“Solana,” a new musical written by the New York based duo, Michael Heitzman and Ilene Reid, will have its debut performance by students and faculty at BYU-Hawaii starting March 15.
According to Kristl Densley, the director of the musical and assistant professor of theater, the play describes the story of Chloe Ellsworth, an adopted Asian-American girl who lives on a family farm in Indiana. When an unexpected visitor arrives, everything changes and she is thrown into an unexpected fairy-tale journey. Full of twists and turns, the journey resolves with a greater understanding of herself and the unresolved feelings she harbored about her adoption.
Inspiration for the musical came from Reid’s own family Densley said. “The play was inspired by Ilene’s niece who was adopted from Korea as a baby. She grew up in a town where she didn’t look like anyone else. However, she always wanted to be a princess. Thus, “Solana” was born.”
According to students performing in the play, the musical touches on important themes that are prevalent in everyone’s lives. Nicole Villejo, a junior music major from Honolulu who plays Chloe, spoke on what it was like becoming the lead role. “Getting to know Chloe means getting to know her life’s story. For me personally, it’s hard to put yourself in other people’s perspective. Getting out of my comfort zone and doing that is really fun but it’s helped me to be more humble and less judgmental. That has helped me in real life as I’ve been trying to get to know the character.”
Speaking on the importance of family, Villejo said, “No matter what, they are always the one there for us. At the end of the day, even though we sometimes say that we hate our parents for doing this or that, they are the ones we should care the most about. I think I can relate that with my life right now just because my family is crazy, but it helps you appreciate your family and where you come from more. Chloe is trying to find out where she came from and who she really is.”
Hannah Williamson, a freshman from Minnesota studying education, said that while her favorite part of the musical was the music itself. She said the themes have helped her understand more about her own life. From the play, Williamson explained she has learned to “be grateful for what you have. Don’t be so picky about what you want because when [Chloe] got it she wasn’t sure if she actually wanted it.”
Since this is the play’s first debut, Heitzman and Reid are still looking for ways to improve the musical. According to Densley, the diversity at BYUH has impacted the content of the musical. “Originally the play was supposed to be set in Micronesia, but with the big pool of students and diversity that we have, we are trying to give them a unique perspective. Dances from Polynesia, Japan, and all over the Pacific Rim are taking place and will be part of the show.”
Densley explained how the producers got BYUH students involved on a personal level. “[Heitzman and Reid] spent two days asking our students about their stories. They asked questions such as, ‘Where are you from?’ or ‘Tell me about your family.’ The script has a stamp of some of the stories of our students.”
Densley expressed with excitement how comments or suggestions the audience has about the show could reach final productions. She explained that there will be an insert in each program for the audience to leave comments for the writers of how they felt about the play.
Densley said the musical has been a work in progress since production began. She explained, “A typical play on Broadway has eight to 10 hours of work each day. We have two to three with our students. They go to class all day then come and work on the play all night. Typical productions have about six weeks to block and put things together. The first four weeks we had were spent with the producers and with the music. We only have two weeks to get everything together.”
Opening night begins Thursday, March 15 at 7:30 p.m. Showtimes will continue on March 16-17 and 20-22, all at 7:30p.m. A matinee show will be performed on Saturday, March 17 at 2:00p.m. Ticket prices are $8 for general public, $5 for faculty, staff and missionaries, and $3 for students.
Densley stressed the artistic value of plays. “Plays are not meant to be read. They are meant to be performed. Movies are just so polished. With a play the same thing will never happen twice. Each night the performance changes. How she said that line, how they danced that way, etc. We’re never going to capture those moments again. There’s something magical about that. Something happens that you can’t recreate.
“I really want students to get behind this. We’re doing shows that reflect cultures of the students that you walk down the halls with. I want our audiences to reflect and support that.”
According to Williamson, after all of the hard work that has been put in, everyone should make time to come. “It’s going to be really good. I think it’ll appeal a little bit more because it’s more contemporary. And besides, what else would you do on your Thursday night, or Friday night, or Saturday night, or Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday night?”