Telling Tales: Theater Premieres Original Treatment of American Legends | Explorer

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OWhen it comes to American tall tales – passed down orally for generations – the narrative has always been as much a part of the story as the content itself. The characters in them are larger than life and the details are stretched beyond the point of being believable.

And yet they live on in our collective memories, delighting us from childhood to adulthood, which is why Richard Gremel and David Ragland have teamed up again to bring an original musical to the children’s theater at Live Theater Workshop. .

From Friday, July 15 through Sunday, July 31, “Tall Tales: Legends of America” ​​features five storytellers recreating the stories of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and John Henry.

He uses songs, puppets, shadow plays, and performance sets and props to recreate the magic of these traditional American tales.

“The idea was really to help expose an audience that might not have been familiar with some of the myths and folklore around America’s history,” said Ragland, who creates plays. and musicals with Gremel for 15 years.

“He loved the idea of ​​rearranging some American folk songs to go along with them, then mixing them with originals.”

The five actors walk in and out of each other’s stories, sometimes telling, sometimes taking center stage. Gremel said he wanted to focus on the idea of ​​storytelling and how we tell ourselves stories.

“We hear stories when we were kids, we hear them in school, we tell stories to other people,” Gremel said. “These stories of these characters have been passed down over the years; they had different interpretations. They were all told in different ways.

When Gremel started writing this musical, he researched as many American tales and folklore as he could before settling on all three. Ultimately, he chose this trio because the trio of stories had a moral to teach.

John Henry taught that aim high and look ahead while trying to achieve your dreams. Paul Bunyan’s moral is that you should always lend a hand and help someone you see in need. For Pecos Bill, being kind to others was important.

“Those morals kind of shaped the rest of the play,” Gremel said. “Children can get a lot out of those mores, but I also think if we have adults in the audience, they’re also going to gain a lot from a reminder of those mores and what they can take away from those stories that they have heard in their past.These types of morals still ring true today.

Ragland said one of the main goals of the show was to inspire young people to be the best versions of themselves.

“One of the overarching themes is that you can tell your own story and you can be a legend too,” Ragland said. “The main theme song to the play is called ‘You can be a legend too.’ It’s a play that’s all about empowering our children and young people – that they really can make anything possible if they put their minds to it.

Much of the set is minimal to keep the focus on the story. Both Gremel and Ragland said they made the most of the theatrics of the story to make it visually appealing and interesting.

Paul Bunyan, for example, carries a puppet of his blue ox. The tornado that Pecos Bill lassos is made of a swirling fabric tube. When Paul Bunyan cuts redwoods, there is a ladder that represents the tree.

“The presentation will be fresh and surprising to audiences who expect to see something more traditional,” Ragland said.

“We have a lot of fun visuals, we have shadow puppets, we use props in ways that we wouldn’t normally use to create these characters, and the costumes are a lot of fun,” Gremel said. “It will just be a great experience to watch and behold.”

The cast includes Tyler Gastelum (Paul Bunyan, together), Rafael Acuna (Pecos Bill, together), Gianbari Bebora Deebom (John Henry, together), Brian McElroy (together) and Amaya Ravenell (together).

Gremel said that even if they did some readings while developing this show, he couldn’t have imagined what it would be like once the actors started bringing it to life.

“Our only actor who plays Paul Bunyan, he really turned him into this sweet teddy bear,” Gremel said. “There is this moment when he built a strong relationship with this ox. Even if you see a puppet on stage, it looks so real.

He also praised Deebom, saying she “does an amazing job of really bringing the John Henry story to life”.

Ragland said she manages to capture not only the character of Henry, but the other unnamed characters she plays.

“When she plays John Henry, you’ll see her use her low register and she’ll kind of have a real stoic stance.”

Ragland said. “Then when she does one of her other roles, she’ll be more upbeat and have traditional Western accents.”

All the actors, he says, are good character actors with strong singing voices.

Gremel enjoyed watching the elaborate variety of physicality that each actor brings to their roles. He credits them for bringing a lot of ideas to the show on how to make things work.

“I told the actors at the beginning that if you had an idea, bring it forward, because it’s really about telling stories and using what we have,” Gremel said. “It’s really been a great collaborative process.”

Because the stories are folk tales, Gremel wanted the music to capture the sound of classic folk music or bluegrass. As a former member of the Tucson Boys Chorus, he said he was also drawn to old western country songs. These are genres that he feels fit well on this show. He found traditional songs, such as “A Lumbering”, that fit well into the show. Other familiar songs include “Home on the Range” and “Get Along Little Doggies”. There are also new songs.

“If you didn’t know any of the traditional songs, you’d be hard-pressed to guess which was traditional and which was original,” Gremel said. “David just did a great job making it all sound like it all fit together.”

Ragland hopes people of all ages will come to see the show.

“It’s a unique presentation around some of the tales and folklore that you grew up with, but these are new takes,” Ragland said. “The marriage of music and dialogue really elevates the whole experience.”

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