BWW Interviews: THE CHRISTMAS BOX Directors on Its World Premiere
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by Tyler Hinton
The world premiere of The Christmas Box, a musical stage adaptation of Richard Paul Evans' bestselling novel (music, lyrics, and book by David R. Naylor), is being presented at Empress Theatre in Magna this holiday season.
David R. Naylor, a former member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, is a composer and arranger of sacred and educational choral and instrumental music. His works have been performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City and Royal Albert Hall in London, as well as on the Music and the Spoken Word broadcast by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Two years ago, a friend of the composer's, who was acting in a production at the Empress Theatre at the time, approached the theatre with the script and music to review. The theatre saw potential in it and placed it on the 2012 season.
The husband and wife team co-directing the show, Stephen and Blair Chucay, were happy to answer BroadwayWorld's questions about this premiere production of The Christmas Box.
1. What can you tell us about the creator of The Christmas Box musical, David R. Naylor?
David Naylor has been our vocal director for the show. Since no one had ever performed the show, we needed him to teach us all the songs. He obtained rights by contacting Richard Paul Evans through email, and he sent David in the direction of his agent. That's been some years ago, a little over a decade. Since he finished writing the show, David has just had the music sitting in his piano bench and said he felt it was time to finally let someone else direct this show.
2. What can you tell us about the musical? What style is the music? What existing musicals does it remind you of?
The musical is very warm and touching, but also a tearjerker. You need to be prepared to laugh, cry, and think intently through the entire musical. It's most definitely a family show and presents an opportunity to remember what the Christmas holiday is all about! The music is a style all its own for a musical. It is so fun, because a majority of these songs can stand on their own for Christmas and yet they all work together to tell the story of The Christmas Box in a fun, family-friendly way.
3. How does it feel to know you're directing the world premiere of the adaptation of a beloved bestseller?
It is overwhelming and completely humbling. There's a lot of pressure to live up to the book, but this musical has to be taken as its own show. It's been amazing to feel the anticipation and excitement for something so beloved and to have the opportunity to PREMIERE this show.
4. What experience did you have with The Christmas Box in other media (book, telefilm, etc.) before directing this show?
We have actually tried to not incorporate our experiences with other forms of The Christmas Box media solely because we don't want our audiences to think about other productions of this story, such as the book or the telefilm version when they come to see it. The moral of this story is timeless and inspiring. It would be a shame to have people leave comparing the musical to the book or to the movie and miss the whole inspiring moral of what is really important in life (the first gift of Christmas) and how we received that gift. This musical has every right to stand on its own apart from the reputation this story already has.
5. What can you tell us about this particular cast and production?
We have an extremely talented cast who bring so much to this production. Everyone brings a little more to make this show better, and it is such a pleasure to work with them. Our production team is extremely professional and has so much to offer this show. The enthusiasm for this show is contagious, and it is fun to have this melting pot of ideas and suggestions to bring out the emotions in the characters and portray feelings to our audiences.
6. What has your past theatre experience involved? What shows have you directed in the past? Where?
Stephen: I have nearly a decade of experience in theatre, which was focused mostly on acting. My first show was an all-white cast version of The Wiz at my high school here in Utah as part of the ensemble. I moved on to portray Norman McDonald in the British comedy Cash on Delivery during my senior year. After graduation, I began performing at the Draper Historic Theatre in shows like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Seussical. I also helped a friend of mine in putting on an original Christmas show entitled Prepare Him Room. I performed at the Off-Broadway Theatre in Salt Lake City in the show Potpie the Sailor Man, a spoof on the obvious cartoon. After serving a volunteer two-year mission in west Texas, I returned and began performing in shows such as Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella as Prince Christopher, Alice in Wonderland: The Rock Musical as the White Knight, and Peter Pan as Captain James Hook with a theatre group called Titus Productions. It is with this group that I made the acquaintances that gave my wife and me the opportunity to direct this wonderful show here at the Empress Theatre. Honestly, although I have a bit more experience than Blair, I'm not sure I could have done this without her. She carries with her a great imagination and vision for this show. She is also able to focus on things I've never had to before and, because of that, I feel that we balance each other out very nicely.
Blair: I was the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland: The Rock Musical. Other than a one-act in High School, that was my only real theatre experience. I was a little surprised that I was asked to direct this show because I've never directed before, but I'm beginning to see why it was important that I did. Stephen has quite a bit of experience in blocking, acting, and performing, but he never had to worry about being organized for other required things like costumes, the set, hair, and sometimes in choreographing certain numbers. I guess I'm a little ambitious for deciding to take on a world premiere for my first show, but I feel like we are a great team and together, with the help of our talented cast and production team, we have brought together a wonderful production.
6. When did you start directing together? What is your relationship like when you direct together? Is it any different outside of directing?
This is our first time directing together. Since being married, we've worked at several offices together but have always had different jobs so we'd just see each other on lunch or breaks. This was the first time we've actually WORKED together to create something, and we've quickly realized our differences in vision and opinions! When we're at the theatre, we've recognized our strengths and weaknesses and have learned to delegate blocking, costuming, or sets to each other as we see fit. The cast has certainly seen us have some tense moments with differing opinions, vision, and also because we have our young 10-month-old son with us often. Things sure can get stressful at times when you bring him in the mix, but I also know that the cast has seen how much love we have for each other and how it has made us a stronger team.
8. Is there anything else you'd like to say?
The musical has been a wonderful opportunity in our lives and although there have been stress moments and the occasional "freak out," we are so happy that we had the chance to work on this project at the wonderful Empress Theatre. We are excited to see where this goes next-if it continues to be a Salt Lake City tradition or if it gets on a bigger stage. It'll just be wonderful to see what the future holds.
The Empress Theatre was originally built in Magna, Utah in 1916 as a burlesque house for the workers at the nearby copper mine. They started showing silent movies in 1917. It closed in the 1930s and went through a couple of ownership changes before Leo Ware purchased the theater in 1983. It was his tireless efforts that led to the restoration of the theater. The Oquirrh Hills Performing Arts Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing culture and education to the Magna community and surrounding areas, leased the building from the Ware family in 2006, finishing renovations that allowed them to re-open in November 2006. The OHPAA is dedicated to bringing family friendly entertainment to the Magna area and to encouraging participation in the arts to future generations.
The Christmas Box plays at the Empress Theatre through December 22, 2012. For tickets or more information, call the box office at 801-347-7373 or visit www.empresstheatre.com.