CORVALLIS - A new musical, set in 19th-century Boston and layered with Chinese opera traditions, will make its debut at Oregon State University with a six-performance run May 23-25 and May 30 to June 1 at the Withycombe Hall Theater.
"Blue Willow" was written by Michael Coolen, a professor of music at OSU, and Michael Russell, an award-winning playwright and lyricist in New York City. It will be staged by OSU's University Theatre, and features a cast of students and community members from Corvallis to Jakarta, Indonesia.
Set in 1853 Boston, the play tells the story of a clipper ship captain, who has returned from a long sea voyage to his young daughter, Emma. When he presents her with a gift - a child's blue willow tea set from his travels - she requests a bedtime story. The captain's eye falls to the toy tea set and he begins telling Emma a fanciful tale of ancient China, unfolding the legend of Blue Willow.
Prominent in this play-within-a-play is Hong Shee, a forward and independent-thinking young woman and her protective father, T'ung Feng. The daughter is in love with her father's young gardener, Chang, but their romance is challenged by Tah Jinh, a wealthy old Mandarin who is determined to marry Hong Shee.
Into this mix are Amah, the woman's doting governess; a couple of enchanted bluebirds; several giant puppets, and a chorus of villagers. The result is a musical with humor suitable for the entire family.
Coolen, who teaches music theory and composition at OSU, has directed, acted or served as musical director for numerous plays for the past 25 years. He is the founder of a popular local group, Balafon, and other performance groups.
Russell is the author of several plays, including "A Lunacy of Moons" and "Tennessee Waltz," that have been produced throughout the East Coast.
Charlotte Headrick is directing and choreographing the play. Richard George is production designer and Barbara Mason, costume designer. The unusual puppets in "Blue Willow" were designed by Matthew Owen and his company, Puppetscience. Beth Mannion, a theater arts major, is stage manager. Coolen is musical director and will conduct the orchestra.
Tickets for "Blue Willow" go on sale Monday, May 20, at the University Theatre box office. Priced at $10, with discounts for students and seniors, they may be purchased by calling 541-737-2857, or from noon to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
Curtain time for all performances is 7:30 p.m. The Withycombe Hall Theater is located at 30th and Campus Way in Corvallis.
The Cast of "Blue Willow"
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Mohava Zinserling, 541-737-2853