emperor tries to hold the nightingale captive as one of his possessions. But she escapes, since it is in her nature to be free.

Saddened, the emperor consoles himself with a mechanical nightingale, a superficial bird that cannot sing of joy but at least looks pretty.

One day, the emperor falls ill but no one can comfort him, since his mechanical bird is broken and the court is too fickle.

Hearing the news, the nightingale returns to restore him to health with her beautiful songs.

And the emperor learns a fitting lessons: to be truly wise is to be compassionate and free to discover the world, its joy and one's own true self.

Writer/director Mary Hall Surface and choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess have reshaped the play into a theatrical production with dance, colorful costumes, a strong narrative, humor, action and joy.

This marks the 10th anniversary season of the Imagination Celebration on Tour, which started at the request of two presenters who wanted to bring high quality family performances to their communities.

This request spawned a national tour of The Red Badge of Courage, directed by actor Richard Thomas, which visited six states and was seen by more than 14,000 people.

According to press material from the Kennedy Center, many of the students who see these productions may never have the chance to visit the national center for the performing arts in Washington, D.C.

But, thanks to these touring shows, they can still experience the professionalism and talent that have become the trademark of Kennedy Center productions.

The Center for the Arts at UMass Lowell is a partner with the Kennedy Center, working to bring quality family productions to its audiences in Lowell.

The Nightingale is appropriate for ages 6 and up. Tickets are $10 each. A group rate of $8 per person is in place for purchasing 10 or more tickets in advance. Call the box office at 978-934-4444 between 10 a.m.-3 p.m. through Friday. The box office is also open in the lobby one hour prior to each show.

Nancye Tuttle's e-mail address is .