A team of creative Moabites has dedicated the last several months to refining their singing, silly voices and dramatic readings for “Wormhole! The Musical,” an original radio drama and live musical theater performance written and directed by Jenna Whetzel and sponsored by local Moab community radio station KZMU.
“It’s a really kooky show. It’s super-wacky,” said Jess Retka, who composed the music for the show. “Jenna is a wacky person, and she’s really funny, and the show reflects that. It’s super funny, it’s weird, it’s a wacky sci-fi narrative which is straight-up ‘Jenna Whetzel’ to the core.”
The musical will have its world premiere on Saturday, March 7, at 7 p.m. at Star Hall (159 E. Center St.), with a matinee performance the following day.
The plot involves advanced robots that humans have created to solve the world’s heaviest problems. The robots, however, decide on a radical solution.
“They decide that 25% of the world’s population needs to go,” said Whetzel, which leads to a team of four humans going on a quest back in time to try to preclude the robot take-over.
They meet real historical characters like Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. The script uses actual quotes from those historical figures to contrive fun philosophical debates onstage. There are original songs, outrageous costumes, and a “Foley” table, which is where crew members create live sound effects for the radio version of the performance.
For this year’s production, the Foley table is an exciting partnership with the BEACON Afterschool Program. Lead by KZMU DJ and Moab Charter School teacher, Casey Bateman, local fifth- and sixth-graders are learning about the art of live sound effects and building the “BEACON Wormhole Sound Effect Machine,” which will be featured on stage.
“It’s shaping up to be awesome,” said Whetzel. “I’m more excited about this than I think I’ve ever been about any creative project I’ve ever worked on. There are so many funny, creative, talented people that I’ve collaborated with.”
Cast members are Jimmy Ferro, Robin Dahm Eno, Nicole Fox, Sam Newman, Paige Kannor, Steve Proskauer, Lisa Grady and Doni Kiffmeyer who will also run the sound effects table.
Miriam Graham, Jeff Gutierrez, Bobby Hollahan, Josie Kovash and Scott Clabby comprise the orchestra with Joanne Savoie serving as the stage manager and costume designer.
Whetzel has acted in two previous radio dramas in Moab and has been involved in theater since she was a child. This is her first time writing and directing a show.
“It’s been really fun,” she said of the experience. “There are moments of it that are stressful—there’s a whole lot to think about. Every single detail, you’re pretty much in charge of as a director.”
But the fun far outweighed the stress for Whetzel.
“I’ve always wanted to do it. I would do it again,” she said of directing, adding, “I would give myself a month off first.”
The show also provided an opportunity for a first for Retka, who had never composed before she took on the role of writing the music for “Wormhole!”
“I kind of didn’t know I could do it,” Retka said. “I’m super-happy to engage with this new part of myself. Working with Jenna was kind of the key to creating all this—she came with the lyrics and a palette of ideas for the songs and we would flesh out ideas together.”
Retka has a music theory background from her years as a piano player (she played the piano for three of the first four KZMU radio dramas). She used her knowledge of song structure, chord progressions and musical keys as a starting point.
“A lot of it we had to scrap, but some of it worked,” said Retka, remembering hours in her bedroom with Whetzel singing different melodies and tweaking lyrics and transitions.
The result was a set of songs sampling a variety of musical genres and sometimes bending Retka’s expectations. She described one song that she struggled with until she realized it was more like a blend of two songs.
“It’s two entirely different feelings that were being expressed in the same song by the same person,” she explained.
That perspective helped her polish the song in a way she was satisfied with.
“I was surprised that I was able to make something that was so difficult for me into something that I liked,” she said.
Retka said that things are coming together for the cast and crew.
“Last night we had an amazing rehearsal,” she said in an interview two weeks before the performance date. “We’re really starting to feel the ball roll.”
Whetzel agreed that the show is starting to gel and she eagerly anticipates opening night.
“I am beyond-words excited,” she said. “It’s been amazing to have an idea, write it by yourself, and then bring it to other people who then bring their own added magic to it.”
The performance is a fundraiser for KZMU. There will be an audio recording that will be edited for radio and aired about a month after the live show, but there’s only one weekend to see the performers in action.
“At the end of the day we just hope everybody has fun watching it and listening,” said Retka. “Everybody’s worked really hard. I’m super-proud of our cast, and our band and the Foley…I’m pretty excited, and I hope everybody else is.”
What: “Wormhole! The Musical” performance
Where: Star Hall, 159 E. Center Street
When: Saturday, March 7 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 8 at 2 p.m.