GLENS FALLS — There are those still fragrant memories that seem to live on, long past many of the players. Those momentary flashes of heart-tugging brilliance that imprint our path.
Some vividly remember the scent of a neon-stained night sky the last time they heard their mother say, “I love you.”
Some long for the texture of a lost lover’s smile, remembering the unfettered upward crook of the lips they once kissed.
And some find peace in the recollection of pots of steaming tea on an overcast winter afternoon.
Often sparked by a wafting scent, a color, a momentary melancholic flash, these are the stories that unite us.
These are the love stories of our lives.
And in Douglas Lyons’ new musical, “Beau,” such universal truths take root as family secrets unravel for 12-year-old Ace Baker, reminding us that sometimes it is in these remembered moments, that we are forever changed.
“It has that tangible heartbeat,” said actor and playwright Lyons, who is on sabbatical from the Broadway musical, “Beautiful: The Carol King Musical.” “We found something that I think is pretty universal: What it is to lose someone whether they be a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, what is given to us and left behind. It is the legacy of our ancestors … and how we carry that forward.”
As the Adirondack Theatre Festival final main stage show of the summer season, “Beau” opens on Aug. 3 at the Charles R. Wood Theater in Glens Falls.
“‘Beau’ isn’t just the not-to-miss show of the season for ATF, I think it just might be the not-to-miss show of all 25 seasons,” said ATF Artistic Producing Director Chad Rabinovitz on Wednesday night. “It’s the one that we’ll be known for in a few years as ‘that’s the show that started at ATF and now everyone knows about it.’ It’s going to be huge.”
Tony-nominated Director Michael Wilson is a Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle award-winner, directing on Broadway, off-Broadway, and at major theaters across the country. Wilson directed the 2013 revival of Horton Foote’s “The Trip to Bountiful,” nominated for four Tony awards and starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Condola Rashad, Vanessa Williams and Cicely Tyson, who won the Tony Award for Best Actress.
And during Wednesday afternoon’s rehearsal, Wilson walks through the beautifully engaging interaction between Ace Baker, played by Matt Rodin and Baker’s newly discovered grandfather, Beau, played by Jeb Brown (Broadway: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Spider-Man Turn off the Dark, Grease).
Ace finds an old guitar at Beau’s home, triggering flashbacks to the family drama that kept the two apart until now.
“Let me hear his voice,” Beau says on the phone to his daughter the day Ace was born. “I wrote him a song.”
Back in the present, Ace convinces Beau to play him something on the guitar named, “Rosetta,” after gospel, blues legend Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
“Hey there little boy, I’ve been waiting for you, I know you’ll bring me joy,” Beau sings.
Ace, also the play’s narrator, leans intimately toward the audience, sharing this was his first guitar lesson.
And so begins the unfolding of a found love that will forever change their lives.
It was Lyons’ friends’ story about his grandfather that got him thinking about writing ‘Beau.’
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“My friend Harley J was doing this concert … His grandfather lived in the sticks,” Lyons said. “His family would go to Hawaii on vacation every year and Harley J said, ‘I don’t want to do that. I want to stay with my grandfather.’ He built this relationship with this man … I thought this is interesting.
“I learned a lot about this man from this concert and that was the beginning seed,” Lyons continued. “I thought how interesting would it be if we took a band and allowed all these different players in the band to take on different roles and tell the story. I didn’t know exactly what the story was, but I knew that I wanted to tell an actor musician story. Where all the band members played actors.”
With the concept, book and lyrics by Lyons and the music written by the team of Lyons and Ethan D. Pakchar, “Beau,” has been two years in the making.
Taking shape while Lyons was in residence at The Directors Company in New York City, “Beau” has had developmental readings at The Directors Company, The Musical Theatre Factory, Oscar Hammerstein Festival at The Bucks County Playhouse in partnership with the Roundabout Theatre Company, and Lincoln Center’s Broadway Songbook Series.
“When we played Lincoln Center, the response from the audience was heart open, people laughing, awing and in tears,” Lyons said.
This powerful and uplifting musical drama is choreographed by Josh Rhodes, and presented by special arrangement with R.K. Greene, The StoryLine Project, LLC and General Manager, Leah Michalos.
“Beau” stars Rodin, Brown, Jeremy Sevelovitz, Olivia Griffin, Max Sangerman (ATF: “Spun”) Marlene Ginader (National Tour: “Once”) Amelia Cormack (National Tour: “Les Miserables” and “Kinky Boots”).
The design team includes lighting design by Tony Award winner Howell Binkley (“Hamilton,” “Jersey Boys”) and Siobhan Sleath, costume design by Tony-nominated David Woolard, scenic design by Christopher Rhoton, and sound design by Brandon Dwayne Reed. It features music direction by Chris Gurr and choreography by Josh Rhodes and Charles Swan.
Lyons said the shape of the play was inspired by the television drama, “This is Us,” and the play, “Rent.” Lyons toured with “Rent,” adding that “this is ‘Rent’ for this generation.”
“The way we time travel, ‘Beau’ is ‘This is Us’ and ‘Rent’ with a James Taylor, James Brown score for a contemporary audience,” he said. “This is not a traditional musical, in that one, it is not linear and two, because it is a concert and also theatrical.”
And perhaps what make this poignant production feel so true are the underlying emotions tied to Lyons own life.
“I also think I ended up dropping in a lot of my memories of my grandfathers. My mother’s father was in a wheelchair, he was an Army vet he had all of our pictures, these Polaroids were filled in his room,” he said. “His spirit is in Beau. And my father’s father, who wasn’t very vocal but would ask, ‘did you change the tires on your car?’ ‘Did you check the air pressure?’ My imagination of them melded together.”
The story of Beau has been building over time and director Wilson has been helpful in streamlining relationships, Lyons said.
“You feel these people by the end of the play. You feel like, ‘I want to call my mother’ or my aunt,” he said. “I was the last one to see my father’s father alive. He just passed in his sleep gently. In a moment’s notice they’re gone.”
Lyons talks about the healing power of art.
“Art can remind us of our humanity. That is really what I am trying to do with the show,” he said. “This show is sort of a big hug to humanity. It says, you’re not alone, you’re gonna go through some tough times, but someone will leave an imprint on you, if you let them.”
There is a complicated simplicity to “Beau.”
“The story itself is complex, but the love beneath it is understandable,” said Lyons.
“Beau” has an album by a major record label (not yet announced) coming out in the fall and will be celebrated with a concert at Joe’s Pub in New York City in late October.
“We hope the album becomes a stamp and a listening bud around the world for people to say ‘Oh I really want to see that’” Lyons said, adding that they currently have an album on iTunes, #”Love”(Live). “We’re really excited to be here to debut ‘Beau’ here, and hopefully bring some people together. That’s really what I think we can do.”