Rio Stages “The Last Oz Story” April 8 and 9, 2011

[This article, dated April 5, 2011, was originally published on the University of Rio Grande website: http://www.rio.edu/news/index.php?key=686%5D

An original musical featuring the characters from “The Wizard of Oz,” will be performed for the first time ever this weekend at the University of Rio Grande/Rio Grande Community College. “The Last Oz Story,” will be performed at the Berry Fine and Performing Arts Center on the Rio Grande campus on Friday, April 8 and Saturday, April 9. Both shows will begin at 8 p.m.

The production will feature Rio Grande students, including a few of the exchange students from the University of Wales, Trinity St. David in Carmarthen, Wales. Several community members, including some very talented children and young adults from the community, will also be in the musical.

The musical is by author David Meyers and Rio Grande faculty member Scott Michal. Michal is an accomplished musician and composer, and he and Meyers have collaborated on other projects previously. Another of their musicals, for example, has been performed around the country and was staged by the famous Second City group in Chicago.

In this story, Dorothy returns to Oz and sees how the friends she met there previously have changed. The Tin Man, for example, has become too sensitive and relies on his heart too much and now is worried about cutting down trees. The Lion has become too courageous and now is acting recklessly. The Scarecrow, meanwhile, has become so smart that he has taken over Oz.

“It’s really very clever and cute,” Michal said about the story. The production features several musical numbers that area residents will enjoy, and the whole performance is fun and entertaining. “The cast is just amazing,” Michal said. “The kids are doing some spectacular things. I’m speechless.”

Allyson Johnson of Gallipolis is playing the role of Dorothy, and Michal said she is doing very well. “She has the most beautiful singing voice,” Michal said. Nathan Wood, also of Gallipolis, is playing the part of the Tin Man. “He has us all laughing so hard every time he is on stage,” Michal said.

Natalie Baxter of Chillicothe is doing an outstanding job playing the role of the Lion, and Tyler Phillips of Chillicothe is doing very well as the Scarecrow. “He is an amazing dancer,” Michal said. Rio Grande student Mason Traylor of Jackson is choreographing the musical. Traylor has danced with professional dance companies previously, and is working very hard to prepare the cast for the show.

Andrea Rohrer of Canton is playing the role of a new witch in the show, and she is bringing an attitude and a great deal of energy to the character. Dion Lloyd Jones, a Welsh exchange student, is playing the role of a doctor who takes care of Dorothy in modern day Kansas, while Lucia Colley of Gallia County plays the role of a social worker who works with Dorothy in modern day Kansas.

Jamil Stepney, a Gallia Academy student taking classes at Rio Grande, is playing the role of a cameraman, while Rio Grande student Ashli Cooper is playing the part of a reporter. “They’re trying to find out the truth,” Michal said about the reporter and cameraman.

Elin Wyn Williams, also a Welsh exchange student, is playing the role of Glinda The Good Witch. “You’ve never seen Glinda, until you’ve seen her played with a Welsh accent,” Michal said. “It’s delightful.” Ceri Nia Lewis, also a Welsh exchange student, is serving as the assistant director for the show. “She is doing amazing,”

Michal said. Several children and young adults are playing the parts of the Munchkins in the show, and are doing very well with their dancing and acting. “The Munchkins are really adorable,” Michal said. “They will steal the show.”

Rio Grande faculty, staff and community members have all participated in creating the costumes, sets and special effects for the show, and Michal is proud of all of the collaboration for the production.

For additional information on upcoming events at Rio Grande, as well as information on the wide range of academic programs offered on Rio Grande’s scenic campus, log onto http://www.rio.edu.

 

Tonight at 8 o’clock, The Last Oz Story premieres in Rio Grande, Ohio. That’s about 560 miles off-off-off-Broadway, but it doesn’t matter. Not everybody gets to see a show they wrote actually produced on stage, so I will be quite happy when it happens.

Last night, I watched the animated film, Persepolis, and was struck by something Marjane Satrapi had to say in one of the special features that are included on the DVD. She said it was no longer her story, even though it is obviously autobiographical. She was referring to the fact that making the film was such a collaborative effort.

The Last Oz Story was my idea, but it has been shaped by those I have interacted with during the course of writing it and getting it produced. Obviously, Scott Michal, the composer, has been a major influence. But I have also listened very carefully to others who have read it. And I will continue to listen tonight and tomorrow to how those who see it for the first time react. I will then revise the script one more time before submitting it to other theatre groups and possible publishers. That doesn’t mean I will necessarily agree with every suggestion or criticism, but I always consider them.

So thanks in advance to all of my collaborators, even those I have yet to meet.

So, my new musical is premiering this Friday, April 8, 2011, at the Berry Fine Arts Center, University of Rio Grande, Rio Grande, Ohio, and I have yet to see even a minute of it played out on the stage. I did not have a hand in the production, other than making a few tweaks to the script. I have not attended a single rehearsal. I have not even heard all of the music. When the curtain rises on Friday, I will be sitting with the rest of the audience members, experiencing it for the first time.

This has been hard for me to do. It’s sort of like giving your child to somebody else to raise. I trust that Scott, my collaborator, has done everything in his power to impart my vision for the show to all of the actors and crew. But that’s not quite the same as my actually being there to provide feedback when questions arise. Besides, Scott did not immediately grasp what I was trying to say (probably because I wasn’t saying it as well as I could have).

However, one of the most exciting things about writing for the stage is seeing what other people do with your material. For various reasons, there has yet to be a definitive production of the The Last Christmas Carol, a show Scott and I wrote over a decade ago. Yet, I have thoroughly enjoyed nearly every one I have seen because of the unexpected things people brought to it. There are certain bits that actors have done over the years that I really wish I had thought of. I am sure that will happen this weekend as well.

Now, if anyone would like to join me for the show, here’s the critical information.  There will be two performances:

  • Friday, April 8 at 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 9 at 8:00 p.m.

Tickets are $7, Students $5, 12 and under are free!

Berry Fine Arts Center, University of Rio Grande, Rio Grande, Ohio

Hope to see you there!

The premiere of The Last Oz Story, our new musical, will be on Friday, April 8, 2011, at the John W. Berry Fine & Performing Arts Center Theater, University of Rio Grande, Rio Grande, Ohio. A second performance will take place on Saturday, April 9.

Putting the show together has been an interesting process. I have been making script revisions via email based on feedback from rehearsals and other sessions I haven’t been able to attend owing to the distance between Columbus and Rio Grande. And I do not expect I will see the show before it opens.

However, I am confident that Scott Michal, my collaborator, and all the good people at Rio Grande will do their best to translate the script to the stage. They have posed some really good questions which have helped me to refine and, I hope, improve the storyline. Seeing something you’ve written come to life on the stage is an amazing experience. I still go to see our earlier musical, The Last Christmas Carol, as often as I can because I learn something each time.

When I write, there is very little calculation involved. Most of it is pure instinct. So when I am asked “why?” a character says or does something, I have to think about it. I may create the characters, but once they are created they act and react the way they do because it feels right to me. I play all the parts in my head in a process of improvisation and revision. I don’t normally sit back and diagram it all out.

Scott Michal and I have been friends and musical collaborators for two decades, although we seldom talk and are lucky if we see each other once a year. But it’s not one of those Gilbert & Sullivan things. We actually like and respect one another, but I live in the center of the state and he lives on the fringe. Consequently, we do not co-write as much stuff as I would like and when we do it takes an inordinately long time. (He also had a lot of problems with his beloved Mac computers and lost a lot of his work, but that’s another story.)

I began writing The Last Oz Story immediately after The Last Christmas Carol was published in 2001. Now, in the spring of 2011, it looks as though the show will finally have its premiere. Scott is teaching music at the University of Rio Grande/Rio Grande Community College in southeastern Ohio and will be producing the show using the combined resources of the music and theatre departments.

In September, Scott spent a week in Prague working with the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra to record his violin concerto, “Econiums.”  The orchestra features a rising young star in the violin world, Vit Micka. The orchestra liked the composition so much that they are planning to include it in their regular season. Meanwhile, the session will be released by Parma Recording.

Now, that Scott has the recording bug, he is working on recording the whole score for Oz (something we still haven’t done for Christmas Carol). In fact, he would like to have an original cast album available at the premiere.

 

On Saturday, May 8, 2010, I took a trip down to Gallia County to check on the progress Scott Michal is making on the music for The Last Oz Story.  I was encouraged by the fact that Scott asked me to bring along several copies of the script because he wanted to do a complete read through of the show.

Now, it’s not unusual for a composer and a lyricist to work apart.  Gilbert and Sullivan (or, rather, Sullivan and Gilbert, since the former was the composer of the pair) pretty much loathed one another.  That’s not our situation, though.  I have a high regard for Scott’s talents as a musician and he admires my ability to put words together in a semi-coherent and reasonably amusing fashion.  However, we are physically separated by about 90 miles of highway, including a gravel and, occasionally, dirt road.  So we don’t get together very often.

I am happy to report that the songs are 98% complete.  There’s a few spots where I will have to adjust the meter of my lyrics to his music and vice versa, but it shouldn’t take long to make those changes.  However, Scott still has to score the dances and some incidental music.  He is also finishing up the arrangements and doing some other computer stuff so that he will have an audio recording of the whole show.  He even has some singers lined up to contribute the vocals to our project.  Once that’s completed, we will be able to start lining up a theatre company to perform it.

Those who attended the read-through gave us encouraging feedback regarding the songs and the story.  They felt it had definite potential.  We shall see.

In the meantime, Scott mentioned that his violin concerto is going to be recorded by an up-and-coming classical music label.  If all goes well, the session will take place in the Czech Republic with Scott in attendance.  The piece was introduced by the Huntington Symphony last year.  Scott also has a cello sonata that is being performed in Turkey this summer.

My hope, of course, is that Scott’s growing fame as a composer will increase interest in his musical theatre work, as well.  We are already planning the follow-up to Oz (which I have 80% written).  I keep telling him that it is going to be a very big show (size-wise, anyway).  It will be of particular interest to students of Ohio history (but that’s all I’m going to say about it for now).

Eventually, I will be putting audio links to our songs, here.

Shortly after The Last Christmas Carol was published in 2001, I told my partner-in-crime, Scott Michal, that I wanted to write a “sequel.”  It wouldn’t actually be a sequel because I wouldn’t be using any of the same characters and the story would have nothing to do with Christmas Carol.  However, it would be the second part of a trilogy dealing with classic stories reimagined in my own original (I hoped) way.  So I set about writing The Last Oz Story.

By the following year, I, essentially, had it written and needed only for Scott to write the music to accompany my lyrics.  However, from Scott’s standpoint, the timing wasn’t right.  For one thing, he had to earn a living.  For another, he is a composer-for-hire and I wasn’t hiring him per se.  So Oz Story took a backseat to the other things he had going on in his life.  Over the years, he has worked on the show as he has had time, but it was never a priority.  Several times I thought we were close to being finished, but then Scott’s computer would crash and we lost much of what he had already composed.  (In the meantime, Wicked became a big hit on Broadway.)

To make a long story short, Scott still isn’t quite finished, but we’re getting close.  And, what is more, he is making a recording of the music as he goes along.  That was something we neglected to do when we did Christmas Carol.  Of course, we had no idea that anyone else would be interested in doing that show when we were finished. We are a little more optimistic this time around.

So to answer my own question, it took six months to write The Last Christmas Carol and eight years to write The Last Oz Story.  In the meantime, I wrote the third part of my trilogy and staged it as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Condominium Association, Inc. There are only three songs and I “composed” the melodies myself (Scott wrote them down for me since I am a musical illiterate).

Meanwhile, I have been working on another musical since 1980.  This will be my magnum opus.  It will be a huge show and Scott is looking forward to doing the music.  I’ve got about 80% of it written, but I don’t talk about it because I’m kind of surprised it hasn’t already been done.

I’ve also written another show (a non-musical) entitled The Hoboken Radio Catastrophe.  I had hoped to collaborate with Dan Mushalko on it, but he’s a very busy man.  One of the highlights of my life was working on WCBE’s “Kids Sundae” with Dan and the whole crew many years ago.   Talk about a labor of love.  I’ve never worked with such a dedicated group of people before (or since).

Coming real soon . . . the new musical by the guys who gave you  THE LAST CHRISTMAS CAROL.  You only thing you know how it ended.  The worst was yet to come!