Dessa Rose

European Premiere of a New MusicalDessa Rose
Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty
29 July – 30 August 2014
Trafalgar Studios


This July, the European premiere of the uniquely stirring musical drama Dessa Rose is coming to London’s West End.  Dessa Rose is based on the book by Sherley Anne Williams with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty (RagtimeOnce On This IslandSeussical and Rocky The Musical) who have won Tony Awards, Drama Desk Awards and Outer Critics Circle Awards and been nominated for Grammys, Academy Awards and a Golden Globe.

This powerful and moving story, set in 1846 in the ante-bellum South, follows two young women on their journey to acceptance.  With elements of blues, folk, hymns and gospel, Dessa Rose perfectly blends history and fiction.  The storytelling for which Ahrens and Flaherty are most famous is masterfully exhibited throughout.  Passionate and innocent Dessa Rose is a young slave faced with a barrage of hardships because of the colour of her skin.  While Ruth, a young white mother, faces difficulties because of her gender.

Ruth and Dessa ‘hand down the story’ to their grandchildren, reliving the adventure they experienced together.  Through their extraordinary tale we see their deep and lasting bond and how this makes them part of a ‘long, strong line of women’.

Multi-award winning director Andrew Keates, who recently spoke at this year’s West End Eurovision challenging the stigma surrounding HIV in support of the MAD Trust, said: In our current political climate, I can think of no better time to tell this visceral story of how we can learn from those that are different to us and also form lifelong relationships indiscriminate of age, gender and race.’

Dessa Rose: Cynthia Erivo. Ruth: Cassidy Janson.
Bertie Sutton/Sheriff Hughes/Trader Wilson Nathan: John Addison. Dorcas/Gemina/Janet: Sharon Benson. Rose/Ada/Auntie Chole: Miquel Brown. Robert Steele/Mr Oscar/Sheriff Pine: Alexander Evans. Ruth’s Mother/Mrs Steele/Susannah: Cameron Leigh. Kaine/Philip: Fela Lufadeju. Harker: Gabriel Mokake. Annabel: Abiona Omonua. Adam Nehemiah: Jon Robyns

Directed by Andrew Keates.
Choreography by Sam Spencer Lane. Musical Supervision by Mark Collins. Musical Direction by Dean Austin. Designed by Garance Marneur. Costume Design by Philippa Batt. Lighting Design by Neill Brinkworth. Sound Design by James Nicholson. Casting by Benjamin Newsome.
Assistant to the Choreographer: Edward Wade. Associate Director: Jennifer Bakst. Associate Musical Director: Isaac McCullough. Stage Manager: Maud Dromgoole. PR by Chloe Nelkin Consulting.


All photographs by Scott Rylander



Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens “Andrew Keates’ production of our musical “Dessa Rose” was a stunning coup de theatre. Even in a tiny space, and with minimal props and scenery, he managed to bring vivid life and immediacy to the story. The audiences were over the moon every night and the reviews for this British premiere of our piece were sensational. We could not be more pleased to recommend Mr. Keates to anyone looking for a smart, sensitive, savvy and passionate director.”Lynn Ahrens (librettist and lyricist) and Stephen Flaherty (composer) (A Man of No Importance, Ragtime, Dessa Rose)

“Dessa Rose deserves to transfer for a longer west end run, but I’d highly recommend catching it now, thrillingly upclose”
★★★★ Kate Bassett, The Times 

“Andrew Keates directs with ingenuity, eliciting performances that are both vigorous and nimble.”
★★★★ The Evening Standard, Henry Hitchings

“This is a terrifically mature presentation of a difficult, but eminently attractive, and entertaining, piece of musical theatre. It is Keates’ best work to date and in Erivo he has a star of true power who delivers the goods in every way.”
★★★★ Stephen Collins,

“Dessa Rose is without a doubt this years’ must see musical production that will not disappoint.”
★★★★★ Kitty Harper, Theatre Fullstop

‘Dessa Rose’ is an epic in a pint pot, and watching it is in some ways demanding. But it amply rewards close attention, and you have until 30th August to catch the most substantial musical in town.”
★★★★★ Peter Scott-Presland, BroadwayBaby

“Andrew Keates’s production does a first-rate job of creating a sense of space, with figures etched against a sun-kissed landscape, on a tiny studio stage.”
★★★ Michael Billington, The Guardian

“There is not a weak link in this highly impressive ensemble cast”
★★★★ Dom O’Hanlon, London Theatre

“Andrew Keates’ production is full of moments when the back of the throat catches and eyes develop a little dampness.”
Barry Jerram, Musical Theatre Review 

“In the intimate surroundings of the Trafalgar Studios, vocals soar and emotions run raw as this excellent cast tackle the various musical styles”
★★★★ Petra Schofield, Remote Goat

“Dessa Rose is a brutal musical with some red-raw scenes that will rip right through you.”
★★★★ Miriam Gillinson, Time Out (Critics Choice)

“Individual songs are dotted across the cast and are performed with verve and energy that can’t be faulted.”
 Tim Read, Civilian Theatre

“Dessa Rose is a grand and charged story of human experience and struggle, featuring a wildly talented cast and creative team, and well worth working into your schedule.”
★★★★  Laura Jones, Everything Theatre

“Andrew Keates adapted the play expertly for the limited space of Studio 2 and produced an energetic and well-orchestrated musical, using minimum stage props, aided greatly by the musical direction of Dean Austin and his team of musicians.”
★★★★ Rivera Jacobson, Plays To See

“Dessa Rose is a wonderful, inspirational oasis in West London’s cultural desert”
★★★★★ Paul Couch, The Public Reviews

“The acting is outstanding and Andrew Keates has again assembled one of the finest companies around. A compelling production not to be missed.”
★★★★ Jonathan Baz

“This show is a singing spectacular!”
★★★★ Rebecca Felgate, Official Theatre