New Work in Progress: The Ballad of Klook and Vinette

Last month, we chatted with Dave Steakley, the producing artistic director at NAMT member ZACH Theatre. ZACH is about to open a production of 2017 Festival show The Ballad of Klook and Vinette, formerly known as Klook’s Last Stand, written by Ché Walker, Anoushka Lucas and Omar Leyfook. Dave told us a little about what to expect from the upcoming production, and why everyone should make their way to Texas and check it out.
Tender, funny and incredibly moving, this contemporary new love story will grab you from the inside out. Klook and Vinette are two lost souls trying to find themselves in one another. Against all odds and with the past at their heels, together they make a tentative stab at happiness. This is a seductive musical about inevitability and the thrill of falling in love. 

The Ballad of Klook and Vinette was featured in NAMT’s 2017 Festival—what was your initial reaction to the piece, and what inspired you to produce it at ZACH?
I felt myself drawn fully into this hypnotic, poetic world of Klook and Vinette, and it reminded me so much of the spoken word poetry and music of my favorite contemporary singer, Jill Scott. The prose in the storytelling melds seamlessly into the music, and the story focuses on a mature adult romance, which feels so refreshing. It is passionate and messy, wrapped in elevated, evocative, and at times, erotic language. The musical’s form and content stood out for its uniqueness, and I knew the ZACH audience, which is deeply influenced by the live music scene in Austin, would gravitate to this score. 

What is ZACH’s history with new work development, and how does this upcoming production fit into said history?
We have premiered multiple new musicals in our Family Series, and seven years ago we were one of the initial development homes for A Night With Janis Joplin, prior to Broadway. Several years ago we produced a new musical called Jouët by Allen Robertson, a production we transferred to Actors Theatre of Louisville. The music we gravitate to in contemporary musicals often has a rock/soul vibe and …Klook and Vinette fits into what our audience expects from us. In my head I was casting it within the first 15 minutes of seeing it. It’s a small cast and band, so the risk of producing it was something I knew we could handle in the financial realities of the overall Mainstage season I was planning. 

Can you tell us about who’s in the rehearsal room for The Ballad of Klook and Vinette, and what excites you about the team you’ve gathered to tell this story?
Our Musical Director is Christian Magby, who also MD-ed the original US production at NAMT member Horizon Theatre in Atlanta. He has been invaluable to this process and is a fantastic collaborator to have in the room. His musical sensibilities are so aligned with this show, and we have found so many great things together in the rehearsal process. He is a real light on stage and makes the music the other full-blooded character in this relationship. Christa Oliver, who was dance captain of the national tour of The Color Purple, is choreographing; she and I have collaborated together several times and so we have a shorthand that is helpful and allows us to feel comfortable experimenting together. Chanel, a Grammy-winning gospel artist, is playing Vinette and she is so in tune with this character, and one of my favorite vocalists. Roderick Sanford has been acting in our theatre family for 25 years, and if David Ruffin of the Temptations and Marvin Gaye had a baby it would be Rod, a phenomenal singer.

What makes ZACH a great home for the piece, and why are your audiences a great fit for this show?
We produce a significant amount of work that features African American artists—everything from big ambitious works like The Gospel At Colonus and Jelly’s Last Jam, to plays like Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes From The Field and Suzan-Lori Parks’ The Book of Grace. Chanel and Roderick Sanford are truly beloved actor/vocalists in our community that our audience looks forward to seeing onstage which helps patrons be attracted to work they don’t yet know. We do an open-rehearsal for patrons and the response was so strong because of the mix of sophisticated, heightened language coupled with the raw, sensuality and earthiness that works hand-in-hand with this. People’s heads were really bobbing during the music moments and lots of whooping and cheering from the crowd whenever I stopped to fix something with the actors. This show has a very soulful vibe that connects to your core, and that is a descriptor I would use to describe Austin itself to visitors who feel the gravitational attraction to this city. I think the audience will meet this work very naturally in the groove, because it vibes on the same wavelength.

I also want to say that this musical introduced me to one of the composers Anoushka Lucas, and I love her music. I’ve downloaded everything she has on iTunes, and last October I saw her in concert in London and hung out afterward. She is one of the most charming, dear people I’ve ever met in the theatre and I’m a real fan.

Why should folks plan a trip to Austin to see the show this spring?
This is an affordable new musical to consider programming, and it is so modern and sexy and fresh. Its form presents the opportunity for so many creative interpretations, and is wonderful for your production team to tackle. You could not ask for better singers than the two we have assembled for this show, and a cast recording doesn’t exist yet, so this is an opportunity to see a fully realized production. We will show all of our NAMT colleagues a great time, and hey, it’s Austin, so there’s always margaritas and queso, and the opportunity to jump into the natural Barton Springs pool on a hot spring day, mere steps from ZACH.

For more information about The Ballad of Klook and Vinette and to buy tickets to the upcoming production, visit the ZACH Theatre website.

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