When Frank P. Trimble moved to Wilmington years ago, he began doing extra work within the film and TV industries. Though he has gone on to become a professor of communication studies at UNCW, Trimble has continued his love for film and theatre, only this time behind a pen. He’s responsible for creating original musicals “Fly Wright! The Story of Two Brothers,” as well as “Ebenezer: A Christmas Carol,” among screenplays like the documentary “Beneath the Airlie Oak” and “HIV-Stigma in Five Voices.” This weekend he will open “Extra! Extra! The Musical” at Big Dawg Productions’ Cape Fear Playhouse—a reprise of the show which debuted at UNCW in 2013. “Extra! Extra!” follows a group of actors in the holding room on set, as crew scurry about to film their latest endeavor.
“The ‘hurry up and wait’ process [of being an extra] allowed ample time to observe and interact with those at the bottom of the production ladder—the human atmosphere,” Trimble tells of his inspiration in crafting the show. “I was often intrigued and entertained by the personal stories of fellow extras, including acting experience, professional goals and home life.”
Their interactions and variances of personality flesh out a greater look into the connectivity of humans on a basic level. Trimble wanted to animate their stories through song and created melody lines, while finishing vocal arrangements during rehearsals. For this showing, he’s enlisted the help of pianist Michelle Reiff as musical director, as well as a cast member. Joining Reiff is associate music producer, cast member and UNCW student Kirk Robertson, who will play acoustic guitar. “Both musicians play from lead sheets (chords only), so their artistic contributions are substantial,” Trimble notes.
The music runs the gamut from rock to country, jazz to pop, and comes with tales of humor, optimism and reverence. Trimble utilized the music as an outlet for actors to engage in when words and emotions were too intense for speech. “Some songs advance the plot, some reveal deeper layers of psyche and objectives,” he notes. “Some offer commentary on other characters and situations.
According to Leslie Anne Pierce, who plays Carmella Horvath, “What If” will connect to anyone who aspires to reach a set goal of dreams. “Although on the surface, it’s questioning whether the characters will make it in this crazy business of show, the lyrics can be related to many questions we all have throughout our lives,” says Pierce, who was last seen onstage in “The Addams Family.” “We often find ourselves questioning what will happen if we don’t reach whatever goals we’ve set for ourselves, and I think this song can really resonate with people of all ages and stages of life.”
While the UNCW run of the production was a works-in-progress, Trimble approached the Big Dawg show with hopes of broadening the age ranges of his characters. He kept a few of the same actors from the “Extra! Extra!” debut; however, they will perform different roles for round two. Among them is Alex Wassil, who will play Maggie Demo, a third-production assistant, boss and supreme ruler.
“Maggie has taught me that sometimes the more difficult path is more rewarding for your career in the long run,” Wassail notes. “The challenging thing about Maggie is her specificity. Every small thing she does is done with purpose.”
Also returning will be Julie Andrews, who will play professional actress Terry Murphy. Her character has been crossed in life and she’s dealing with the aftermath of its gravitas—though on the surface she portrays something different. The song “Fine” showcases the downward spiral.
“It brings this sense of solidarity for our characters to sing this song together,” Andrews explains. “[This] has always been such a funny expression to me because usually when someone says, ‘I’m fine,’ they are normally quite the opposite.”
Onstage, through Murphy’s memories, the audience sees a fateful day unfold that altered her life forever. Andrews has worked toward striking a balance between being a storyteller and a vessel to let loose the emotional anguish and turmoil Murphy embodies.
“Much like being on a plane or a train, a prime place for people-watching, you will find yourself wondering where [these actors are] from and where they are headed, both physically and metaphorically—what is their story?”
The musical reveals each character’s plight in life but also shows the audience how they’ve arrived to where they are. Trimble calls it a collage of narratives. “Each extra shares a key event or life philosophy related to their entertainment industry aspirations,” he explains. “Beyond revealing personal stories, they appear in one another’s vignettes as supporting characters.”
“The most appealing aspect of this musical is almost every individual gets to partake in two or more different characters within the monologues of others, while maintaining his or her ‘base character,’” Jocelyn Henry adds. Henry is playing Melissa Patterson, someone who understands the world isn’t singularly revolving around a person’s wants and needs at all times. “I am most currently challenged with her pure ignorance, and portraying her ridiculous comments as sincere to her beliefs,” Henry tells.
Updates to Trimble’s first drafts of monologues and scenes came from conversations based on improv with the inaugural cast of “Extra! Extra!” The Big Dawg run will include one new character, Janis (Michelle Reiff), and a few composites who were derived from the original script.
“Any given ‘moment’ of writing, composing, revising, casting, directing, etc., may present the most formidable challenge,” he tells. “Sometimes what I predict will be relatively basic for an actor or ensemble to grasp proves otherwise, while complex pieces immediately ‘click’ with the group. Ah … the mystery of the arts.”
“Extra! Extra! The Musical” will open June 2 and run Thursdays through Sundays through June 12.