By Jenny Neyman
In a new production, “Shoebox of Memories,” the 10 characters navigate the ups and downs of life — dealing with gossip, evolving in their wisdom and maturity, making and testing friendships, falling in and out of love.
What they don’t do in exploring all that is speak. At least, not in dialogue, in the traditional sense of a play. “Shoebox of Memories” is a musical review, so characters are developed, plot advanced and story line delivered all through music.
“There’s no dialogue that drives the story of these friends, it’s all told through the lyrics,” said Joseph Spady, who created and is directing the show. “It’s been a fun challenge that’s made the show even more interesting.”
It’s not music theater, with dialogue sandwiched between songs. A musical review dispenses with the spoken part altogether and gets right to the fun stuff — song after song after song.
On one hand, it’s a blast for the musically talented, energetic cast to be able to sing and dance for an entire show.
“It’s a lot of fun and a really fun group of people. There’s definitely a lot of high energy and excitement building up with it. The hardest part is trying to contain everybody for rehearsal because it’s really easy to go over the top and get off topic or take the song somewhere else,” said Spencer McAuliffe, who plays Adam in the show, a seemingly confident rock star-type with a shy side he’s trying to overcome.
On the other, delivering a story strictly through lyrics is a challenge, but it’s been an immensely creative one. Music has such potential for emotion and expression, so it’s been a matter of tapping into potency and bending it into service of the story the cast wants to tell.
“In some ways it simplifies things, it makes things easier. There’s less to think about because it’s all you have. At the same
time it’s challenging for the same reason. It forces you to use music in a way that isn’t necessarily obvious to use it in that situation. It’s definitely a lot of fun approaching that challenge in the way that we have,” McAuliffe said.
The music selection for the show is another one-hand-vs.-the-other situation. Songs will be familiar to anyone in touch with popular culture, but at the same time, not always familiar in the way they’re presented. For example, there are songs by Rascal Flatts, the Ting Tings, Jack Johnson, Foster the People, The Supremes, Pink and Fred Astaire. But they’ve been reinvented— performed in different styles, chopped up or mashed together with other songs.
For instance, to convey McAuliffe’s struggle between his shy longing for his crush and his overconfident persona, he performs a mash-up of Jack Johnson’s “Better Together,” which morphs into Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight.”
“They’re not songs you would immediately recognize as going together, but they really do synergize very nicely,” McAuliffe said. “It’s true to both songs. I start out with the whole laid-back feel of Jack Johnson, then it comes in with Sinatra’s lounge-rat kind of feel. It’s really, really cool. It adds an intimacy to the Jack Johnson that wasn’t there, necessarily, and takes you to that level quicker.”
“In a lot of ways, they have been reinvented,” Spady said.
“Wannabe,” by the Spice Girls, has become a doo-wop number with a guys’ quartet. “You Can’t Hurry Love,” by The Supremes, is now a banjo number with the show’s musical director, Kelsey Shields. And Ke$ha has been taken to Motown.
“We are reinventing Ke$ha almost as The Supremes and reinventing The Supremes as almost folk music. It’s really neat to see how the cast is working with these numbers,” Spady said. “The idea from the beginning was, ‘Let’s get a group of artists together who want to do a show.’ It’s been fun to work with people who are just like, ‘Let’s try this,’ and build the show from the ground up.”
Spady wanted to pursue the musical review format for a couple of reasons. One, it frees him from being tied to a predesigned, set-in-stone script and, more importantly, as he jokes, spares him from writing a script himself.
“I’m a terrible writer. I’ve re-read certain things I wrote in high school that I loved in high school, and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is terrible. Why did I write this?’” he said.
But he loves theater and music. He’s been involved in both since he was a kid growing up in Soldotna — performing in Soldotna High School’s swing choir and drama program and in several shows with the Kenai Performers, including as LeFou in “Beauty and the Beast,” in which McAuliffe, now studying vocal performance at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, played the Beast.
Spady studied theater at Vanguard University of Southern California, and now is back in Soldotna to save up some money before launching into his ultimate goal, starting his own restaurant/performance venue. Currently he manages Odie’s Deli and works at St. Elias Brewing Co. in Soldotna. He said he’s excited to have an opportunity to get back into theater.
“I love that directing ability, just tweaking little parts here and there and making it come to life, and I love that cast-director relationship,” he said.
He and Shields, entertainment coordinator at Odie’s, sparked the idea of the show out of their mutual love of music.
“Pretty much when I’m driving around I hear different songs and think, ‘This is so fun. I can just see a fun number coming out of this song,’ or, ‘What if this song was spun this way?’ We came up with the song list, put it into an order, pulled really interesting story lines out of it and are building these really fun characters. It’s been a really neat process,” Spady said.
“I couldn’t ask for a better cast. They’re hilarious and so much fun — just incredibly talented, all of them,” he said.
The cast includes Chris Pepper, Daniel Rozak, Hayley Griebel, Jamie Fenton, Jayme Christian, Jena Poppin, Justin Ruffridge, Katie O’Brien, Quiana McElroy and McAuliffe. While Spady said that the cast is part of the reason the show is coming together so well, it’s also part of the reason why the performance timeline has been accelerated.
He wants to open the finished, polished show with a full band, choreography and multimedia elements in the fall, but many of his performers are college students who will be returning to school soon. So, “Shoebox of Memories” will be presented at Odie’s at the end of the month in a workshop format — as a complete show, just without a full band and all the final tech, staging and other embellishments that will be added later.
“I want to share the show with people so they can see how it’s coming, and I want them to see this incredible cast, since we’re going to lose some. And I want local people to see it — it’s not a show for New York, it’s a show for Soldotna, written with Soldotna in mind, so I want feedback from the audience,” Spady said.
The workshop performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. July 27 and 28 at Odie’s. Tickets are $15, which includes a dessert, and are available at Odie’s. A limited number will be sold. For more information, visit the “Shoebox of Photography” page on Facebook.