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To Russia with lyrics

Salem's Randy Bowser is bound for Moscow, where 'Dorian: The Remarkable Mr. Gray' will be done in the Russian language

By Ron Cowan • Statesman Journal

November 2, 2008

Salem's Randy Bowser was thrilled when he learned that his original musical, "Dorian: The Remarkable Mr. Gray," was getting a professional production. He just didn't realize it would take place in Moscow, and not Moscow, Idaho.

Bowser is flying Monday to Moscow, where he'll hold three weeks of rehearsal at the Stas Namin Moscow Music and Drama Theatre for a Russian language version of "Dorian," with an opening planned in March.

"You know what: I've never been out of the country," said Bowser, barring a few visits to Tijuana, Mexico.

"I do have my passport, and now I have a visa."

The last we heard from Bowser, he had signed a contract with Michael Butler, the original producer of "Hair," to do a professional production of "Dorian," which Bowser based on Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray," this year.

The show, which has music, lyrics and a libretto by Bowser, premiered at Pentacle in April of 2008.

It's the cautionary tale of a handsome young man who yearns for eternal youth and wishes that a portrait of him would age instead. The wish is fulfilled, but the debaucheries he undertakes are recorded in his portrait, with each sin resulting in more disfigurement.

But Butler's colleague, producer-musician Namin, became aware of the show and asked to produce "Dorian" first. Namin has been fond of English literary adaptations at his repertory company, which is in famed Gorky Park in Moscow.

Namin, who has a home in Beverly Hills, had a rock group, called Flowers, the first Soviet super-band, before founding his theater company. He is active as a photographer, composer and artist.

He created the Moscow Music and Drama Theatre in 1999.

The first play was the legendary American rock musical "Hair," translated and staged in Russian; it became one of the most popular live theatrical events in the country and the first musical in the non-Soviet Russia.

The theater also has presented the original version of rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar" for the first time in Russia, Pushkin's "Little Tragedies" and plays by Arthur Miller, Federico Garcia Lorca and others.

The "Dorian" libretto has been translated into Russian, and pre-production has been in progress for several months. The production will use the same recorded electronic score Bowser presented in Salem.

"We're thrilled that we were part of it," said Randy Boyd, managing director of Pentacle. "It'll be interesting in how it gets translated."

Bowser knew that the Moscow production was happening even when he announced the Los Angeles production, but couldn't announce the change until now.

"I'm dying to hear what it sounds like in Russian," he said of "Dorian."

Although he also is about as versatile in Russia as most of us; he doesn't speak it at all, so he will have both a Russian director and a translator.

"I have my new little Russian phrases book," Bowser said.

He will be keeping Salem up to date on his experiences by blogging on the Statesman Journal Web site, www.StatesmanJournal.com.

"Russia is the motherland of modern drama. To have my musical staged in Moscow promises to be a highlight of my life. It's a great honor."

Eventually, the show will get a professional production in Los Angeles, Bowser said, possibly in 2009.

During the summer, when he was originally supposed to be working on the "Dorian" production, Bowser instead kept busy arranging the music for Butler's production of "Pope Joan," which opens this winter.

"I'm very excited," he said. "I felt fortunate I had this other project to work on."

"Dorian" will be produced in a small theater but will enter the Moscow theater's repertory.

"I think they're saying that it seats 250," Bowser said.

He will live in a house on the theater grounds while he's working on the musical.

Bowser said he is looking forward to discovering what Russians are like, but he already has an idea from the hospitality based on meeting Namin in California.

"They kind of prize an old-fashioned civility in their socializing," Bowser said.

Bowser's work at Pentacle Theatre has included both acting and directing, including productions such as "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" and "Metropolis."

He has lived in Salem for more than 15 years and worked in Los Angeles and Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

"Dorian" is a 25-year project for Bowser, who became interested in the Gothic horror novel as a theatrical project when he lived in Los Angeles.

rcowan@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6728