Oklahoma City’s Lyric Theatre to stage world premiere of musical based on short story

by Oct 4, 2015

Published by The Oklahoman – Read original article here

Orignially published on October 4, 2015

Photo - <p> Julia Jordan and Adam Gwon created the musical "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," adapted from the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  [Photo by Carl Shortt Photography]</p>

Oklahoma City’s Lyric Theatre to stage world premiere of musical based on short story

BERNICE BOBS HER HAIR, a musical inspired by a popular short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, will have its world premiere this week in a production by Oklahoma City’s Lyric Theatre.

Authors Sholem Aleichem, Damon Runyon and Larry L. King probably never considered the possibility that their short stories might one day be turned into popular stage musicals. But thanks to their efforts, audiences have derived considerable enjoyment from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, GUYS AND DOLLS, and THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS.

This week, a new musical inspired by another popular short story will make its world premiere on the Lyric at the Plaza stage. Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920 story with the same title, the musical BERNICE BOBS HER HAIR was created by Adam Gwon and Julia Jordan.

Directed by Michael Baron, the new production will feature Celeste Rose as Bernice, Sarah Quinn Taylor as her cousin Marjorie, Russell McCook as the two-timing Warren, and Vince Leseney and Mandy Jiran as Marjorie’s parents, the Harveys.

“I have always loved directing period pieces and have spent my career trying to make them fresh and relevant for today’s audiences,” Baron said. “I am excited to see a writing team also doing the same thing with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story. It promises to be an delightful addition to Lyric’s commitment to producing world-premiere musicals.”

Fashionable advice

One of eight stories included in a collection known as “Flappers and Philosophers,” “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” was based on letters Fitzgerald sent to his younger sister Annabel. The author’s intent was to offer his sister advice on how to be more attractive to young men.

“Since I was a kid, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’ was always my favorite short story,” Jordan said during a recent break from rehearsals. “I also went to the same high school he did, and most of the story takes place at a country club I knew growing up.

“I always wanted to create a musical version of BERNICE, so once Adam and I began working on it, it was very easy to create scenes to fill in the holes. It’s set in 1912, but its emphasis on how to become a popular girl is just as relevant today.”

Inspired by stories

Gwon and Jordan met about 10 years ago at New Dramatists, a New York-based organization that provides resident playwrights with the resources to create work, realize their artistic potential and make lasting contributions to the theater.

As part of the program, writers and composers are also given the opportunity to collaborate on new projects that combine their respective talents. The artists get to work together in a series of partnerships that often lead to professionally staged productions.

“When Julia and I met, I was right out of college,” Gwon said. “She sort of took me under her wing and taught me how to make my way as a writer. She helped crack open some opportunities for me.”

Gwon, who composed the musical’s score, said he was drawn to the piano at a very young age. Later, he took lessons from a neighbor who was the organist for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. That training led Gwon to try his hand at writing original works.

“Something I like about writing musicals is that every project lives in its own world,” Gwon said. “I like having restrictions or inspiration that a particular story provides. I also enjoy doing research that lets me acclimate myself to the world of that show.

“For BERNICE, I wanted to honor the period in which the show takes place rather than give it a completely anachronistic musical sound. Something that also appealed to me was the idea that so much of it takes place at a country club. I wanted the musical theater numbers to reveal that world but also to let the characters cut loose.”

Pieces of a puzzle

Jordan said she sketched her first draft of the story fairly quickly. Thanks to a series of subsequent readings and workshops, the collaborators observed firsthand how their story played in front of audiences. In each case, they identified what they felt needed rewriting.

“I took a lot of artistic liberty with the story,” Jordan said. “This was the first short story that Fitzgerald published, so he didn’t have any hindsight. He focused on this animalistic ritual between boys and girls at the dances. Ours is more about behavior and character.”

Gwon, whose projects include THE BOY DETECTIVE FAILS, CLOUDLANDS and ORDINARY DAYS, said that when looking for stories to musicalize, he favors those that have room to expand. BERNICE was very concise but allowed for opportunities to open up the action.

“Musicals are meant to live on the stage, so the final pieces of the puzzle don’t come together without the actors, the staging and the orchestrations. You have to see how a story lives and breathes and moves. That’s the best part for me.”

Photo caption: Julia Jordan and Adam Gwon created the musical BERNICE BOBS HER HAIR, adapted from the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. [Photo by Carl Shortt Photography]

 

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