The other Mormon musical

Posted on 16 Aug 2013 at 8:15am

Nathan Gardner took a long road to get the play ‘Facing East’ to sing

Mormon

GO ‘EAST’ | The play of ‘Facing East’ ‘sang’ to Nathan Gardner, so he set about turning it into a musical.

Screen shot 2013-08-15 at 12.04.43 PMNathan Gardner has long worked in theater, so it comes as no surprise when he thinks up with an idea that seems, well, “theatrical.” But even he was surprised by how Facing East came about.

“I was in San Francisco on the producing team of a musical, and the play version of Facing East was advertised in our playbill,” Gardner recalls. He decided to check it out, even though

“I’m more a musical man than a play man.”

Luckily, he took that chance, because it was a transforming experience.

Facing East is about a Mormon couple coping with the death of their gay son. When they unexpectedly meet their son’s boyfriend, they are forced to confront serious issues.

“I connected deeply with the piece,” says Gardner, who is himself gay. But there was more to the experience than even the story.

“I remember saying to my friend after the performance that the play seemed to ‘sing’ at me,” he says.

Gardner had been on the lookout for a good story to develop into an original musical, long a dream of his.

“I’d been looking for a project that could be commercial, while simultaneously supporting and giving back to the [gay] community,” Gardner says.

He drove from San Francisco to the California home of the play’s author, Carol Lynn Pearson. It did not go well — at first.

“When she heard I wanted to do a musical, she laughed in my face — literally,” he days. “She thought I was crazy.”

Eventually, Gardner was able to convince Pearson that his vision wasn’t for a low-budget Book of Mormon rip-off, but for an intimate, character-driven chamber musical. All he needed was her permission to move forward until they had something to present her that was more concrete. Pearson consented.

That’s when Gardner realized: He would really have to do it now. He set out finding the right collaborators.

The first person he tracked down was Mark-Eugene Garcia, a gay playwright and lyricist.

“I knew I’d found my book writer/lyricist,” he says. Next up was a composer. “After casting a net out looking for composer submissions, we found David [Rigano],” he says. Rigano and

Garcia wrote a song together to see if they could make the show work. They then sent it to Pearson, who “immediately gave us her blessing.”

Facing East got its first production — a staged reading workshop in Chicago — in October 2011. Since then, Gardner and his team have worked diligently to hone the show.

“We have retooled the show and are finally able to present it in its current form to DFW audiences,” Gardner says. It will receive a concert presentation at the Uptown Theatre in Grand

Prairie for a one-night-only benefit performance on Aug. 27, with local actors Julie Johnson, Max Swarner, Jason Kane and Peter DiCesare in the lead roles.

“I always wanted some stage of the development to happen in Dallas because I’ve toured through the market several times with Broadway shows, and I fall more in love each time. And

I’ve always wanted [to work again with] Julie Johnson since working with her on [the national tour of] Memphis. After this, we’re hoping to have a full pre-New York tryout next season.”

Throughout the process, Gardner has been committed to one of the prongs that launched the idea: benefiting LGBT charities, from local organizations like Resource Center Dallas and Youth First Texas to the Trevor Project.

“This, above all, is very important to me,” he says.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 16, 2013.

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