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Sally Spectre The Musical - A Myth in the Making


Every once in awhile a new musical comes along that feels truly original. Theatre West is mounting what looks to be just such a show this month with SALLY SPECTRE THE MUSICAL, A Children's Horror Story for Adults.

The show is an irreverent yet charming musical about the gruesome ghost of a little girl who sings and dances her way through a nightmare-laced purgatory. Along the way she gets a little guidance from an unlikely and unexpected host of sources.

Sally is the brainchild of David P. Johnson, a writer/musician with a life-long fascination with stories - but not just any stories - his is a specific fascination with mythology and fable.

According to Johnson, what differentiates a myth from an ordinary story is that, "...mythology is actually a rudimentary form of science invented as an explanation for something. Imagine being in ancient Greece looking up into the sky and seeing the sun go across it every day. Why does that happen? Well, there must be a giant guy with a huge chariot that's dragging it across the sky. That's a myth. It's an effort to explain something that happens in nature, therefore the science.

A fable has a universal message that almost every culture can embrace, like the story of The Three Little Pigs. It teaches you not to be lazy. That lesson can be communicated in almost every culture, as opposed to something that is more regional like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. If you live in Iran it doesn't mean anything to you, but if you live in New York in the area in which it took place, it means a great deal more.

Few people have contributed to the world of mythology or fable in a very long time. The most recent modern storyteller would be Tim Burton, who has had a massive influence on me, as has Edward Gorey and Wes Anderson.

For example, Edward Scissorhands is a modern myth. The idea may be a little far-fetched but, by the time you get to the end of the story, you have an explanation for where snow comes from. Edward is cutting ice sculptures so frantically that he creates snow that covers the town. I don't know if it was intentional or not but Tim Burton basically wrote a myth.

It took me a long time to come up with the kernel of an idea that I developed into Sally Spectre the Musical. It's about a little girl who has been dead for 50 years, dealing with a lot of adult situations and problems, but she still has the mind of a five year old child because that's how old she was when she was killed.

Because it is a ghost story, there is an element of horror. Because it is a musical, there is an element of music. Since I am attempting to create something new in the world of fable, there is also a message."

The musical has expanded from its initial 40-minute draft to a full-length musical as part of Theatre West's ongoing Writers Workshop, moderated by Doug Haverty and Christine DiGiovanni. From there it went on to win Grand Prize in the 2008 Eclectic Company Theatre's Hurricane Season Playwriting Competition as the only musical out of 152 entries. It also received Honorable Mention in the 2008 Ellen Idelson Playwriting Awards, and was part of Theatre West's West Fest before being slated for production in the current Theatre West season. Not bad for a year and a half's worth of intense work.

The cast features Rebecca Lane in the title role, Roger Cruz, who appeared as Berger in the original Hair on Broadway, Matthew Hoffman, Adam Conger, Rob Monroe and Kerry Melachouris, along with Johnson.

Johnson moved to Los Angeles from Chicago at the age of seventeen with the dream of becoming the next Eddie Van Halen. Rock and roll was in its heyday on the Sunset Strip and the young pop rock musician was enamored, and a bit overwhelmed, by the LA music scene.

"The goal when I came out here was to be a pop or pop rock artist. I'd done a little bit of acting. I'd been a writer all my life, and almost instantaneously on my arrival in LA I looked at the hotbed of rock and roll and wondered how well I really fit into that world. I ended up working with a South Gate Theatre group to recreate all the music for Godspell and immediately felt that this might be where I really musical theatre. It took a long time to make that transition. I like to say I was the only rock and roll musician that had a subscription to Archaeology Magazine, loved Chicago Cubs Baseball, and would occasionally teeter off to see Broadway shows.

Developing Sally Spectre has been very satisfying. I love to put a new twist on an old story or take a brand new idea and fashion it into something no one has ever experienced before. I had a vision for Sally and I didn't try to rush it. I took time with it and allowed it to develop. This musical has captured all of my passionate interests and combined them into one unique project. That's why I'm so tremendously enthusiastic about the show. I feel like so much of my soul is actually in it."

While billed as a children's horror story for adults, Johnson describes the show as a family musical appropriate for children over the age of eight or nine. "It's a very fun production. My hope is that the audience really enjoys the humor and yet ends up being touched by the message. I haven't seen a dry eye in the previous eighteen performances of the show and since this is, in essence, a fable, it delivers a very universal message. The route I took to get the message across may be a little controversial, but the message itself is not.

It's been a fabulous ride working with Theatre West on this musical. Executive Director John Gallogly, Storybook Theatre Producer Lloyd J. Schwartz and the entire company have tremendously embraced me and my work and made this journey possible.

Sally Spectre the Musical opens October 16 and will run through November 29, 2009. Theatre West is located at 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles, CA 90068. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 323-851-7977 or online at

Johnson added one final thought about the many influences on his work in musical theatre. "I can't forget Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim is God. He has had a huge impact on me. I guess you'd say to me, he's the Eddie Van Halen of the musical Theatre World." Now that's something we haven't seen before.

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