On Stage


Love and loss, with music

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How does one recover from the loss of a child?

This was a question Semiahmoo-based playwright Sandy Wolf decided to explore when she first started working on a musical called Marina more than 15 years ago.

The play, which Bellingham TheatreWords will premiere May 21-23 at the Mount Baker Theatre, goes back in time to tell the story a woman living in Blaine in 1908. As the proprietor of the Grubstake Cabaret, the eponymous Marina must deal not only with unruly fisherman, temperance fanatics and violent union activists, but also with a painful personal tragedy.

“The central story is about a woman who has lost her son and how she recovers from her grief to the point where she can love again,” Wolf says. “The redemptive power of love is a universal theme and important all over the world. I do not know of another Broadway-style musical where the loss of a child is the problem of the heroine, and I think this issue deserves to be explored.

“Sadly, my own family has suffered such a loss, two years ago. When my 20-year-old grandson died, I became even more dedicated to exploring how to recover from the loss of a child. Then when my husband died this past December, I personally began the struggle with grief and am just beginning to get glimpses of recovery.”

There’s little doubt that her own experiences have helped make the character of Marina more nuanced and real, but Wolf is hoping the historically based roles in the play—such as the aforementioned temperance and union activists and the feisty fishermen—will also help bring the past to life.

Thanks to Bellingham TheatreWorks, the production of Marina will be a big one that promises to fulfill Wolf’s creative visions. With direction by Mark Kuntz, choreography by Pamela Kuntz, original compositions by Justin Melland, a full orchestra conducted by Ryan Dudenbostel, and a cast of 25 actors, dancers and singers, the theater company is committed to making sure the musical is done right.

“Firstly, our mission is to create work of local significance, with an emphasis on local actors and local playwrights,” producing director Steve Lyons says. “Secondly, we want to keep ticket prices as low as possible, making theatre widely accessible to the community. Marina embraces both these ideals. The cast and crew are grossly underpaid, but they believe in the project and are willing to dedicate their time and energy to making it a reality. It is both humbling and awe-inspiring to witness.”

Lyons says funding has been the biggest challenge in putting the show together, and hopes the Mount Baker Theatre will fill up for the three-night production. If that happens, shows of this magnitude might become a regular thing for Bellingham TheatreWorks, which is currently in its second season.

“In the history of Bellingham,” Lyons says, “nothing like this has ever been attempted: A world-premiere musical with a live orchestra produced at the 1,500-seat Mount Baker Theatre that tells a local story, written by a local playwright, produced by a local company, using local cast and crew. This is unprecedented.”

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