THE MAKING OF A NEW MUSICAL
“They had to come from somewhere … maybe it was from Jubilee!”
Those are the words of Dr. Jack Wann, playwright, written in 2021, when our new musical, “Jubilee Barndance,” was completed. I had the pleasure and privilege to compose the music for the new musical and develop many of the song lyrics. Here is how it came together.
The musical is currently in rehearsal at the Shelby County Community Theatre [SCCT] in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Dr. Wann is the Director, and I was cast as one of the principal characters, emcee Spud Loomis. The play will have its world premiere on the SCCT Main Stage during the first two weekends in February, 2022.
Dr. Jack Wann is an accomplished educator and director. He established the Steamboat Cabin Theater in Southern Indiana and worked with Jon Jory at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky. He went on to establish the theater program at Northern Kentucky University, and was recruited to do the same at Northwestern State University, in Louisiana, where they later named a theater in his honor. From there, he spent ten years on the faculty of the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.
When Dr. Wann returned to Kentucky to live with his family, he became associated with the SCCT as one of its excellent stage directors. And, for those of us who have taken his classes and been directed by him on stage, the rest is history!
I came to the theater from a different direction and late in my career, but have been writing original music for more than fifty years [you can find my music on Spotify under “The Best of Reggie Van Stockum”]. I have made my living as a lawyer, and, as a result of my degrees in Biology, have concentrated in environmental issues.
I first met Jack about ten years ago at the SCCT’s Annual Christmas party. My wife, Cheryl, is an actor, and encouraged me to become involved. At the party, Jack came up to me and introduced himself. He then asked me a question that changed the direction of my creative career. He said, “Have you ever put Shakespeare to music?”
“No, not really,” I said, equivocating, as I had actually done so with some of my friends after college.
“Could you do so?” Now, that was a different question, and I was not immune to the presence of opportunity.
“Certainly,” I said, perhaps more boldly than was appropriate.
And so our writing relationship began with Jack’s “Shakesperience!” revue at Asbury University, and now, ten years later, has resulted in the soon-to-be premiered musical, “Jubilee Barndance.” We have also written a Three-Act dramatic script entitled, “The Dawn of Dusk,” inspired by my published short stories, “Dawn of Dusk,” “Hedge Apple,” and “Side Step.” Our second musical, a comedy entitled, “Tower on the Thames,” is almost complete, and was inspired by my short story, “Cleopatra’s Needle.”
Jack is well known for his experience in teaching Shakespeare, and many of us have taken the acting classes he taught on the Bard at the Theatre. So I put the famous eulogy in Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” to music for his “Shakesperience!” revue. My next assignment for Jack was to put the fairies’ dialogue to music for his production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the SCCT. Delightful!
In 2020, Jack and I began to work on a full-length play to honor the roots of country music in Kentucky. I was no stranger to such stage scenes, having put on regular stage shows of bluegrass music and my original songs at Ken and Sheila Pyle’s eclectic Louisville nightclub, “The Rudyard Kipling.” So Jack developed the concept for the musical, followed by the script, and I was able to help work through the process. From there, it was easy for me to jump in with melodies and share in providing lyrics to fit the music to the plot as it unfolded.
Jack knows how to write. He knows the elements used by the great playwrights. He has taught them in class and on stage. Every word has to be meaningful, and every phrase promote the arc of character development. We spent more than a year going over and over each line of the script to meet the rigorous test of his experience. I think you will be pleased with the result.
The music came when Jack indicated a place in the script where he wanted a song to inform and move the action along. We talked about the feelings behind each moment, and how he used them to propel the story. It did not take me long to immediately respond. I write emotionally and, when working with Jack, we remain open and accessible.
I let the melody surface first, through my singing alone. Then I began to chase it with syllables that soon became the words that propelled the story forward. Full phrases then formed that I could use and repeat again. The key for me was to find a fluid flow of word sounds that would swim over the emotional stream of the melody.
I record it immediately, since after the moment of immediate exploration, both melody and lyrics become fleeting. I am then able to recall it accurately as I continue to define it.
But at this point, we needed professionals to “arrange” the music, and Jack and I knew where to go to get them!
First, we shipped the lyrics and recordings down to Louisiana, where Dr. Richard Rose translated them into sheet music and provided the first chord structure. The exceptionally talented local jazz musician, Tommy Hynes, then worked with me to annotate the chords, timing, and tempo to re-emphasize the “swing” of my original composition. The superb pianist and vocal coach, Lynne Chenault, then added keyboard accompaniment, breaking out parts of the duet and chorus singing into two- and three-part harmony. Lynne is now the Music Director for the show, and will play piano as one of the actors on stage.
Jack and I received excellent advice from playwrights Bill and Rosie Novellino-Mearns [“Ebenezer”] about utilizing structured read-throughs with invited actors. We did that twice, each time with different actors, and each read-through produced improvements.
Casting is one of Jack’s great talents, and this show is another example of his abilities. He is able to bring out potential in any actor through extensive direction and characterization. I think you will like how he has brought the play to life.
Good writing and good casting can often make for a good stage showing. Jack Wann is a superb Director, completely consumed with all aspects of his productions. He had already visualized and blocked out the show in his mind, and on paper, when we appeared for the first rehearsal. Jack fashions everyone on stage [21, including the band] into interlocked movements. Every actor has “business” to do, and lines to deliver, even though they are often never actually spoken. Each scene is a series of moving snapshots, able at any moment to stop, in intriguing balance, for visual appreciation by the audience. And each audience view is a storyboard, drawn out before it is presented.
Add in the band, with Lynne Chenault at piano, Tom Roller on rhythm guitar, and Mary McGillen on fiddle. Add in the “Stars,” playing their own instruments while singing. Add in the solos, duets, and choral pieces. Add in the actors with their obvious enthusiasm and talents. Stir lovingly, and then bake it with nine weeks of four nights each of concentrated rehearsal.
That’s our Jubilee Barndance, and we hope you enjoy it.
“Let’s Do It Again!”