Bringing AT HOME IN MITFORD to Life as a Musical
AT HOME IN MITFORD, a new musical based on the popular novel by Jan Karon, will receive a one night only concert reading October 26 at 7:30 pm. Its part of The Academy for New Musical Theatre's reading series at The Colony Theatre in Burbank. Written by Cynthia Ferrell (book), Carl Johnson (music) and Chana Wise (lyrics), it tells the story of Father Tim, a cherished small-town rector, and the quirky group of people that live in the town of Mitford, NC. Elise Dewsberry directs and Darin Goulet is musical director.
Featured in the cast are David Holmes as Father Tim, Kelly Lester, Tess Ferrell, Elise Dewsberry and Jerry Martin, along with Evelyn Halus, Ellen Dostal, Johanna Kent, Christopher Maikish, Andrea Press, Ben Ryan, Stephen Vendette and Peter Welkin.
The show is adapted from the very popular and much loved Mitford series of books by writer Jan Karon and I was interested in hearing how Ferrell, Johnson and Wise developed the musical. Here's what they had to say.
What inspired you to write a musical based on Jan Karon's books? Were you already familiar with them?
Carl: Several years ago I had finished writing a commissioned musical based on John the Baptist and was trying to decide what to do for my next project. My priest at my church suggested I consider writing a musical based on the Mitford series of books. At that time I hadn't read any of them, so he gave me a set of books-on-tape. I listened to them on a long drive, and found myself circling my destination until the book was over!
How did you approach Jan Karon with the idea?
Carl: On a whim, I contacted the book's publisher to see if the musical theater rights to the book were available, and to my surprise they were. I asked Jan if anyone had ever tried to adapt her books for musical theater. She said that there was a non-musical stage adaptation, but that nobody had ever approached her about a musical. I think she was surprised by the idea, and agreed to let me have a year to try. We came back a year later on deadline and presented her with a completed show and a recording of a read-through. She liked the work and we incorporated her notes into the revised script, which we'll be presenting in Burbank.
So she liked what you'd done with it?
Chana: Yes, Jan was very enthusiastic about the material we presented, and we were happy to get her approval. When Carl approached me with this project, I wondered what it would be like in terms of my capability of writing the thoughts and feelings of a Christian cleric (given that I'm Jewish). But Carl and I worked together previously on a short musical film called The Coffee Quintet that we shot earlier in the year and it was a great experience. Carl and Cynthia, along with lyricist Jeff Marx (Avenue Q), have also worked together writing a 15-minute musical called The Rightful Monarch of America so I knew we were in good hands all the way around. In the end, writing lyrics for this show was a very broadening and rewarding experience.
Cynthia, as the bookwriter, where did you come into the writing process?
Cynthia: The bookwriter goes to work first and is charged with pioneering the way. I started writing the Mitford musical book in May 2008, with Chana adding lyrics starting in late fall, and Carl adding music in December. My musical book created the character voices and the plot of each scene.
Has it been difficult writing the lives of characters that another author has created?
Cynthia: Jan's Mitford series is massively popular, and it's always a challenge meeting fans' expectations for the characters they know and love. She is an enormously popular writer and this is her first foray into musical theatre. What plays on the page is different from what plays onstage. I like working with her characters, and I like working with her. Mostly I love when she reads my dialogue in her wonderful, warm North Carolinian accent
AT HOME IN MITFORD is about second chances for all - that's it's never too late to find true love, safety, peace, family. Jan's bio mirrors that. She was in her teens when she had her only child, and divorced at age 20. She rose through the ranks to build a successful advertising career, but after much soul-searching, she abandoned it at age 50 to become a novelist. We're lucky she did.