Memphis Commercial Appeal Features Close-Up Article on CHANGING MINDS in Tennessee! Big-time break: Germantown High School stages play’s world debut!

The following article, by Lela Garlington, appears in the Memphis Commercial Appeal and was published on November 9th, 2011. Click HERE to read the article at http://www.commercialappeal.com.

Students will be dealing with the same opening-night jitters that real actors face when they perform at the world premiere of “Changing Minds” at Germantown High this week.

While they are sure to get praise from family and friends, they’ll be facing a tougher crowd Thursday night. The musical’s composer, writer and producers from New York and Australia will be watching with a critical eye to see how they pull it off. Producers plan to market it worldwide after the school’s run.

[Photo by Nikki Boertman, The Commercial Appeal]

“It’s very exciting to see it come together to come to life from the page to the stage,” said composer Bret Simmons (above) going over a musical score with Gerald Thornton.

“I’m nervous,” said Drew Murley who plays Kyle, the male lead. “We get to set the bar on how the roles will be played from now on.”

Co-star Melanie Culhane, who plays Ashley, agreed: “I’m scared. It’s forced me to work harder.”

Normally, Germantown High’s Poplar Pike Playhouse performs a drama for its fall lineup and saves musicals for spring. But Steve Spiegel, the president of Theatrical Rights Worldwide, made longtime director E. Frank Bluestein an offer he couldn’t refuse — to be the first to perform a new musical, “Changing Minds.”

“I jumped at it,” Bluestein said. “How many high school students or even college students get to work with the writer and the composer?”

In movie pitch lingo, “Changing Minds” author and father of four David Howard, 55, said, “It’s ‘Freaky Friday’ meets ‘High School Musical.’ The goal is to be this generation’s ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’ ”

The story centers around Natalie, the high school’s driven and ambitious brainiac who switches body and mind with Kyle, the school’s coolest, laid-back dude. His girlfriend Ashley, who is the school’s hottest and most popular (mean) girl, suspects something is up.

Even within the past few weeks, the show’s creators, Howard and Bret Simmons have been trimming, punching up lines and adding songs to the two-hour musical. Recently, Simmons, 53, worked closely with the singers and the orchestra to make the numbers more authentic and current. “It’s very exciting to see it come together to come to life from the page to the stage,” Simmons said.

Both Howard and Simmons, who live in the Los Angeles area, worked on the script and lyrics for three years in collaboration with Spiegel of New York. Spiegel wanted a musical geared toward high school or middle school. He wanted an elite program such as GHS to be the first to perform it. Bluestein “was the first one I reached out to,” Spiegel said.

Some may consider Spiegel’s approach to be a backdoor to Broadway. “Is it edgy? No. Is it dangerous? No. Is it family friendly? Absolutely. Is it humorous? Yes. Is it hip and cool? I think so,” he said. “This show speaks a universal language for that age group with cellphones and texting and how information can quickly get around.”

“The (musical) model doesn’t always have to be top (Broadway) down. Good theater is good theater whether it is in a four-block area in New York City or not. There’s room in my opinion for working it the other way.”

— Lela Garlington: (901) 529-2349

This article, by Lela Garlington, appears in the Memphis Commercial Appeal and was published on November 9th, 2011. Click HERE to read the article at http://www.commercialappeal.com.