Thomson and Mann's TRAILS Set For Actors Co-op, 7/22-8/1
Actors Co-op in Hollywood is highlighting a new musical from the songwriting team of Jeff Thomson (music) and Jordon Mann (lyrics) as a bonus production to their season in July. TRAILS, which also features book written by Christy Hall, will run July 22 - August 1, 2010 as part of the Los Angeles Festival of New American Musicals.
The story centers around two old friends who reconnect after ten years and set out to hike the Appalachian Trail together from beginning to end. Over the six-month, 2000 mile journey, past and present intertwine as the two face both the elements and the ghosts from their past.
According to Mann, the original idea came from Thomson. "Jeff had recently reconnected with a childhood friend. They realized that they were both in very different places in their lives, and how unique it was to reconnect with someone as an adult. The friend suggested that they try to hike the trail together, and while it never happened, it got Jeff thinking about it as an idea for a musical."
The team had been looking for something original to do and Mann says his first response was, "Are you out of your mind...write a musical about two people walking for two hours?"
"Then," he says, "we did some research and as we learned more about the trail, we found that many who have attempted the hike have done so because they had a genuine reason. They were searching for meaning, a challenge outside of their everyday lives.
We started working on TRAILS in the Fall of 2008, and at that point it seemed like everything was falling apart. People were dealing with the foundations of their lives disappearing. Families (men in particular) who had thought that everything was figured out were suddenly out of work, downsized, living with uncertainty for the first time in years. That became an early idea. How do you cope when life throws you a curveball, and also, what do you need to carry with you and what do you let go of?"
The pair wrote quickly, with Thomson composing and Mann writing an initial draft of the book and lyrics. They were able to get a developmental workshop at Millikin University in January of 2009, which Mann says was enormously helpful, and revealed a lot of the key emotional underpinnings of the show.
It was at this point they started looking for a book writer so that he could focus on further development of the lyrics. After a number of discussions with directors and writers, they stumbled upon Christy Hall, whose husband Matt Lutz had performed some of the songs from the show previously.
"We sent the script to Christy and a week later she came to us with a plan for what she thought it needed. Her ideas took what we'd started with and gave them a depth that simply wasn't there before. She also realized that the heart of the story needed to be in the past relationships between the two guys, and Amy, the girl they both had loved. (Amy had been mentioned in the earlier draft, but Christy made her the living breathing heart of the play.)"
The songwriting duo has come a long way in the course of their eight year writing partnership. They received a 2008 Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation Grant, and were also 2006-2007 Dramatist Guild Musical Theatre Writing Fellows.
Mann says, "Jeff and I have an interesting dynamic because in many ways we're absolute opposites is terms of personality. Jeff is very open and outgoing, I am very introverted. Jeff loves Lloyd Webber, I love Sondheim. The big thing that's evolved is that there are no filters. Collaborating is like a marriage. You have to be able to get angry at the other person and know you'll be forgiven. You have to respect the other person's work, but not be afraid to tell them when you don't like what they're doing. We're very lucky that we work so well together, because frankly I don't think anyone else would put up with us individually."
The writers will be in Los Angeles for the Actors Co-op production of TRAILS to be directed by Heather Chesley. The cast features Matt Lutz as Seth, Stephen Van Dorn as Mike and Leslie Spencer as Amy, with David Atkinson, Rory Patterson and Linda Kerns as the three Rangers. Tickets are available now at www.actorsco-op.org/. You can find more information about this and other Thomson and Mann musicals at www.thomsonandmann.com/.
While you're at it, you can also catch a one-night only concert reading in L.A. of another one of their new musicals, Jawbreaker, on July 29th. This one has a book by Darren Stein, who also wrote the movie upon which the musical is based and will be directed by Jen Bender. Shoshana Bean, Jenna Leigh Green, Eden Espinosa, Megan Hilty, James Snyder and Lesli Margherita lead an all-star cast at Barre on Vermont. For tickets go to www.showatbarre.com/.