At age 39, Dallas-based actor Donald Fowler decided to spend his 40th birthday in Paris…. After one late night out on the town, he spied a woman sitting on a park bench on a darkened tree-lined street and paused. A cascade of brown leaves tumbled down on her, never disturbing her stillness. The image stayed with him for years, stirring creative urges with dark, somber portent. From its memory, the genesis of his first musical, Creep, emerged. After watching Johnny Depp’s Jack the Ripper movie From Hell, he knew why the image spoke to him and what he wanted to do….
Encounter a spine-chilling array of late 19th century characters, eighteen of them, in the World Premiere production of Fowler’s Creep opening October 2 at WaterTower Theatre in Addison. The musical concerns Jack the Ripper, but it goes way beyond historical depiction. After a development process that included two fully voiced workshops at Uptown Players and WaterTower Theatre, Creep launches with a sterling cast of regional professionals, including celebrated theatre artist Patti Breckenridge, involved with the project since inception. In fact, Fowler wrote the role of Polly, the show’s crazy religious hooker, for Breckenridge. She recalls her first exposure to the work. “Donald invited me to hear a song he wrote at his apartment, the sort of song actors and singers would die to perform. He doesn’t read or write music. He hears it. He handed me a sheet of lyrics, played it on his keyboard and sang it. That’s how the process worked. He would play it, and I would notate it and mark where the music went. Then off it went to the transcriber to be turned into playable music. I have three magnificent, character-driven songs in the show; all make the hairs on my arms stand up.” Breckenridge continues, “I had officially retired after Next to Normal, but I decided to make myself available for Creep. For actors and singers…once they hear the show’s music they will want to use it at their next audition.”
Donald Fowler adds, “I didn’t want to mimic Sweeney Todd. I wanted to create a work clearly set in the 19th century but with a strong contemporary edge. The WaterTower production employs a10-piece orchestra, including trombone, French horn and a dynamic percussion section, which propels the sense of terror in the show. The music flows along very romantically in one moment then takes an unexpected turn: from teeny and delicate as a sparkling spider’s web to thick, heavy and ominous as the Devil. It offers both leads and chorus a real challenge to sing. I purposely wrote in scary parts of the voice to go for naked emotion.” Breckenridge breaks in. “With WaterTower’s powerhouse A-rated cast (both leads and ensemble) and design team, I believe Creep will set the bar for new musical development in the region.” And the role of Polly, that Fowler wrote for her? “It’s an honor and a huge responsibility to try to make my Polly match the vivid image in Donald’s head. Kate Galvin, our Philadelphia-based director who specializes in directing new musicals, asked me to bring her everything creative I have to launch Polly. There is nothing “vegetarian” about this show. It’s. All. Meat.”
Musicals don’t produce themselves. They are notoriously expensive to mount. A Dream Team of fundraisers united over several years to support Fowler’s dream production from development workshop to full stage reality. Heather Wiese-Alexander, creative director/owner of the exclusive Dallas specialty shop Nest (nestdallas.com) has a special fondness for Donald Fowler, who works as her store manager and buyer. “I would listen when he brought in snippets of songs for a show he said he was composing, never dreaming what was in the works. When he asked if I would host a fundraising salon for him, where he could present a few songs to potential supporters in a private, relaxed environment, I said sure. I adore Donald and wanted to support his emerging project, wherever it went. When I saw the tears of joy the music inspired in the salon audience and the eager way people opened their hearts and wallets to invest in its success, I knew he was on to something.” The two salon fundraisers that preceded the Uptown Players workshop covered its expenses, raising $30,000.
Nick Even, former President of Water Tower Theatre’s Board of Directors, got aboard as well. “When I moved to Dallas from New York, Donald was the first friend I made here. He inspired me to get involved in supporting the arts in Dallas, and I enjoyed seeing him perform at WaterTower Theatre. While the initial workshops and salons drew considerable interest and financial support, I recognized that the full staging of a new musical would be beyond the finances of an average theatre’s budget, even WaterTower’s. Terry Martin wanted it to happen, at a first class level. So I created and chaired the Producers Circle for WaterTower, a fundraising team focused on supporting Creep and WaterTower’s ability to produce it effectively. We raised 125% of our initial goal in the team’s first three months. The pay-off comes when it opens in preview October 2 on WaterTower Theatre’s Main Stage.
Asked about audience response opening night, Patti Breckenridge smiles wisely. “The first song will grab them and take them on a unexpected ride. They may know the story of Jack the Ripper in an historical sense, but this show reaches far beyond that. Creep’s audience will enter a world they don’t expect exists and learn things about themselves, as the 19th century London fog dissipates and the songs unfold.” Who knows what dark secrets Creep will uncover?
WaterTower Theatre’s World Premiere of Creep runs October 2 through October 25, 2015.
Book, music and lyrics By Donald Fowler Directed by Kate Galvin
Tickets: WATERTOWERTHEATRE.ORG or 972-450-6232
As run in the WaterTower Theatre playbill for Creep.
Photos by Kelsey Leigh Ervi