Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Runners in Concert

On Monday night I went to a reading of a new musical called The Runners, put on by Balagan Theatre.

The music was written by high school senior, Bryan Gula, who was in both runs of Balagan's regional production of Spring Awakening earlier this year.  I found out about The Runners at Balagan's season preview night and was intrigued - a good song and interesting story.  A boy/young man finds himself employed on what he THOUGHT was a fishing vessel, but it turns out that it's a rum running ship during prohibition.

Bryan had approached Balagan about working on his musical and they paired him with a writer and the company's Executive Director to get the project rolling.  Remember...high school senior...18 years old.  Yep.

The reading was $10 a ticket and done with no costumes or sets.  The actors walked up to music stands when they were in a scene; one read the stage direction.  Several of them were familiar faces from Spring Awakening, including Mike Spee as James.  It was great to see him in a lead role, I liked him in Spring but didn't realize how GREAT his voice really was until this reading!  Accompaniment was done entirely by the musical director at the piano (which I find incredible by itself!).

The show had already changed from what I knew of it before the reading.  James isn't tricked onto the rum running ship, he joins their crew willingly to escape his home in Canada where he feels trapped supporting his alcoholic mother with a dead end job.

The show was funny - sometimes intentionally and sometimes as a result of it being a reading, like when one actor throws a punch at one music stand and an actor at another stand falls to the ground. There were a couple of times where actors lost their place or missed a cue, but it was handled well.

In addition to being was good.  There were parts that were funny and parts that were touching.  About half the songs were solid starts, some of the duets showed a lot of promise, one song was hilarious (in a good way)!  The story kept my attention, I cared about the characters.  The wrap up at the end dragged a little, but I'm sure that will undergo several re-writes before I see it again.

At the end they took questions, comments, and suggestions, furiously scribbling notes.  During this time we learned that some of the songs were finalized on Saturday night and that some of the actors had two days to learn their parts.  Comments were thoughtful and interesting to hear.  One woman said "I really wanted to see the relationship between the brothers established earlier..."  The reply was "Yes!  We didn't know they were brothers until 3 days ago, so we'll definitely work on that!"

"Bring the female melodies down, define this character more, maybe a song exists here to highlight and contrast these two characters, find the balance between the comedy and the drama"...all sorts of things that will drive the development of this show.

I'm so excited to see where it goes next.  More songs could disappear - others added, characters completely changed!  It's a glimpse at the beginning of a process that can take years.  We see a lot of pre-broadway in Seattle....but this is pre-pre-pre-pre-broadway...and I'm thrilled to witness it.

Good luck to Bryan and team - I can't wait for the next show! :-)

Listening to suggestions from the audience. Front L to R: Matt Smith, Bryan Gula, Jake Groshong


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