Dancing in the Dark

The Death squad: front row (l–r) Steven Jones (musical director, pianist, and one of the show’s composers and arrangers), Aaron Alon (creative director and one of the show’s composers, lyricists, book writers, and arrangers), and Jimmy Phillips (director and choreographer; his partner is Steven Jones); second row are the actors in the show (l–r) Ashley Maack, H.R. Bradford, Claire Anderson (also stage manager), Kregg Dailey, and Erin Roche; back row is Death, playing itself. Photo by Dalton DeHart; grim reaper illustration by Enita Torres; merged in Photoshop by Blase DiStefano.

‘Death: The Musical’ focuses on the most taboo subject of them all
by Donalevan Maines

Death, the Musical began with the title.

Like a cancer, it grew.

About two years ago, this germ of an idea whetted the appetite of a number of local creative folks, who in varying numbers attended monthly meetings to conceptualize a musical production about (gulp) the end of life as we know it.

“Death is one of the last truly forbidden topics,” says ringleader Aaron Alon. “We were all kind of tickled by the idea, and thought it would be fun to work on.”

However, only the strong survived, ultimately leaving four writers from the LGBT community—Alon, John Dunn, Eric James, and Deb Murphy—along with Peter Wittenberg Jr. Even they felt a thirst for new blood, and decided to consider comic songs and sketches from throughout the country.

After gnawing their way through nearly 200 submissions, the final five took their skeleton of a comic musical revue to Thunderclap Productions, which agreed to flesh it out to fruition.

“Our director [Jimmy Phillips] and musical director [Steven Jones] are also an out gay couple and two of Houston’s most popular talents,” says Alon.

The completed project is set for viewing beginning October 6 at Ovations, with remains by Alon, James, Jones, Murphy, and Wittenberg, as well as the Houston area’s Miriam Daily, Jason Howard, Alexandra H. Rubin, and Thomas Sturm, and Andrew Chukerman (Los Angeles), Mark Sanderlin (New York City), and Elizabeth Doyle and Owen Kaltlizabeth (Chicago).

A cast of two men and two women hope to knock ’em dead through October 31 (“Halloween,” Alon noted, gravely), and fans are encouraged to wear “death-related costumes” (shrouds?) to a post-mortem after-party.

But that sounds so . . . final, when actually the Death quintet fully intends to regroup after the October run and resurrect the show for perpetuity.

Copies of a professional recording of Death, the Musical’s score, performed by original cast members H.R. Bradford, Kregg Dailey, Ashley Maack, and Erin Roche, will be on sale at Ovations. Like any funeral keepsake, you can “take it with you,” to keep alive memories of such ditties as “What a Wonderful Body I’ll Be,” “Black Widow Bitch,” and “The Hangman’s Soft-shoe.” And that’s just from the first act.

“One of the advantages of having it at Ovations is that you can have drinks at the bar before the show,” Alon advises. “There’s also the intermission, if you need a drink to carry you through.

“The show is very dark,” he explains. “It’s intended for an adult audience, but we definitely want it to be entertaining. It pokes fun at things that are really irreverent.”

Things like the electric chair, Isadora Duncan and that pesky scarf, and necrophilia (“That one pushes the envelope,” admits Alon. “Some people are going to be bothered by it”).

A glance at the prop list reveals items such as a stuffed cat (“apparently electrocuted”), two stuffed dogs (“with clear signs of how they died”), a sledgehammer, knife, noose, gun, chess timer, and a sign that reads “You must be this tall to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The surviving team of authors, lyricists, and composers chose to present their handiwork as a comic musical revue ? with no through-line or connection in any of the 30 or so scenes.

“It was important to make choices, and it’s often when you make those boundaries that freedom of creativity flourishes,” explains Alon.

He adds, “It’s a very unusual project in a lot of ways, and [the Ovations run will give audiences] a chance to see what the show looks like in its first incarnation.”

What: Death, the Musical, presented by Thunderclap Productions

When: October 6–22, with a special performance and after-party on Halloween, Monday, October 31

Where: Ovations Night Club, 2536 Times Blvd., Suite B, 713/522-9801

Tickets: Thunderclap Productions, dedicated to making theater accessible to everyone, has set all ticket prices as Pay-What-You-Can, with a recommendation of $15. “More if you’re in the position to pay more, but if you can’t afford that, name your price,” explains Aaron Alon, president of the board of directors of Thunderclap Productions. To buy tickets or for more info: deathmusical.com.

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.



Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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