Professor and student bring acclaim as musical hits the Big Time

Cast of Single Wide rehearse in New York City to get ready for the productions debut at the New York Theatre festival. (George Nelson)
Cast of Single Wide rehearse in New York City to get ready for the productions debut at the New York Theatre festival. (George Nelson)

A BYU profesor and student look out on the bright lights, anxious crowds and padded seats of New York theatre, where their work will play.

“Single Wide” was one of 30 musicals chosen out of 300 to perform in the New York Musical Theatre Festival. It was written by BYU Professor George Nelson, and the music was composed by BYU commercial music major Jordan Kamula. It is being directed by Jeff Whiting, an up-and-coming Broadway director and BYU graduate.

The story line follows a single mom who lives in a trailer park and a war veteran, whose lives collide through the efforts of the single mom’s son. The music features a country pop style with influence by Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and other country starts.

The musical started as Nelson wrote a script about what he had observed watching life and relationships

“I wrote a play about people who have been trashed, they have been thrown away by others,” Nelson said. “They are thrown away by somebody else either in an abusive situation or thrown away by their own personal neglect or own lack of self-esteem or lack of skills.”

After going through several drafts Nelson contacted the music department at BYU to find a composer.

Kamula was contacted by his department chair to work on the project. He said he liked the script because of its musical opportunities.

“It had a lot of possibilities to write cool songs. There was just so many possibilities that it made it a fun thing,” Kamula said.

Nelson said he listed to the music Kamula wrote and fell in love with it.

“It has been a marvelous collaboration. It’s not a faculty student collaboration in my mind. We’re two equal partners with different skills working on this,” Nelson said.

Nelson said that for a musical to go from conception to Broadway it can take up to eight years with all the rewrites, readings and stagings.

Emily Castleton, professor at BYU adjunct faculty in the music dance theatre program and cast member of BYU production, explained the process the show went through before being submitted to the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

“The productions we did at BYU began with a reading. We had the black binders and set them up on a music stand and just did the reading and the songs,”she said.

The musical then became the BYU workshop production staged in March 2014. This gave an audience an opportunity to see the show and the writers to receive feedback from them.

“It was so fun to originate the role,” Castleton, said of the staged performance. “You get to bring that role to life and you get to contribute to the creative process.”

After two readings and the workshop production they finally submitted it to the festival. That didn’t stop the need for two more re-writes

Cast of Single Wide rehearse in New York City to get ready for the productions debut at the New York Theatre festival.
Cast of Single Wide rehearse in New York City to get ready for the productions debut at the New York Theatre festival.

before a festival manager visited and the several more re-writes during rehearsing.

Once the music was accepted into the festival, a director was chosen. A number of people wanted to direct the play but Nelson felt inspired to contact Whiting. Nelson said it was one of the best decisions made for the show.

Whiting has been working with one of the top directors in New York and has helped direct several Broadway tours.

“Jeff is in the next tier of great New York directors,” Nelson said. “He has told me that he really believes this could be his break out play.”

Whiting read the script and fell in love with the show.

“The writing is so good. It is not often you find a script that is written the way people talk,” Whiting said. “His writing is so wonderful, I just couldn’t resist.”

Whiting also said the show is inspiring, which is another reason he was excited to be involved.

“At one point or another everyone needs that encouragement in our lives,” Whiting said. “The theme throughout the whole show is giving yourself the courage and permission to get up.”

Once the director was selected the show moved to New York for rehearsals. New York provides the actors and musicians for the show, and Kamula said it provides a more professional experience.

“There is a much higher level of competency and things are getting down a lot more smoothly,” Kamula said.

The show is scheduled to perform at the end of this month, and Nelson expressed his end goal for the show.

“What I’m hoping is that people will see hope in this play,” he said. “It is this idea that no matter how deep of a hole you’re in, there is hope. We don’t have to give up.”

Castleton expressed why she thinks this show is needed in New York.

“This show has family values, and that is needed on Broadway,” she said. “Broadway needs a show with heart that represents the heart of America.”

Not only does this performance provide an opportunity for the musical to thrive, it provides great opportunities for the people involved in its production.

“The best-case scenario will be picked up and moved to a regional theater that thinks it has potential for an off-Broadway or Broadway stage and has a successful run,” Kamula said. “Then personally that opens the door for me to write music professionally for the rest of my life.”

“Single Wide” will perform July 17–25 at the PTC Performance Space.

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