LITTLE ROCK Hoping to find treasure on their own central Arkansas version of an island, a theatrical threesome has spent the past seven years creating a new musical based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, the story of Jim Hawkins, a young boy who goes on a journey that has consequences.
Brett Smock is directing and choreographing the musical, which will have its premiere this weekend at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. Smock and Carla Vitale wrote the book; Corinne Aquilina wrote the music and lyrics.
The trio is hoping the show will appeal to audiences in Little Rock and eventually find its way to Broadway. In pursuit of their dream, they acknowledge a decade of work could be required.
“We first presented the material in 2011 at an actors’ audition in New York and Bob Hupp was there,” Smock says. “Shortly after that, we made a deal. Going into the project in 2006, I wasn’t all that familiar with the book, but Carla and Corrine were. It wasn’t until I read it as an adult that I became interested in it, to get inside and unpeel the layers. The story captures those larger-than-life experiences and adventures and I think the score adds a lot of layers of humanity, and serves to bring out those dimensions of character.”
“I recall having seen the movie as a child,” Vitale says. “I think it’s such an iconic story that most people have almost a cultural familiarity with it. We learned that people have very different memories of it, with some looking at it from the swashbuckling pirate almost caricature, and other people remembering it as the story of a young boy dreaming of an adventure.”
Aquilina, the only one of the three to have worked at the Rep before, when she was the musical director of Hairspray in April 2011, considers herself quite familiar with the tale.
“I had four brothers; they all read it,” Aquilina says. “It was required reading at a certain age in many schools. In the story, young Jim is faced with many moral decisions that he needs to make. In our story, he recalls the guidance of his parents as his moral compass, but he makes many impulsive decisions, and is faced with those consequences also.
“In turning the story into a musical, we really show the landscape and to show the traveling from land to sea, to island, and back home again, and the music really pushes the story forward. Emotionally, the mom sends her son off, and there’s a beautiful song she has, ‘Letting Her Son Go.’ And songs by bad men, evil people, shows whythey do what they do.”
The two dozen songs - 15 with vocals and the rest instrumentals - help make the story more than just action, swordplay and fighting, the trio agree. The live instrumentation - a chamber orchestra - includes a violin, viola, cello and bass, plus percussion, drums, French horn and reeds.
“We believe this story can play not only domestically, but has an extensive global life ahead of it, and have made decisions that have streamlined the piece and kept it smart and efficient, so that we can sell it,” Smock says with confidence, knocking on a wood table in Foster’s at the Rep, the theater’s intermission club.
The show’s scenic designer, Stanley A. Meyer’s credits include designing Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the world premiere of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida and rock tours by The Steve Miller Band, Alice Cooper and Cyndi Lauper.
“We worked hard to evoke the idea of the ocean, and a ship, the sky, the sails, palm trees,” Meyer explains. “It’s meant to be a set that’s more like a jungle gym for the pirates. It’s a big sculpture to me, and I wanted it to be less and less literal, like a lot of the theme park work I do, such as Peter Pan’s Neverland for Universal Studios Japan.”
Rafael Colon Castanera, the show’s costume designer and production manager, promises patrons will see pirates, but not the kind they have seen before. Nor is it the story known to their grandmothers.
“We have created our own reality, which I think is more exciting,” Castanera says. “We’re going for quality, not quantity in costuming, and there will be some unexpected aspects that are mysterious, as I explore the silhouettes and the weaponry.”
The 12-person cast includes Christopher Carl as Billy Bones and Captain Alexander Smollett, Kristy Cates as Mother Mary Hawkins, Cleavant Derricks as George Merry, Eric Gunhus as Pew and Job Anderson, Patrick Richwood as O’Brien and Ben Gunn, Logan Rowland as Jim Hawkins and Richard B. Watson as Long John Silver.
Rowland made his Broadway debut at age 12 in The Addams Family and Cates was a member of the original Broadway cast of Wicked. Gunhus, who appeared in the full Broadway run of Billy Elliot, is best known as the lead tenor who sang “Springtime for Hitler” in The Producers on Broadway. Richwood’s movie credits include roles in the films Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries, Runaway Bride and Soul Surfer.
Carl, the only actor in the cast with past experience at The Rep, played Javert in the theater’s production of Les Miserables.
The creative team will participate in a panel discussion about the writing, scoring and producing of the play from noon to 1 p.m. today in Sturgis Hall at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. Those attending can supply their own lunch; drinks will be provided. Seats can be reserved by e-mailing publicprograms@clintonschool. uasys.edu or by calling (501) 683-5239.
Treasure Island, A New Musical
7 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Fri
day-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sat
urday and 2 and 7 p.m.
Sunday, with performances
at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and
Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays
and Saturdays and 2 p.m.
March 23 and 2 and 7 p.m.
Sundays, through March
31, Arkansas Repertory
Theatre, Sixth and Main
streets, Little Rock (Preview
performance at 7 p.m. today
with pre-show director’s talk
from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m.)
Tickets: $30-$60; $5 off ad
vance purchases through to
day. Student tickets half-price
for all seats.
March 13 only
Weekend, Pages 30 on 03/07/2013
Print Headline: Crew digs for gold in musical version of classic