Actor Donald Fowler goes to the other side of the footlights with his world premiere musical ‘Creep,’ a fantasia about Jack the Ripper
CREEP at Addison Theatre Centre
15650 Addison Road
March 9 at 7:30 p.m.
For tickets and festival information, visit WaterTowerTheatre.org.
Donald Fowler admits a musical about Jack the Ripper doesn’t sound like such a great idea. But that didn’t stop him from writing one.
It all began on his 40th birthday. Fowler was vacationing in Paris and saw a man on a park bench being dusted by autumn leaves. The image agitated inside his head for reasons he can’t quite explain.
"I thought: Wouldn’t it be cool to do a piece about a guy who goes crazy from the smallest thing?" he now says. Then he thought about the Ripper story and had his a-ha moment: There was a musical in there somewhere.
"For me personally, I don’t know how interesting a musical about the Jack the Ripper case would be," he says. "I wanted to do something other than just a musical about the Ripper — I wanted to make my own story that fits within most of the parameters."
The result is Creep: The Very, Very Sad but Unfortunately True and Completely Fabricated Tale of Jack the Ripper, which gets its world premiere Tuesday as part of WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival.
Not that he knew anything about writing a musical. Despite being a sought-after talent across the North Texas theater community, and even though he had written several plays, he did not know how to read or write music.
But that didn’t stop Fowler, a self-confessed control freak, from doing it all, writing the book, music and lyrics — 16 actors and 22 songs in all. (Several musicians transcribed his songs, and Terry Dobson did all the chorale arrangements.)
Although Fowler is well-versed in Ripperology, he felt empowered to defy the accepted mythology and invent people and events to serve his artistic sentiments. Purists may sniff, he admits, but for him, it was about being true to his vision … and that Frenchman on a park bench covered in leaves.
"The beauty I find is in the desperation of all these people, and then they get murdered. You can only take so much of that. I didn’t want to tell a literal tale, just something really interesting and melodramatic and fun. This piece is a puzzle. You get all the pieces throughout the musical until we finally find out who Jack the Ripper is when he finds out."
The process ended up being a psychological journey for Fowler.
"I am learning I have mommy issues, and that is definitely in this piece," he says. "I think people cause damage because of their histories — what kind of survival techniques do they acquire? When I saw that Jeffrey Dahmer movie, I bawled like a baby. I didn’t feel so far removed from that character, that isolation. I don’t think any of us are that far removed. And the actors who are doing the readings for me are crazy to play it."
Not among the cast, however, is Fowler himself. "I don’t want it to be a vanity project, for people to think, ‘Oh, it’s it neat that he wrote a musical for himself.’ I want the piece to stand on its own."
Not writing for himself is one thing; writing for his best friend is another. Fowler was the best man at the commitment ceremony of Patty Breckenridge, a powerhouse singer acclaimed for a host of musicals. Fowler enlisted Breckenridge to sing demos for most of the songs, and naturally tailored a role for her as well.
"If Patty is your best friend and you’re writing, you cannot not write something for her," he coos. "I really wanted to see Patty play this crazy religious fanatic hooker. This is a different type of role for her."
Fowler has been "working on it in earnest — focused writing, either on the music or the book — for about three years." That’s a sizeable investment for a show getting a one-time-only reading. Of course, the hope is that it won’t be a one-shot deal, that the show will attract attention and enthusiasm from a local theater troupe willing to mount a full version — maybe even take it on tour, perhaps to Broadway … though right now, he can’t worry about such matters.
"When you are working on something like this, it’s not beneficial to think too far outside the task at hand. I’m super-excited about my first rehearsal; I will be thrilled and frustrated that I only and even got this far. I would love someone to see this piece and say, ‘That needs a full production.’ But finally someone other than my poor friends can listen to this!" he laughs.
Also on the Fringe
Some of the other shows with gay interest playing this week — more open next weekend.
My First Time, WaterTower’s main stage production is this regional premiere that comically dramatizes people’s first experiences with sex, from the hilarious to the tragic. The text is based on actual stories posted to an Internet site.
March 5 and 13 at 8 p.m., March 6 at 5 p.m., March 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Girls Gone Weird: Gone Lupe!/ She’s Come Undone. Marisa Diotalevi and Sherry Etzel perform their quirky comedy show late-night for the opening weekend, then Etzel takes over with her solo show the second weekend.
March 5, 6, 12 and 13 at 10 p.m.
I Sing! Described as an "Avenue Q-style, Sondheim-esque" musical, this show reunites Altar Boyz castmates Angel Velasco and Alex Ross, pictured left, with Velasco playing a man in a relationship with a woman … even though he doesn’t realize he’s gay.
March 6 and 13 at 2 p.m., March 7 and 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Power Lunch. American Beauty Oscar winner and True Blood creator Alan Ball wrote this play about the combative relationship between a man and a woman.
March 6 at 8 p.m., March 13 at 11 a.m., March 14 at 7:30 p.m.
Broadway Seth Rudetsky Style. Fabulous Broadway musician and obsessive theater queen Rudetsky (who hosts a Broadway music show on Sirius Radio), shares his encyclopedic knowledge of show tunes in this one-weekend-only one-man show. Rudetsky will also give a master class in how to audition for a big show.
March 6 at 5 p.m. and March 7 at 7:30 p.m. (Master class: March 7 at 1 p.m.)
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 5, 2010.