Dorian Gray--a household name which conjurs the shuddery image of an eternally youthful Victorian man and his hideous, possessed portrait, hidden away in a mysterious locked upper room.

Oscar Wilde's Faustian Gothic horror story, "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (not "Portrait of..." as it is often mistakenly called) is perhaps even more familiar to the general public than Wilde's own name which was thrust into history by the real-life horror story of his infamous downfall.

Like many well known fictional characters, Dorian's name is better known than the actual details of his story.

Various film versions of Wilde's novel have retained the basic premise of an unusually handsome young man and his portrait which ages and takes on the visage of a sin-drenched monster instead of its increasingly evil but innocent-looking subject.

But Wilde's classic book has been given too concrete and prosaic a dramatization in the cinematic versions which have capitalized on the story's shock value rather than the "purple" mood and psychological themes of the original.

Wilde said that a theatrical adaptation of his work should "retain a sense of beauty." Wilde's aim in his writings was always to evoke beautiful, bold ideas and images, no matter how satirical, serious, informational, or simply entertaining he intended each piece to be.

For years it seemed to me that music would best tell Dorian's story--inspired by music I always heard when reading the book.

Before there were musicals based on "Phantom of the Opera" "Jeckyl and Hyde" and "Dracula," I composed and directed a workshop production of my first version of "Dorian" in Los Angeles. Only "Sweeney Todd" existed at that point as a musicalized 19th Century horror story. It was a thrill when Daily Variety reviewed that workshop and said that "Dorian could be the next 'Sweeney Todd."

Now, with more experience in musical composition and in theatrical endeavors in general, I have re-visited my version of "Dorian" and created a new and even more viable performance piece.

Having mentioned the successful musicals which are also based on famous Gothic novels, I want to to add that "Dorian" is different in style from any of those. "Phantom" and the others were crafted by creative teams in the commercial, professional environment, while my musical is a solo effort, not written with the New York stage in mind as a performance goal.

If my musical adaptation of "Dorian" became a Broadway-bound piece, I am sure that producers, designers, and directors would push and pull the material with an eye towards greater commerciality, to appeal to as large an audience as possible.

Not being involved in that kind of situation, I can, instead present "Dorian" as an idiocynractic theatre piece which doesn't really attempt to be "commercial" in a traditional sense, but one I still feel can find its own, unique audience.

The show is not, in the strict sense, in the "Broadway Style." It's rather my own approach to "operetta." It's a story told through music, sung dialogue, through sound--and none of it created under the obligation of traditional structures and parameters. I'm not very interested in writing tunes for people to hum as they leave the theatre, or in jazzing up the story with comic relief, snappy dance numbers et al. That's why what I've written will never be everybody's cup of tea.

painting from the 1940's film version

But I am anxious to share the show so those who will be able to resonate with it, have the chance to do so. I already know from experience that when there's a listener ready to participate and really listen, the show can be thrilling, in its own intensely brooding way. I'm grateful to have already discovered there is an audience for this 20 year project of mine--that there Is an audience with a taste for this particularly strong brew.

"A musical for the ears"--that's what "Dorian" will be for now. A compelling story thrust forward by my own pastiche of musical styles, and which can be visualized in whatever manner each listener cares to imagine.

One idea was to stage a "try-out" concert in Salem, Oregon, of "Dorian," with a cast of experienced singer/actors. In the concert, performers would have been dressed in basic black, using vocal scores on music stands. An empty picture frame behind them was to be the only suggestion of scenery.

But after encountering reluctance on the part of singers who would have been doing a great deal of work for the rather small pay-off of one concert, this idea has been abandoned. I can once again concentrate on assembling a recording, other than the demo which already exists on which I play all the roles.

Perhaps "Dorian" will be like "Superstar" "Chess" "The Scarlet Pimpernell" and other musicals which first existed as recordings before they were staged. I am among the millions who first "saw" "Superstar" in my mind's eye, long before there was a stage or film version.

Or perhaps "Dorian" will remain a piece which is only heard--with its decaying, undulating painting seen only with our imaginations. Maybe its brooding London skyline, elegant ballrooms, dangerous opium dens, cobweb-wrapped attics et al will exist only in our imaginations, guided through sound and music: and that would be fine.

In whatever form my "Dorian--The Remarkable Mister Gray" reaches its audience, there will always be the story of the central character's well-intended but ultimately misguided attempt to find more meaning in his existence.

We all wonder, at one time or another, what it would be like to be immortal. We may want that to be a viable fantasy---but "Dorian" tells the cautionary tale of how it's our own finite mortality which is the essential core element of our humanity, and that we must live with a bitter-sweet awareness of life's brevity, or go mad trying to live outside the laws of reality.

If your interest is piqued---I invite you to keep your ears open for the time when Dorian" will be available for your listening pleasure.

Me and the portrait I painted for the LA workshop version of "Dorian"

Randy Bowser
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