The pandemic has put virtually every theater actor out of work, but Jonathan Sangster has found a productive way to keep busy over the past two years.
Working with composer-lyricists Matthew Hornbeck and Rachel King, Sangster has spent his time offstage working on “boy: a new musical,” which he premiered Monday at the San Diego Musical Theater in Kearny Mesa for a audience of friends, family, critics and theater supporters. .
Prior to joining “The Book of Mormon” national tour in 2019, Sangster was a busy cast member in San Diego. He is now based in New York but returned home to recruit the talents of several of his musical theater friends from San Diego for Monday’s event.
The reading, which featured 13 songs from the score and a few lines of dialogue to bridge the numbers, did not feature the show’s full script. Instead, it gave audiences a taste of what “boy” will look like and its bold and unusual storyline. Sangster wrote the book and some song lyrics. He told the audience that his plot was his interpretation of the Peter Pan story and what trauma must have happened in Peter’s life that determined him never to grow up.
In the case of “boy: a new musical”, it is not a children’s fairy tale. Peter, the teenager in the Sangster screenplay, mourns the mysterious death of his father, his own struggle with depression and anxiety, and the unwanted sexual advances of the pastor of the Christian school he attends. The plot – what was available to the public in the song’s lyrics at least – is unique and thought-provoking. It’s hard to say at this point who his audience will be and to review it would be premature.
The musical’s score, with orchestrations by Daniel Klintworth, is full of promise, especially Hornbeck’s moving and delightful solo ballads, “The Day the Rooster Didn’t Crow”, “Run Away Boy” and “Fly Away “. Hornbeck’s songs feature unusual melodies and harmonies and thoughtful thematic lyrics, such as Peter’s songs about soaring and Pastor James’ nautical-themed songs about faith, possibly connecting his character to Captain Hook.
The reading featured a who’s who of San Diego musical theater stars past and present. The show’s two leads – Jacob Haren and Ari Afsar, who play teenage siblings Peter and Gwen – grew up together as kids at the San Diego theater and were housemates as adults in New York. Haren has been touring with “The Book of Mormon” for years, and Afsar just finished starring in La Jolla Playhouse’s “Bhangin’ It: A Bangin’ New Musical.” Both have exceptional acting and voice skills and together they were the heart of the show.
Nancy Snow-Carr also starred in starring roles as the siblings’ conflicted mother, Ellen; Bethany Slomka as Peter’s hurt girlfriend Lily; Robert Townsend as Pastor James; and Leo Ebanks and Sarah Errington as classmates Mikey and Jack. Katie Sapper, Ron Christopher Jones, Luke Monday, Lauren King Thompson, Erin Vanderhyde and Zackary Scot Wolfe were also part of the cast. Musical director Taylor Peckham led a three-piece rock ensemble on stage.
“Boy” is still in the fundraising and development stage, which can be followed on the website boyanewmusical.com.