My gorgeous mom could always sing… In church, new people would turn around to see WHO had that VOICE! Growing up in rural Wisconsin in the 1950s, Mom didn’t have a lot of opportunity to be in musicals, but she was wild about the movies and in another time and place, I think she would have been a movie star!
As an adult, once her 4 kids were old enough to sit through rehearsals, mom started trying out for community musicals. One summer, with Dad’s support, my sister, Mom and I all tried out for The King and I, which was being produced by Dudley Birder’s Music Theater group at St. Norbert College. Mom was chosen as one of the King’s wives, but neither of us girls got in. We DID however, attend all the rehearsals and learned every line, song and dance by heart. That was the beginning.
In the 1970s, we were in or around many musicals at the college: The Wizard of Oz, The Music Man, Hello, Dolly, Oklahoma! – all the classics… It was a gift to be around the talented performers and production team of the Music Theater family.
I did plays and show choirs during my school years, then played keyboard and sang in bands as a high school junior and senior. Music was definitely where I wanted to be, but I knew after 2 years that I was not going to get to where I wanted to go by singing in bars. I quit the band and enrolled in UW-Green Bay to study music composition. That lasted one year, because after I married the last band’s lead guitarist (who had persistently wooed me for a year) we decided to switch roles and I would work while he went to school, since he only had a year left to complete his degree.
During my band years, I had decided to tackle reading the Bible. I was raised in a church-going family, but like everyone, I needed to find out for myself if God was real. I mused that after hundreds of years, many super-smart people were still reading – and being shaped by – what they read in the Bible, so I made a point of reading it for 15 minutes every day. I had a sneaking suspicion that there were Great Life Lessons to be learned there, but as a solo reader, there seemed to be as many contradictions as truths.
Fast forward to a point in my life when I was expecting MY 4th child: In the intervening years, I had penned and performed songs for both church and professional functions (writing custom music for speakers and conventions) and I was asked by our activities committee at church to write a short musical for the spring of 1990. The 10-song, 1 hour musical was made up of both church and community members and was well received. Titled What Think Ye of Christ?, it told the story of Christ from his birth to resurrection.
The next year the 2nd musical was produced, He is Risen!, which told the story of Christ from resurrection to ascension. Also a 10-song, 1 hour musical, I’ve often thought combining these first two shows would make a dandy, full-length show.
In 1992 we did the first full-length musical, Hidden Treasures: A Musical Review of the Parables of Jesus Christ. This show is famous for the 100 children we cast to help us tell the parable of The Lost Sheep. We have PLENTY of stories about those sheep! You know what they say about working with children or animals…
By now I was anxious to do a more conventional story/show, so I wrote Esther – Queen of Persia for production in 1994. One would think that the role of Esther would be the most coveted part in the show, but we were ALL surprised at the cast party when every one of our teen cast members sang the Vashti solo word for word, complete with vamp walk. Whew!
Did I mention the babies? My husband, Bill and I had the last 3 of our 6 children in 1990, 1992 and 1995. I worked diligently during 94/95 on a sung-thru musical (no dialogue) that had really captured my imagination: NOAH. I set the story in modern day New Orleans, with Mardi Gras providing the perfect backdrop for debauchery and the threat of flooding being very real. This was WAY before Katrina decimated the delta lands.
From 1995 to 2005, there were no musicals produced, for several strong reasons. In 2005, however, we remounted Hidden Treasures, recording a new soundtrack, recording a cast album and creating a DVD of the show (not something we were planning on, but God moves in mysterious ways). We rented a local movie theater and opened up the showing to the public. I was especially pleased when both my former music teacher and English teacher attended the viewing, saying how proud they were of me – they have each since passed away, so I’m glad we had that moment.
Immediately after finishing the mix of the Hidden Treasures DVD, I began working on Old Testament Records. I had taught the Old Testament to 20+ high school students in an early morning seminary class a few years before and I was surprised to find out some of the Old Testament stories were unfamiliar to them. I grew up reading The Children’s Bible, a wonderfully illustrated book that made all the OT stories come to life. I began to think of ways to present the stories – and the lessons from the stories – in a way that would appeal to teens and to anyone who hadn’t had repeated exposure to the stories. Once I started, the stories just came alive and my biggest problem was deciding what NOT to put in the show. I am certain there will be an Old Testament Records – Book Two!
I finished composing the finale over Christmas break in 2005 and then was blindsided. On the flight home from a business convention with my husband in early 2006, I received an unmistakable revelation that I needed to put the musical aside and work full time directing our shipping business. I was devastated. Heartbroken. I told myself that in a year I would triple our sales and hire a replacement for me so I could GET BACK TO MUSIC!
Well, it took us TWO years to hit that goal, but by then we realized that it was an opportune time to grow, so my “year” got quite a bit longer. We are now 15 times bigger than we were in 2005, having survived and expanded through The Great Recession. While I tried several times to step away from the business in the past 8 years, each time I found my time away created issues that ended up biting me and I’ve had to wait until we had the correct personnel and policies in place so I could step away.
I began my sabbatical on April 1, 2014 (a hilarious date choice, I know) and have been orchestrating the 25 songs from Old Testament Records ever since. My goal is to create a working demo of the project (sheet music, audio recordings and printed scene layouts) to present to entities interested in mounting an original musical. I think this show has legs and I hope it goes to Broadway!
AND – I think the world needs this show. The stories and lessons from the Old Testament are SO relevant to our life today. I wish everyone knew these stories well! I want to tell the stories again and again so more people can see them and sing them and know them.
I need your help: I hope that through social media and The 6(ish) Degrees of Separation we can get this musical into the hands of people who can take it to a larger audience. I have loved writing and directing and producing the former shows, but I know that this musical needs to have a larger audience.
Please forward these songs and links to others within your circle. I believe that – as Esther sang in “Who Knowest?” (#11, here) – many things are going to be in just the right place at exactly the right time and something wonderful is going to happen…