Two wings and a prayer

Boulder gets first glimpse of brand new musical.

photo by Scott Kaplan

People often analogize the creative process to the reproductive one. They talk about the “labor pains” artists go through as they struggle to bring a novel piece of art into the world. They refer to “giving birth” to a new idea, painting, play or piece of music. There are, of course, exceptions to this referential rule. I’ve never heard it applied to, say, a mime routine or professional wrestling story arc, but it does seem, generally, to track to the world of art.

Perhaps the agony of bringing a truly original story to life explains why so few people even bother to try these days? We live in a world of sequels. Already this year, Hollywood has given us The Hangover Part II, X-Men: First Class, Fast Five and Kung Fu Panda 2, just to name the smallest handful, and still to come are the second Sherlock Holmes, the third Transformers, the fourth Twilight, the second Cars and the  eighth Harry Potter. It’s far easier to rehash a successful formula than it is to strike out boldly into the artistic unknown.

It’s precisely for that reason that Boulder’s theater lovers should rejoice for The Awakening of Angel DeLuna. This Broadway-style musical, which had its world premiere at the Dairy Center last week, is a purely original work of art and labor of love that proves the creative spirit is far from dead, at least in Boulder County. The fact that it is making its debut in Boulder as opposed to some off-Broadway theater gives Boulderites a chance — and one that comes along about as frequently as the 100-year flood — to beat their NYC cousins to the theatrical punch.

Set in a Depression-era circus, The Awakening of Angel DeLuna is, first and foremost, a love story. It is also a comedy, a slice-of-life historical piece, and a rousing, operatic musical, but at its heart it is all boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl. And, well, you know the rest. It opens with a mysterious circus clown (wow, now that’s a decidedly unusual character description) signing on with the troupe, and it ends with cheers and tears.

Years before the story begins, a young trapeze artist, Angel DeLuna (Britta Laree), fell victim to a dastardly combination of performance mishap and gravity.

Though she survived, she gave up the heights of the big top for the relative safety of tending to the circus’s antique carousel, and that carousel literally became the center of her universe. Each undulating horse, lion or lamb is her friend and charge, and the angels that adorn the carousel’s canopy are her confidants.

Enter Ollie Blatsky (Kevin Schwarz), the aforementioned circus clown. Even with the deprivations attendant to the Great Depression driving him, the audience knows from the get-go that Ollie has joined this particular circus for reasons well beyond food and board. As he goes about his business, clowning and otherwise, the circus’s sneaky, sniveling owner (is there any other kind?), Charles Deuce (Arnold Follendorf), schemes to sell Angel’s beloved carousel for a quick buck. With no carousel to tend and certain obvious impediments to exercising her more aerobatic skills, what will become of dear Angel?

I can see a future in which The Awakening of Angel DeLuna is performed on Broadway. I was flabbergasted by the level of craftsmanship that has gone into this musical. For being a brand-new production, it already seems polished well beyond its short lifespan. The story, the music, the lyrics, all of them feel more Broadway than Boulder.

As impressive as it is, The Awakening of Angel DeLuna is not yet a perfect musical. Certain relationships could use better development, while others could stand to be diminished. A main character’s key infirmity, one that plays a pivotal part in the musical’s biggest dramatic scene, needs to be set up more clearly earlier on in the show. And, the running time would benefit from a slight trim.

That said, The Awakening of Angel DeLuna is a surprising triumph. It is without a doubt the most successful, brand-spanking-new musical I have had the pleasure to witness. With some tweaks and some luck, it really could end up playing in Manhattan or in Denver by way of the traveling Broadway company. And you can say you saw it first, back when it was just opening its eyes and reaching out to the world for the very first time.