On January 16, Theatre Three mounts the professional premiere of On the Eve, a homegrown musical about a space cowboy, Marie Antoinette and a time-traveling hot-air balloon (the world's first, in fact).
The quirky show landed on practically every critic's best-of list when it was workshopped in Fair Park a little over a year ago by Nouveau 47 and Spacegrove Productions. (There was also a staged reading in 2011.) It features the literary talents of Kitchen Dog Theater artistic company member Michael Federico and musical skills of Seth and Shawn Magill, who front local theatrical rock band Home by Hovercraft.
"We had a clear vision for the music in the show, wanting it to have that raw and powerful energy you experience in a rock concert setting," says Shawn Magill of Home by Hovercraft.
What is it about On the Eve that captures audiences' imaginations? The score, for starters, which also doubles as Home by Hovercraft's debut album, Are We Chameleons?
"From the onset, we had a clear vision for the music in the show, wanting it to have that raw and powerful energy you experience in a rock concert setting," says Shawn, a classically trained pianist who leads the onstage band. "We wanted the songs to shed light on our characters with introspective or declarative moments, versus always moving the plot forward physically."
The theatrical songs incorporate instruments and elements not normally found in a musical — or rock band, for that matter. A tuba, cello and mandolin all figure prominently, as does percussive Irish step dancing performed by Abbey Magill and Shannon McCauley.
The plot, which tackles politics, religion and revolution, also includes a talking statue, a lonely wife and a crazed scientist. Rather than bewildering audiences, the time-bending tale connected thanks to the intimate and innovative staging.
"For me," says book writer Federico, "the most exciting part of the process was trying to create a world in which all these disparate elements — music, time travel, impending doom, gender politics, class warfare, etc. — came together to support story and character. Those things are all fun and crazy to take on, but at the end of the day, they're just means to tell what you hope is a good story about interesting characters."
Says Seth Magill, who plays leading man Chase Spacegrove, "It's hard to relive the open heart and imagination I possessed as a kid, but this show and its people, some of whom have been with us on this ride for over three years now, did just that and more."
Most of the cast is returning for the professional premiere, as is Theatre Three artistic associate Jeffrey Schmidt. He directed the first time around and is back to steer the ship — er, balloon — to Routh Street.
"As the director, it's easy to feel isolated and that you're carrying the weight of the entire show on your shoulders," Schmidt says. "However, having an ensemble and production team that is so energetic, earnest and committed to this project, there's never a shortage of ideas and solutions. The trick is to put the ego on simmer and not jump off the train (or out of the balloon)!"
On the Eve plays Theatre Three from January 16 to February 16.