“So once upon a time,” said Ken Bradbury, “I walked down the hall to the Triopia Grade School and started asking the teachers if they could recommend a young man to play the childhood version of Samson from the Bible for a play I was doing at the high school. The response was unanimous as they pointed me toward a gangly little fourth-grader named John Love.” Love is now a senior at Illinois College and co-author of a new musical, “The Boys from Nantucket,” opening March 3 at the Playhouse on the Square in Jacksonville..
John and Ken have spent the last nine months working on the two-man musical starring Love and Jim Yale of Petersburg, Ill. “The two guys worked together in “Genesis, the Musical,” and they had such great chemistry,” said Bradbury. “Each of them tries to make the other guy look good. That’s what makes great theater.”
Mr. Love’s approach to writing theatre music for the first time was a bit apprehensive. “Ken asked me if I’d want to try writing the music and I thought . . ’What? You really think I can do this?’ I’m glad he trusted me. It’s been a real learning experience.” Jim Yale, in real life a vice president at Horace Mann and John’s “Nantucket” counterpart said, “The kid wears me out. It’s quite a workout with just two actors in a show and it’s all I can do to keep up with him.”
“The Boys from Nantucket,” with script and direction by Bradbury and music written and performed live onstage by Love, is the story of a fabled Broadway writer who lost his longtime writing partner when his piano fell on top of him. He advertises for an assistant and a young man, fresh from the Julliard School of Music, walks in the door to discover they have only three days to write an entire Broadway show. Oscar (Yale) is an old-school Broadway, while Richard (Love) has newer ideas. The odd couple of music, they don’t mesh, well but rehearsals begin in three days.
“It’s quite a load for both actors to carry,” said Bradbury. “Just two people alone on stage for two acts. That means lots of lines and you get no breaks. If I didn’t have John and Jim I doubt I’d have tried this one.” The Playhouse on the Square is a busy place so the show has been forced to rehearse in a variety of spaces including classrooms, the basement of Lincoln Land, and at a house on Lake Petersburg. “I think we may have rehearsed in the back of a van once,” said Bradbury. “I don’t remember. I get confused. I remember that that car was moving.”
Bradbury said that the trickiest part of “The Boys from Nantucket” was coming up with a device whereby John Love would be the entire orchestra, playing the music live onstage. “I mean,” said Ken, “how does the other character just happen to know the lyrics when the first guy claims to have just written a song?” The author isn’t disclosing that secret just yet. “Let’s just say that we found a way,” he said.
Love and Yale first worked together in a Bradbury played called “Couplings,” which was first performed at the Playhouse on the Square, then at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield. For the past two summers they played leading roles in “Genesis,” “The Musical” at those same two venues, and they will be taking their “Nantucket” show to both the Hoogland and Petersburg’s Salem on Seventh Theater later this year.
Bradbury jokes that this is all simply a form of therapy for his young friend, John Love. “The poor kid just can’t focus. He was the slam dunk basketball champion at the Jacksonville Bowl, then made all-state in football, then got into Illinois College on a theater scholarship after being the ace pitcher on his high school baseball team. Now he’s writing music. I just can’t get him to focus.”
“The Boys from Nantucket” will be presented at The Playhouse on the Square on March 3, 4, 6, 11, 12 and 13. All performances are at 7:30 p.m. with the exception of 2 p.m. Sunday matinees. Tickets may be purchased at The Soap Company Coffee Shop, Our Town Books, or by calling 217-491-3977.