An interview with Kevin Moore, Producing Artistic Director of The Human Race Theatre Company, about their upcoming production of Play It By Heart with a book by Brian Yorkey (Making Tracks, NAMT Fest ’01), music by David Spangler and Jerry Taylor, and lyrics by Spangler, Taylor and R.T. Robinson.
As a teenager, she became the breakout star of the Jasper Family Singers. Now, Jeannine Jasper is the “Queen of County Music,” but she has hopes of getting off the road and having a life. After a concert, a long lost love appears and they discover the spark is still there. But their “history” could be her undoing. Her record label has been purchased by a Dubai businessman who has his own plans for her career, and her rebel, younger sister is always in the news for all the wrong reasons. Family secrets are revealed to the sweet sounds of old and new country in this quintessential story of a family.
Play It By Heart was originally produced out at The Village Theatre. How did it find its way to Dayton, Ohio?
It actually came to us from one of the writers, David Spangler. After their production at the Village Theatre in 2005, the writers all went off to work on other projects. Brian Yorkey had this little show brewing called Next to Normal. In 2006, we workshopped the musical Nefertiti by David Spangler and Rick Gore. We stayed great friends and in 2009 he told me about Play It By Heart, and that the writers all wanted to get back to it. I read it, listened and was hooked. I offered them a residency – brought them in and gave them a space to live, work and gave them actors to play with. That was Fall, 2009. In the summer of 2010, we did a full workshop. Our audience loved it. Over and over I heard, “I’m usually not a country music fan, but I really liked this music and this show.”
You presented a reading of the show last year in your Festival and clearly must have gone over very well. What work have the writers put in on the show since then?
Based upon our workshop experience that incorporated new material and plot ideas, the writers and I identified certain story lines that needed to be clarified, songs that needed to be replaced, and development of some of the new ideas that didn’t have enough time to fully ferment during our workshop. Brian, David and Jerry have been working on both the book and the score and are working to deliver our starting materials. We have engaged a music director/arranger who will refresh the old score and make it more “actor friendly,” as well as prepare the new material and orchestrations.
Why is the show a good fit for your season and your audience?
I, and my audience, love to see shows move from workshop to full production. Our audience is already invested in the work. What I have found in Play It By Heart is a musical that speaks volumes about family and about forgiveness – surrounded by a changing world. Everyone can relate to this family, this situation. The universality of it intrigues me and makes me want to tell this story. This is a story that my audience wants to experience.
Why are you excited about presenting this new musical this season?I believe the global popularity of country music makes it essential that America – originator of the musical form – deliver a country musical to the masses. I am honored to follow in the big footsteps of the Village Theatre to help make Play It by Heart the “poster child.” Personally, I never understood why my father watched The Grand Ole Opry and The Porter Wagoner Show every week. I just couldn’t, and it was a likely reason for my escaping to musical theatre. It is somewhat ironic that my current passion is for a musical about the country music industry. My own personal apology to my Dad.
Why should people catch Play It By Heart this summer?
Whether you are a small regional theatre (we are 212 seats, 3/4 thrust) or a larger proscenium house, this is a show that has the potential to bring in new audiences while delighting your traditional subscribers. It’s a great story and “radio-worthy” songs. It has been a long time since musical theatre songs have crossed over. This could be the next. Besides, “summer in Ohio” is much more than the song would leave you to believe. Come find your country roots.
For more information about the show, please visit www.humanracetheatre.org.