New musical tells the untold Black history of Holly Springs

HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. (WTVD) -- Holly Springs, 30 years ago, was populated by fewer than a thousand people. Most of them were Black people, the descendants of the formerly enslaved and Black farmers. The town is 43 times larger now. Most of those new residents are White people. Including one who is also a playwright and wanted the history told on stage.

"We moved to Holly Springs and I felt like there was something really special about the place," said Angie Staheli, describing the moment she began digging into Holly Springs history.

Eight years later, Staheli's dig is culminating into early production work for her musical stage play, "Finding Patience - The Musical: The History of Holly Springs."

The original work is the buried chapters of a town that for decades was predominantly African American: townspeople, civic and political leaders, descendants of the formerly enslaved who kept Holly Springs alive after the Civil War.

The musical's central figure is Patience Leslie.

"She's a formerly enslaved woman who has watched over the town of Holly Springs. She also happens to be dead."

Patience is a fictional character but based on a real-life woman, once owned by Isabel and Archibald Leslie at the now-historic Mims House in Holly Springs. Her character serves as a kind of gatekeeper to the afterlife for real Holly Springs residents passing over to "the light."

"So in this play, she greets those who have already passed, she helps them process their experience of passing away and also what troubles they went through in their life," Staheli said.

Makeithra Evans starred as Patience during the show's first run as a stage play in 2017.

"I'm very proud, very proud because I had the opportunity to start it," Evans said. "The show has a message for Holly Springs. And it's out of this world. It actually brought Holly Springs together."

Now that the play is being turned into a musical, Qualia Holder-Cozart is assuming the starring role.

"To know that Patience is based off of a real person that lived a woman who was born a slave but died free, I mean, that's powerful, very powerful, especially for me, as a Black woman in America," Holder-Cozart said.

When the musical hits the stage, there will be 40 actors, playing multiple roles -- singing original songs by composer Jeremy Phillips.

"There's such a legacy with every single town in North Carolina. A history of people who have struggled and fought for the ground that we're standing on," Phillips said.

Auditions are just wrapping up. Many in the cast will be people from right here in Holly Springs.

"Finding Patience: The Musical", is set to premier at the Holly Springs Cultural Center in June.
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