Alumna Rachel Dean composes ‘The Ballad of Janis Matthews,’ Area Stage Company to open

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When most people imagine new musicals, they picture Broadway marquees and astronomical ticket prices. However, UM students now have an opportunity to catch an exciting new show composed by one of our very own University of Miami alumni, playing just a short walk from campus: “The Ballad of Janis Matthews and the Dodo Scouts,” opening this weekend at Area Stage Company (ASC). The play features music and lyrics by Rachel Dean, a 2015 graduate of the Frost School of Music.

Dean, a music composition major, didn’t always dream of writing for the stage.

“I think I fell into musical theatre writing by chance,” Dean recalled. “People would listen to my songs and say they sounded like songs from musicals, which I resisted at first, because I only wanted to sound like Rachel Dean. But eventually, I realized, ‘Hey, musicals aren’t so bad!’ And the rest is history.”

Dean co-wrote “Janis” with Giancarlo Rodaz, one of ASC’s in-house directors. The two met when Dean was working at ASC in the summer of 2013. Rodaz came up with the original concept for the show.

“He’s a big fan of ’60s rock and folk music,” Dean said. “He’d been wanting to write a folk musical with an around-the-campfire feel for the last three years.”

“Janis” tells the story of six scouts who become separated from their camp while hiking in the Rocky Mountains. The band has to work together to navigate treacherous terrain and tumultuous relationships to find their way home.

Dean and Rodaz wrote two songs for “Janis” in fall 2014 before taking a break to work on another collaboration, “Masque,” a one-act musical based on an Edgar Allen Poe short story that premiered at UM last February. Dean moved to New York City after graduation to attend NYU Tisch’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, so the rest of the show was written via FaceTime the past few months before rehearsals for the current workshop production.

“It’s been really great to have the opportunity to develop the show at Area Stage,” Dean said. “There’s nothing better than being able to see a piece on its feet with talented, enthusiastic actors who can expose the weaknesses in your writing.”

Living more than a thousand miles away has limited Dean’s involvement in the details of the process, but she has still played an active role.

“Giancarlo and I spend a lot of time on the phone after rehearsals, recapping and planning,” she said. “He also sends me Snapchat videos from the rehearsals. But the first time I’ll see the full musical is when the public does.”

Next up for Dean is “The Anxiety Project,” a song cycle with lyricist/librettist David Brush, and a gig as a pianist in an Off Broadway show. In the meantime, she’s hoping even nontraditional theatregoers will come enjoy “Janis.”

“It’s a heartwarming story about family, community and friendship,” Dean said, “And killer river otters.”

If you go:

“The Ballad of Janis Matthews and the Dodo Scouts”

Where: Area Stage Company, 1560 S Dixie Hwy, Coral Gables

When: Oct. 16-25, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 5 p.m.

Price: $10-25 (student tickets are available)

For more information, call 305-666-2078 or visit http://www.areastagecompany.com.

Feature photo courtesy Pixabay user Dieter_G.

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