Creating their musical was a ‘life after life story’

Deborra Brannon
Longtime friends Richard Derwingson, seated at piano, and Allen King go over the score for their new musical “One Brief Moment,” opening Jan. 30 at the COS Ford Theater.

A three and a half year collaboration between Richard Derwingson and Allen King will culminate in the opening of their new musical, “One Brief Moment,” at the College of the Siskiyous Ford Theater Jan. 30.

The story traces the lives of a single couple from the time they meet and fall in love through what Derwingson described as “the disappointments and unfulfilled dreams in middle age,” into the years during which the couple deals with the issue of growing old.

Mezzo soprano Wendy James and baritone Nathan Monks play three parts each in the musical, bringing the two characters to life in three periods of their life together.

Derwingson said the musical will be staged differently from any previous production at the COS theater.

“This is an intimate story, done with intimate staging,” he said.

The audience and performers will be onstage, with the curtain drawn to create a setting similar to black box theater. Seating will curve around the performance set.

“One Brief Moment” will run Friday and Saturday nights, Jan. 30 and 31, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 1, at 2 p.m.

Seating is limited, and tickets are available at Village Books in Mount Shasta and at Nature’s Kitchen in Yreka.

The production is being underwritten by the Red Scarf Society for the Performing Arts.

Collaboration

Derwingson has been involved in music since he was in grade school.

He wrote two musicals years ago with previous collaborater Chris Reed and also collaborated with his brother Roger Emerson on a series of one-act musicals for junior and senior high school students.

Derwingson spent 35 years in business. He said the stroke he suffered in 1999 “made me return to my first love, something I believe I was given to share.”

He began playing the piano more, improving his skills, and putting a playbook together for performances.

“That led to my first album collaboration with Allen ...and here we are,” he said.

Derwingson was looking to record an album of original material when King retired from his law practice.

King knew his friend of 30 years was looking for lyrics.

Although he had written lyrics for another friend’s band back in the 1970s, King said his writing was honed during his years as a trial lawyer working with juries.

“What’s a jury if not an audience? When I wrote closing arguments, I wrote for that audience,” King said.

By 2010 the two friends had written more than enough original songs for Derwingson’s album, eight of which were included in that project.

King remembers saying, “We have songs, some recorded and some not, and there’s an arc of a story here. Why don’t we try writing a musical?”

Creative process

Derwingson said when he and King wrote songs together prior to actual work on “One Brief Moment” they employed a process of “setting music to lyrics.”

“The new pieces written specifically for the musical were created through a more integrated process. At times, the music came first. Other times pieces were developed measure by measure, words and notes together,” he said.

The music was finished first, and the collaborators knew the music told the story in its entirety.

“But we wanted it to be more than a concert. Unless there was dialogue connecting the songs, they were just songs without people living the story,” King said.

The work went through many versions, King said. “Each one seemed like ‘the one’ – until we read it again.”

They continued to write until the musical reached the point where “the dialogue enriches the songs, and vice versa,” Derwingson said.

King added, “It’s more than the sum of its parts.”

‘The talent’

COS theater instructor Neil Carpentier-Alting is the production designer for the show, and pianist Dave Reynolds will play live during the performances to recorded accompaniment tracks featuring bass, drums, horns, and strings.

Wendy James will direct the production and play the part of Sarah.

“Wendy fell in love with the show after we brought her in to sing the female lead parts early in the creative process,” Derwingson said.

Initially, he and King looked for a couple to play the lead parts so the match physically and vocally would be ideal.

As the search proceeded, James expressed strong interest in playing the female lead and King and Derwingson found baritone Nathan Monks, thanks to the help of Livia Genise, artistic director of the Camelot Theater in Talent, Ore.

The first time Wendy and Nathan sang together, Derwingson said, they had great rapport and were a near-perfect vocal match, “as if they’d been singing together for most of their lives.”

Reflections

“This collaboration is a life after life story,” King said. “I had a career I thoroughly enjoyed and had no idea what I was going to follow it up with. This has had many of the same elements – it’s inspired my passion.”

Derwingson said writing the musical has been the most exciting time of his life in terms of creative expression.

“And I couldn’t be enjoying it so much without having so many years of other experiences to draw on. In terms of retirement, pursuing my passion is the greatest opportunity to have,” he said.

Now that the creative process is nearly complete and production is only weeks away, King commented, “I’m actually sad that I can’t write this musical anymore. It’s done.”

Both men reflected on the seed that birthed the musical – the very first song they collaborated on, titled “How did we get here so fast?”

That thematic line and others in the production are familiar to both King and Derwingson through their own lives and marriages.

“Love has to change, has to grow in order to accommodate the inevitable changes people go through as they grow. If it can, it survives,” Derwingson said as he reflected on his 50-year marriage.

“A solid string of love – that’s what’s carried us through the various bumps of life,” King said of his own marriage. “It’s difficult to imagine we’ve been married for 37 years. It seems like one brief moment.”