Director to share original musical
Randy Bowser brings his piece to Pentacle Theatre
November 19, 2007
It's been decades since Salem's Pentacle Theatre has premiered an original musical, but that will change in April when "Dorian -- The Remarkable Mr. Gray" opens.
The ambitious musical, based on the Oscar Wilde novel about a man whose crimes are reflected only in his hidden portrait, is a big gamble for a community theater where familiarity is a better guide to success.
But the show's creator and director, Randy Bowser, who has worked on the show for 25 years, is known for ambitious projects.
When he's not assisting on other people's shows, such as the current "Gypsy," Bowser has brought Pentacle audiences Joseph Brooks' musical adaptation of the classic film "Metropolis," and a revival of "Hair," a collaboration with the producer and co-creator of the original production.
Bowser, a resident of Salem for the past 15 years, has flirted with a larger theatrical world, including work in Los Angeles and an invitation from legendary New York director Joseph Papp to work for him (the then-20-something Bowser declined).
He is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Question: You worked in Los Angeles?
Answer: I kept very busy in Los Angeles, unlike the conscious image, there is plenty of theater. I had a featured role on "CHiPS." It's been long enough now that I will just admit that it's the only episode I've ever seen. It was great fun. And little walk-on things in shows that came and went, independent films. I kept busy.
Q: Why did you move to Salem?
A: There's always more to the story. A major relationship ended, and that was rather traumatizing.
I was having difficulty finding motivation to do anything. And finding out that mom (who lived in Salem) needed so much; she wasn't doing well. It seemed like a good time to move here.
Q: How did you get involved with Pentacle?
A: You might recall I first got involved with the old STOPA (Salem Theatre of Performing Arts). The underdogness of it appealed to me, so ... after moving here I got involved. I was already aware of Pentacle. I had been there a few times before living here while I was visiting here. Then I jumped in pretty fast. I was directing within a year, I did "The Trip to Bountiful." I ended up directing every year for nine years. The second half was musicals, because people begin turning to me for the next one.
Q: How did "Dorian" begin?
A: I did a workshop production when I lived in Los Angeles. I had just got done doing the West Coast premiere of "Nicholas Nickleby." I had a major role in that. After a performance one night, having a beer with an actor friend, I mentioned that I wanted to write a dramatic musical based on a Gothic horror story. So when my friend Erick said, "How about basing a show on 'The Picture of Dorian Gray?'" I immediately liked the idea. The current version of the show is vastly different from where I started. It's taken on an identity of its own, as an entity apart from the book -- as it should. The emphasis isn't on the Gothic horror elements which first attracted me but rather on the people trapped in this bizarre situation.
Q: When did you turn to the show again?
A: What I did was shortly after "Metropolis," which was in 2002, by the next year I pulled out the script with all these notes from all these years ago, and first went about the task of seeing if I could do something with them again. Then the project snowballed. So I went about cutting it way down, rewriting, rearranging, cutting songs, writing new songs and orchestrating everything. It's recognizably based on my old workshop but massively different.
Q: And it's very unconventional.
A: I would say it is. Is it a Broadway mold? No. I think of "Dorian" as more operatic, but I don't want to use that word on the poster or something because that would scare people away that I want to have see it. For a long time ... it had a subtitle of "A Portrait in Music," because it's almost continuous music.
Q: Could any of the music be a pop song?
A: A lot of chunks of the music are not takeout-able. There are a few. Obviously there are maybe three songs that could be taken out of context. But most of it isn't. Of course that is true of Sondheim things.
Q: So is it set in the Victorian era?
A: It is, yes. It's a fairly faithful adaptation, fairly in that there were some consolidations, there was a new character based on somebody vaguely suggested in the novel. Yes, the plot is fairly recognizable from what Oscar Wilde wrote. I use a lot of his dialogue. Here's the difference: Dorian himself is like a blank canvas, he's a cipher, and he's filled up with these ideas and then he turns into this monster. My intention is to flesh him out into a real human being that we can relate to.
Q: You said it was going to be very unconventional in style.
A: It won't look look a production of "My Fair Lady," which is the same era. That would be inappropriate. The sets will be totally not naturalistic. We probably won't even have walls. The costumes, as anachronistic as possible is fine with me. The point being Dorian is like the young guy now; he could be facing the same kind of problems. I don't want that period piece, museum, dusty thing going on, because it's not that way at all. And I want to de-emphasize theatrical, amazing, huge effects. It's really about these very real characters who spend most of the time singing.
Q: It's not "Metropolis."
A: No. I don't want it to be that at all. The music doesn't stay with any period style; it's totally eclectic.
Q: So was it a challenge to get Pentacle to take it on?
A: Sure. I went to that group (the play reading committee) last year and proposed the idea, because it was ready. I was ready; it was in shape to be produced, and the loud vocal reaction from one person was that Pentacle never does original things; we can't even consider it. This year it was different, because it depends on who's in charge.
Q: Do you have greater ambitions for this show?
A: I do. Now if I just put it in the drawer again, at least I will have done it. But we will be recording a cast album with this cast. I already have the (musical) tracks; these tracks I have worked on for several years. One of the things that the CD can be is a tool to show it to other, larger theaters. I can see a light opera company doing it. I stuck with it because I think there's an audience for it.
rcowan@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-67218