Uranium — the raw material of nuclear energy and atomic bombs, a mineral with a half-life of billions of years, a substance that can cause cancers. Uranium is no laughing matter. Yet KZMU’s fourth annual radio play, “Uranium the Musical,” is undoubtedly a comedy. Set in the Moab of 1956, the play features real people — “Uranium King” Charlie Steen, young national park ranger Edward Abbey, Milt and Audrey Galbraith of Milt’s Stop n Eat, and the “Goatman” Jack Holley — as well as fictional characters.
Uranium the Musical will be performed on Saturday, March 9, at 7 p.m. and again on Sunday, March 10, at 2 p.m. Both shows are at Star Hall, 159 E. Center St.
Tickets are $15 and may be purchased at Back of Beyond Books, WabiSabi, Canyonlands Copy Center, KZMU or at the door. The musical will also be performed in Paonia, Colorado, at the Paradise Theatre on Saturday, March 16 at 7 p.m. All proceeds benefit KZMU Community Radio.
While the play is a fantasy, the setting is real: boomtown Moab, when the town’s population stretched the limits of its infrastructure, and geiger counter-carrying prospectors were everywhere. Eisenhower was president, initiating a uranium giveaway to select countries around the globe in his “Atoms for Peace” program.
Elvis Presley had just released “Heartbreak Hotel.” Not far away, the U.S. was testing bombs in Nevada, and winds carried the fallout of these tests directly through St. George and southern Utah. In Moab, Charlie Steen’s uranium money was funding churches, housing developments, property for an elementary school and other noble causes.
The play focuses on Steen’s story, as he persists in his belief about the location of a vein of uranium that would ultimately make him “Uranium King.” Backed by his mother Rose, urged on by his wife ML, Steen — a geologist who had been blackballed from the petroleum industry for being “innately rebellious against authority” — was determined to strike it rich, and uranium looked to be the way.
This year’s production sees the return of three actor-singers and six newcomers to the cast of performers in Uranium the Musical. Jenna Whetzel stars as a private eye, Melissa Graciosa plays multiple roles, and Brett Bentley plays Edward Abbey.
KZMU’s radio plays were born out of the station’s defunding four years ago by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB said KZMU was too small to survive). Faced with a diminished budget after the elimination of federal funding, KZMU turned to radio drama to boost the station’s profile and add something to the coffers. Two seasons of Downtown Abbey (featuring the fictional fifth cousin twice removed of Edward Abbey), followed by last year’s Beautiful Radiant Things (about the anarchist Emma Goldman’s birthday in prison), have nurtured a stable of local actors, musicians and crew who have dedicated themselves to the art of radio drama and the future of KZMU.
This year, newcomer Gabriel Woytek is Charlie Steen, and the rest of the cast — Page Kannor, Terry Carlson, Liz Ballenger, Sam Newman and Nicole Fox — play multiple roles, conjuring up the Moab of the 50s. The orchestra features returning players Jessica Retka, Jeff Gutierrez and Miriam Graham, as well as newcomer Scott Clabby. Sam Bus’sard debuts to create sound effects, along with foley operator Kate Lloyd. Joanne Savoie returns as assistant and stage manager, and playwright Marty Durlin directs.
KZMU’s annual radio play to be performed live March 9 and 10
Call the station at 435-259-8824 or visit KZMU.org for more information.