ISU Theater breaks new ground with latest musical • Inside Iowa State for faculty and staff • Iowa State University

What will ISU Theater’s springtime musical, “BABA,” look and sound like when it opens April 7 at the Fisher Theater? Even the cast and creative team aren’t 100% sure. The ISU Theater is preparing a musical for the first time, in collaboration with New York composer Elliah Heifetz and librettist Jessica Kahkoska.

The workshop, in theater terms, gives playwrights, producers and composers a chance to develop and improve their material before scaling up a full production. They can see how the audience reacts to a story, find out if the material is ready for actors and singers, and even write new pages or songs up to the last minute.

The workshop process is an innovative hands-on learning opportunity for Iowa State students.

“In the real world, if you’re lucky enough to work on a new production, you’ll have people responding in real time,” said Cason Murphy, assistant professor of theater and director of the show’s faculty. “It’s less theoretical than what we talk about in our courses. We bring the playwright and composer directly to them. It’s thrilling and exciting because it gives students a say in the final product in a way that usually does not happen.”

Performances of “BABA” are at 7:30 p.m. from April 7 to 9 and at 2 p.m. on April 10. All seats are general admission. Tickets ($25 for adults, free for students and Iowa State youth) can be purchased at the door, at the Stephens Auditorium box office, or through Ticketmaster.

The right project for ISU Theater

Last summer, ISU Theater issued a call for musicals for a workshop on the New Play Exchange, a library of digital scripts. Murphy received over 100 submissions. During a conversation with Heifetz and Kahkoska about their pitch, he learned that they had another story on the back burner that seemed to tick all the right boxes for the ISU theater – a contemporary musical with an ensemble cast. and a story focused on relevant and timely issues. .

“BABA” is the story of a teenage climate activist, Sylvie, who lives on the edge of a forest in Appalachia. When Sylvie ventures into the forest on a mission to save her, she meets an old woman who turns out to be Baba Yaga, the mythical witch of Russian folklore. Sylvie and Baba Yaga realize they are tangled in the threads of a bigger, darker story, and the couple must learn to trust each other. The contemporary musical score intertwines the enchanting sounds of Americana, Russian folk and pop.

“Gold Coins”

The workshop of a production gives students a better insight into the practices of the industry, where a show is created over months or even years, with many revisions. “BABA” is also the focus of a new Iowa State seminar class this spring, Advanced Musical Theater, so students can learn inside and outside the classroom.

“Every time I come to rehearsal, I’m excited to learn from everyone,” said music major and cast member Breanna Penenger. “The cast and crew bring these little gold coins to every rehearsal, which inspires me to dig deeper as an artist and contribute as well.”

Murphy said the “BABA” workshop particularly engaged the students’ imaginations and challenged their problem-solving skills.

“It makes them more dynamic as theater makers,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking for in this department. It’s not a conservatory approach. It’s a liberal arts vision of creative people who are interested in all aspects of the art.”