In 2011 Cucalorus Film Festival featured a works-in-progress of the staged musical of “Blue Velvet,” based on David Lynch’s cult classic that was filmed in Wilmington in the ‘80s. With book by local writer Anthony Lawson, original music composition by local Bryan Putnam, and produced by Alisa Harris of TheatreNOW, the 150-person workshop garnered stellar reactions.
“Some of the best feedback came as criticisms of the book, in that we stuck too close to the movie,” Harris notes. “With some of the feedback in hand, a few changes were in order, and the first came with the music and score.”
Since, Putnam has tweaked some of the pieces, written new songs, and also helped rebrand and package the musical. He gathered inspiration from the frenetic undercurrent that runs rampant in the film by visiting its locations, such as Carolina Apartments—a.k.a. Deep River Apartments in the movie. “I visited every location and took notes to get a feel for the place itself,” Putnam details. “As much has been pulled from the periphery and movie’s deleted scenes that actually sets up a major line theme of the existing cut, ‘I’m Falling.’” With a plethora of visual stimulation to draw from, Putnam penned songs like “Deep Blue Love,” “Lumberton USA” (the town in the film) and “Consumed.” Many song titles encapsulate famous lines from the movie, including “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” and “It’s a Stange World, Baby.” Putnam’s main focus has been keeping with the apparent film-noir genre.
“I think there is only one right way to treat this when turning it into a musical: respect for the style,” Putnam explains. “There was talk of a parody, something I was not interested in being a part of. There are such deep tones in this film, both emotionally and visually; it lends itself to composition. I have tried to give a surface feel of ‘normality’ with scurrying scratches, off-beat rhythms and heartbeats, [as part of its musicality]. Nontraditional time signatures will give a push-pull yearning feel throughout.”
With Putnam conducting, the orchestra will consist of Adrian Varnam (violin), Stephen Pfeiffer (cello), Will Chacon (percussion), Michael Buckley (bass), and Sharon Moore (keyboard). Rather than take on the show’s apparent rock edge and rockabilly style as its main cues, Putnam is guiding it in a different direction.
“Rockabilly was suggested early on,” he says. “I feel the musical calls for a classier overall sound. The movie has hints of orchestral lushness, religious pipe organ and stinging strings.”
“A couple of lighter, campy songs have been injected,” Harris adds, “but, ultimately, the show is about the complex underbelly of a sleepy riverfront town and the emotional thrill ride of our leading characters.”
Wilmington’s most impressive vocal talent is slated for the run. First, however, they will host a concert of the musical this weekend, featuring Kendra Goehring-Garrett (Dorothy Vallens), Sam Robison (Frank Booth), Brad Mercier (Jeffrey Beaumont), Hannah Leah Laham (Sandy Willimas), George Domby (Ben), and an ensemble featuring Erik Maasch, Lauren Mazzola, Daniel Paparozzi, and Beth Swindell.
Putnam has worked through the emotional drive and vulnerability of every character. From Dorothy’s sexy mystique to Frank’s psychopathic antagonism to Jeffrey’s nosy naiveté. “Dorothy was absolutely my favorite character to compose for,” he notes.
In fact, she carries the majority of vocals in the musical. Putnam’s largest obstacle to overcome was figuring out how to legitimize Frank’s debauchery via a leading-man solo number.
“Problem was solved in the iconic ‘Ben’s house scene,’ by allowing Frank’s obvious adoration for Ben (calling him ‘suave’) shine through in a step-out-of-self number, ‘Frank’s Suave Sonet’; we see for a moment what he might be or have been,” Putnam details.
This weekend TheatreNOW will host the concert to help the musical come to full fruition. The show will promote their IndieGoGo crowdsourcing platform, which ends November 22 and will fund the show’s completed stage version. In addition to the cast singing through the number, there will be highlights from the documentary, “It’s a Strange World: The Making of Blue Velvet,” produced by Fiddler’s Creek (Steve Fox, Shane Callahan and Ben Fancy).
“It’s still in the editing process,” Harris says. “They just lent us some clips that were shown during Cucalorus in 2011 to use for our concert.”
The concert will screen video testimony from the musical’s creators about what influenced its inception, too, and will feature photos of locations the film used around Wilmington. “This movie-to-musical deal has become a major business in the Broadway-LA world,” Putnam says. “Consultants are being hired to help uncover the best movie properties to turn into musicals, so we are hoping to move forward sooner than later on this full production.”
A few rewrites still need to be made to the book and monies need to be raised to potentially see an Off-Broadway run. As for David Lynch’s input on the project: When they contacted his camp in 2011, the response wasn’t “no.”
“Ultimately, we’d love David Lynch’s full blessing on this musical theatre re-imagining,” Harris says. “We hope he’ll enjoy the recording of this live concert that we’ll be sending him!”
TheatreNOW’s doors will open for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at 6 p.m. on November 7 and 8, with the “Blue Velvet the Musical” concert starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at www.theatrewilmington.com or at the TheatreNOW box office. To donate to the musical’s IndieGoGo campaign, folks can go to http://igg.me/at/bluevelvetmusical/x/28023.
Blue Velvet the Musical
November 7 and 8, 6 pm.
19 S. 10th Street • 910-399-3669