Anchorage Opera offers free performance of ‘Glory Denied’ for veterans
“Glory Denied” is the story of Jim Thompson, the United States’ longest held prisoner of war. He was held captive for nine years during the Vietnam War.
The book by Tom Philpott was transformed into an opera that’s been performed around the country. On Friday, it opens here in Anchorage.
Four actors play a younger and older version of Army officer Thompson and his wife, Alyce, and portray their struggles during and after the war.
“It’s a focus like I’ve never had with any show,” said Gregory Gerbrandt who plays the older Thompson. “It’s a short show, but it’s so intense each and every second of this piece, both musically and dramatically.”
The opera not only focuses on Thompson’s time as a prisoner of war but also his life after being captured. His youngest child was born the day after his plane was shot down, and his wife was left to raise their four children alone.
“What this piece does is it takes a look at the family. What war can do, what PTSD can do and non-treatment of PTSD can do to an entire family,” said Jennifer Cooper who plays the older Alyce.
Each cast member has a connection to the military in some way. Both of Cooper’s grandfathers served in World War II. Gerbrandt’s brother-in-law was in the Air Force. Another actress, Ashly Neumann, is married to an Air force veteran.
“I think one of the most important things about this opera is it’s an American story,” Neumann, who plays the younger Alyce, said. “It’s something that so many people from the Vietnam-era, military families can relate to.”
Kevin Newell plays the younger Thompson. He said his grandfather ran away from a tobacco plantation when he was 16 to join the Navy.
“He served on the U.S.S. Missouri as a Morse code translator,” Thompson said.
Like many people with family members who served in Vietnam, Newell’s family also had to deal with tragedy.
“My second cousin, Paul Vernon, served as a helicopter pilot and served in Vietnam and was shot down and killed in action,” Newell said.
Anchorage has the highest number of veterans per capita and that’s why the Anchorage Opera will offer a free showing for vets and their families on February 14.
“If you’ve ever had a loved one who has served in the military or was a veteran, you can relate to the story,” Judy Berry, marketing director for the Anchorage Opera, said. “It’s important for us to give back. It’s a way for us to say thank you for your service.”
Thompson’s story took a dark twist when he returned home after nearly a decade as a P.O.W. His wife, not knowing if he was dead or alive, began living with another man. Thompson never really got to know his children and turned to alcohol.
“We’re all working toward the same goal to help tell this story so it’s not kept in the dark so people can understand things like PTSD and the trauma and the hope for heroism that sometimes doesn’t pan out,” Newell said.
Cast members hope their portrayal of Thompson’s saga will let veterans know each of their stories matter even if they’re not shared on center stage.
For free ticket information call the Anchorage Opera at 907-263-2787.
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