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Now Playing: ‘Calling Nancy Drew' – an homage to a teen detective

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Mary Hould as Nancy Drew, Jacob Mucha as Ned (photo J.D. Welch)
STAGEright loves musicals and has produced two original musicals by artistic director Brendan Mack, BJ: A Musical Romp, and Seeing Myself Consumed, and mounted Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, last summer. It’s beginning to seem like summer is a time for STAGEright musicals.

Just opened is a new musical about the teen detective beloved of young girls everywhere, Nancy Drew. The book and lyrics are by Catherine Bush and the music is by Greg Bartholomew. Catherine Bush is the aunt of Jennifer Owen, one of the founders of STAGEright, and an accomplished playwright-in-residence at Virginia’s Barter Theatre.

Catherine says, “Calling Nancy Drew was originally produced as Nancy Drew: The Musical in 1999 at the Wings Theatre in New York City. It was the third musical composer Gary Bartholomew and I had written together (I’ll Never Be Hungry Again was first, followed by Hester Buys A Vowel).

“I met Gary Bartholomew (my composer) via Backstage magazine. I advertised for a composer for I’ll Never Be Hungry Again and he answered the ad.  He lived in Pennsylvania and was working as the music director at Dutch Apple Dinner Theater at the time (and) I lived in NYC and we communicated via phone/email/snail mail. We didn’t even meet until rehearsal began!

“I started writing as a means of creating work for myself as an actor – I was the original “Neleh Gninroc” (backwards for one of the main friends in early Drew stories, Helen Corning) in this show. Nancy Drew books were a favorite of mine as a kid and so wonderfully spoof-able in retrospect that it was an easy decision to create a piece around the characters.

“By the time I realized that I was a fairly pedestrian actor, I was already hooked on writing and kept on with it, eventually moving on to straight plays. In 2003, I submitted a play (The Other Side of the Mountain) for Barter Theatre’s Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights. It went on to win the Festival, receiving a full production in 2005. Barter began producing a lot of my plays (including I’ll Never Be Hungry Again) and in 2007, I left NYC for the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia to become Barter’s playwright-in-residence.”

Ashley Coates, a company member, says, “(The character of) Nancy Drew was developed in the 1920s, but she’s been set in every decade since then in various movies and scripts. Our show is set in the ‘90s, where a lot of our audience grew up, so we think it will be nostalgic for them, because (director) Brendan Mack’s inserted topical references to Full House and REM and Blossom, Clueless.”

Ashley says another aspect of the fun of the production is, “the costume design: one of Nancy’s costumes is almost an exact replica of one in Clueless, a yellow plaid suit.”

Ashley describes some of the plot. “Nancy is still in high school but she’s really bored because she has no mysteries to solve, and all of a sudden she gets a death threat. We don’t know why. But she becomes totally self-absorbed and makes of her friends mad while she’s trying to figure out who sent it. She offends her friends and they don’t want to help her solve the mystery.

“Another character, Ned, Nancy’s boyfriend is always depicted in the books as asexual, probably because it’s a young adult series and the author didn’t want to write about teen sex. In this show, he’s given a reason for his lack of sexual interest in Nancy: he’s gay! There are some songs that play up that side of his character in a very humorous way.

“Also, Nancy’s dad, Carson, is involved with someone but no one knows who. It’s another area that was never talked about in the books, and so this is a way to involve more adult humor.”

It definitely sounds like a fun way to spend a summer evening. Through August 18, 2012 at Theater Off Jackson http://www.theatreoffjackson.org/.

Mary Hould as Nancy Drew, Shermona Mitchell as Bess, Rachel Brun as George (photo J.D. Welch)