Tri-State Theater

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

An Interview With The Composer of "Mary"

The musical based on the life of Jesus' mother Mary continues tonight in Charleston, and here's the second of three e-interviews with the creative people behind the show.

Today we'll hear from composer Mark Scarpelli, who wrote the music and directs the orchestra in the show:

Q: We know who Mary is, but tell us about this show and the basic story behind it.

A: This is the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus Christ through the eyes of the mother. It is an opera and focuses on the emotional struggle of a virgin girl accepting to give birth to the son of God. Major characters are Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah, Herod and the angel Gabriel who weaves the story from the Immaculate Conception through the birth.

Q: Was writing music for a story based on the mother of Jesus intimidating?

A: This was initially written 12 years ago and at that time I was a different composer. I really don't like the term "Rock" opera, but that is what it has been labeled. When I first thought of providing music to such a historic, biblical story, I thought of the effect to be more of a contemporary new age-like sound. At the time I was highly influenced by the musical score of the Last Temptation Of Christ by Peter Gabriel. Our opera has evolved into a contemporary 21st century opus that focuses more on the emotions of the characters rather than the story itself. Everyone knows the story but you really don't think or relate to the relationships and the human feelings one encounters. i.e. Joseph finding out about his betrothed being pregnant and the baby is not his. His struggle with the acceptance of this makes for great thematic stuff. It's like a modern day soap with some added miracles.

Q: This is the 12th time you've staged the show, so it's safe to say that audiences have responded well to it. How is the 12th show different from the first?

A: Even though this is the 12th year we've performed the show, there have been unique subtleties to each perennial run. Just this morning I rewrote the ending of the show. (Writer) Dan Kehde had an idea of ending the performance with an empty manger (center stage) with a string quartet playing through this final scene. Typically we end with a full cast gradually entering the manger scene. While everyone positions themselves, the music swells into a chorus of "Life Begins Again." We have performed this both vocally and instrumentally but always with a strong, dynamic ending. It seems to me it is the one part of the show that is always open for change. This year instead of a big ensemble musical sound we're going for a more serene, contemplative type ending. Will it work? Only time will tell.

Q: You have a big orchestra for this show - does you prefer working with a bigger group of musicians, or does that make it even more challenging?

A: Working with a larger ensemble of musicians makes for more tone color. Again this piece has orchestrally evolved over the years. The first year we performed this in 1996 there was a guitar, bass, keyboard and drums. I guess that's how it got labeled as a "Rock" opera. Our current pit orchestra consists of a full string section trumpets, trombone, tenor sax, alto sax, guitars, bass keyboards and drums. There is also a chorus of singers.

Q: I was surprised to see the show started the day after Thanksgiving - is it tough to stage a show on Black Friday?

A: Black Friday, Green Friday, Blue Friday???? it's just another day to me. This is great theatre and it's a story, although seasonal, that could be enjoyed throughout the year.

Q: Tell us the basics - when the show starts, where it is, ticket prices, etc.

A: Mary is at the WVSU Capitol Plaza Theatre - 123 Summers Street, Charleston, WV - tonight at 8:00 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 30 at 2:00 p.m. and Thursday - Saturday, Dec. 4,5,6 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are available at the door - $9.50 Adults, $5.50 Students and Seniors. Call (304) 342-6522 for more information.

Thanks, Mark! Tomorrow we'll talk to one of the actors in the show!

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