Dallas — How does a musical collaboration work? What made Rodgers and Hammerstein better as a duet than a solo?
We talked to Michael Federico, who wrote the book, and Ian Ferguson, who wrote the music and lyrics for The Manufactured Myth of Eveline Flynn, an original musical premiering at Theatre Three. Federico is the co-creator of the musicals On the Eve, a hit at the Margo Jones Theatre and then Theatre Three, and Pompeii! a darkly hilarious show that sold out at Kitchen Dog Theater last season. Ferguson appeared in On the Eve and other recent award-winning productions at Theatre Three. The story is about a young woman who believes her very birth has triggered an epic change in the world, and how her fantasy gradually dissolves her connections to the reality of family and friends.
The show, which begins previews on Jan. 31 and opens Feb. 4, stars Lauren LeBlanc as the title character, with Madison Calhoun as Molly, Taylor Nash as Zoey, Angela Davis as Joyce, Mark Mullino as Simon, Sam Swenson as Stephen, Quintin Jones Jr. as Foster, Aubrey Ferguson as Carol/Nun, and Spencer Driggers as Father Joe/Producer Greg/Dr. Morkan.
It is directed by Kara-Lynn Vaeni, with musical direction by Vonda Bowling and choreography by Danielle Georgiou.
TheaterJones: Where did Eveline come from? How did the collaboration originate?
Michael Federico: Ian and I have been friends for years and we had begun a version of a musical several years ago and got uninterested in it after a time. Then in 2017 we got back together and Ian told me about an idea he had for a movie, which happened to jive with something I had come up with, and we started talking about how the two ideas might mesh.
Ian Ferguson: We met in 2012 when I stepped into a role for a workshop version of On the Eve. We've talked about doing a musical together, and kept in touch. Then in 2017 we were between gigs, had some time, met for tacos and coffee, and we did it. He had some ideas for a show that sounded a lot like the film version I had floating around in the ether. It was a lucky accident.
MF: We are talking about personal change for Eveline Flynn, a fictional character, a 33-year-old woman living in Chicago in the present. She suddenly realizes things in her life are not all she expected. Her job is a disappointment. She's estranged from her father, and her mother and sister are trying to get them together, but not being very successful.
IF: It is an internal story. Our personal changes feel epic to us. We see the world though our subjective eyes, and so it feels our entire world is changing when we see it differently. An individual is disenfranchised from her own life, from herself. Her fantasies represent a physiological need. Her body is sending her mind to a place where she can make epic changes around her.
The pre-show info mentions following Eveline through her dreams. Are we in for some wild fantasies? Give us a hint.
MF: Yes, fantasies are a huge part of the show. There are many funny dream sequences and dance fantasies., including a nightmare, with all the elements of a horror movie. Ian, who is a truly gifted songwriter and musician, has worked in many different musical genres so each dream sequence shifts to another style. This allowed me to create many distinct worlds in the book. It's super fun.
IF: I am experimenting with dream types and song types. The nature of a dream is that it doesn't make sense when you wake up, unlike when you're in the middle of it. The nightmare has a western/mythical feeling to it. There's an awards ceremony and a grand ball. The worlds she creates for herself oscillate pretty wildly.
What are the music genres in the score?
MF: I think Ian could answer that. He talked a lot about ABBA and Queen and punk, and I said that sounds great.
IF: Each dream is a chance to stick my toes in a modern musical style. We go from Queen and ABBA to old favorite romantic songs and tunes from older Disney movies. We have some doo-wop and some bluegrass music.
This show lights up a heroine, not a hero. How does the show reflect where women are at this moment in our society—and in theater?
MF: One thing we touch on in the show is the enormous cultural pressure on women to grow up quickly so they can take care of everyone, whereas guys are allowed to be kids for a much longer time. It's like a male can be 12 indefinitely, but females should have everything figured all out and be the ones to take on major responsibility early on. Society lets men slide. I don't know if it's nature or nurture, but I can honestly say that most of the women in my life are more mature than I am, and that's an issue we try to take on in this show.
As far as the place of women in theater, I do know Eveline has been a great opportunity for me to work with some insanely talented women. Kara-Lynn, the director, and Vonda Bowling, the musical director. and our choreographer Danielle Georgiou have been integral in the development of the play. They are still playing a huge role, right up through the dress rehearsal. Having their perspectives has had an enormous impact in shaping the show.
IF: Both of us have women, wives and mothers in our own lives we respect and revere. A lot of change is happening for women today, but some things have not changed. Women are expected to be all things to all people on demand, to be attractive but low maintenance. It's unfair and absurd, but this is largely a bare-level assumption about women. In the show, a young woman in Chicago is at a crossroads and she doesn't have it in her to be everything to everyone, or even to herself. So, she goes somewhere else in her dreams. She’s experiencing a fantasy of what she would like to have. She can't make order and affect the world around her in her waking life, so she creates a dream life where disorder is the rule of the day. The play moves from waking fantasy to dreaming. We're on the same ride Eveline is on, so we're not always certain if she's awake or dreaming, either.
The play is very focused on women. There are men in the story, but Michael and I really wanted it to be a tale for this collection of women. It's their waters that we're the guests in. My personal hope for the material is that these are characters women can watch and immediately see themselves in. My hope is that a woman will see the play and want to sing this song because she sees herself in it. I hope these are iconic roles women will like to play for years.
What do you like most about this collaboration?
MF: I’ve written several plays by myself. I also love what musicals can do, and I absolutely do not have musical talent. Ian and I worked closely together on the whole thing. Step by step, scene by song, we figured out the story we wanted to tell. It's a wonderful feeling.
IF: My academic background is in music. I was a music composition major, and then I dropped out of college to play in a band called Front Floor. After I married [Ian Ferguson's wife, Aubrey Ferguson, is in the production], I returned to college and majored in theater, and got on well with it. I was not studying musical theater at the time, because I thought of theater and music as two separate worlds at that point. Music in theater works because music has a profound ability to speak in 30 seconds what pages of words would take.
Collaborating with Michael is great. We get on. We see things similarly, but with a different refraction, and that's what makes our finished product whole. Often, Michael writes a character's lines following a song totally differently than I would imagine for that dialogue. And it's great. I'm more a conventional rule-follower, and Michael's got an edge to his language. It works.