Work on The Body Ventura, the new musical about wrestler-turned-Minnesota-governor Jesse Ventura, continues, with composer-lyricist-librettist Stephen Dolginoff now awaiting the governor's approval of a revised Act Two, the composer told Playbill On-Line.
When Gov. Ventura OK's the latest draft, or following rewrites, producer Pierre Cossette (The Will Rogers Follies) plans to move forward with the Broadway-aimed project he initiated in 2000. (The show had been mentioned for the current season, but development has beenb slower than expected.) Gov. Ventura read Act One and had suggestions for Dolginoff, and the draft was revised. An Act Two draft was read and discussed by conference call, as well, resulting in the current draft the governor has in his hands.
Producer Cossette (The Will Rogers Follies) envisioned a musical with the flavor of "Rocky" meeting "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and asked for Gov. Ventura's blessing in the new musical, originally targeted for the 2001 2002 season. Cossette picked composer-lyricist-librettist Stephen Dolginoff, a Kansas City, MO, now in Manhattan, for the task.
Dolginoff said the phone meetings with Gov. Ventura have made the script more complete and more "real."
"He really understands dramatic license, and was very helpful about how I could make it truer to life," Dolginoff said. "I don't know what a conversation between he and his wife, Terry, is like, and he told me. He told me what a supportive wife she is and how they are a team. It prompted a few songs, 'Do You Like the Rolling Stones?' and 'The Heart is a Muscle.' It helped create her as a character. In the initial draft she was just a 'wife,' and he helped me turn her into a real person." The current draft of the show includes such songs as "Take the World By Storm" (young Jesse telling his parents his dreams), "Sign With Me" (sung by Vince McMahon Jr., head of the World Wrestling Federation, luring Jesse), "I Don't Know the Meaning of Can't" (Jesse at a press conference), "We Have to Form a Union" (Jesse trying unionize wrestling), "Win If We Can" (sung by Jesse when he becomes a wrestling commentator), "Football Practice" (Jesse coaching high school football using Navy and wrestling techniques) and "Retaliate in '98" (Jesse and his opponent debating).
"The music will have a very heavy rock sound because that is the governor's favorite kind of music and the sound he wanted," Dolginoff said. "It will blend very well with the outrageous wrestling. It's not a rock opera, it's very much like a traditional musical, with book songs..."
Dolginoff said he had read of Cossette's interest in Ventura as the subject of a musical and tracked down the producer's fax number. He sent a brief letter and biography of his work to Cossette and within five days he was hired for the job.
Blessed with the Cinderella opportunity, Dolginoff had discussions about what Cossette wanted the show to feel like — a blend of "Rocky" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." They agreed that a "contemporary rock sound" was necessary for the action, which traces Ventura's wrestling career (1970s in Act One) and political career (1990s in Act Two). Cossette also wanted wrestling sequences to be part of the mix, Dolginoff said.
To prepare for the writing of the piece, Dolginoff listened to Ventura's biography on tape (read by Ventura). The largely unknown 33-year-old Dolginoff penned a musical called Panic, about the notorious Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" broadcast. The commission from Cossette is Dolginoff's first major commercial break.
What attracted Dolginoff to The Body Ventura?
"Jesse Ventura is practically a character out of musical theatre in real life," the composer previously told Playbill On-Lien. "He has led such an incredibly colorful life, I have enormous respect for him, I have followed his political character, I believe in him politically and it's a great American-dream success story."
Ventura was born Jim Janos and took the name Jesse Ventura later, and was known for his bald pate and menacing frame. In the wrestling ring he was called Jesse "The Body" Ventura.
Songs also include "Hooyah!" (a song for young Ventura, when he was a Navy SEAL), "You're Different" (sung by Terry, who would become his wife) and "Learn Every Move" (as Jesse becomes a wrestler).
Panic, a new musical by Dolginoff about Orson Welles' infamous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, had industry-only invited readings April 3, 2000, in Manhattan.
The composer-lyricist-librettist fashioned a backstage story about the 1938 Mercury Theatre radio broadcast that convinced thousands of Americans that Mars was attacking Earth. The same subject has been fodder for a TV movie and a stage project by Anne Bogart, but this is the first time the characters in the radio studio are known to sing about the fear that was stirred in the first major case of mass-media panic.
Dolginoff was a 1999-2000 Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs (MAC) Award nominee for his CD, "Journey to the Center of the Earth," based on the Jules Verne classic. He was commissioned to write and compose a musical Journey for Theatre For Young America. It premiered in Dolginoff's home town, Kansas City in 1996. In 1999, a new version was produced in St. Louis and a six-month Midwestern tour followed. A New York studio cast CD of Journey was nominated for this year's MAC Award for Recording of the Year.
Dolginoff won the Back Stage Bistro Award for Outstanding Book, Music and Lyrics for his musical. One Foot Out the Door, which played the Don't Tell Mama cabaret, followed by an engagement in Boston. Dolginoff's Most Men Are, about a family dealing with a loss, had a summer 2000 staging by Capricorn 9 Productions at the St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto. It was previously produced Off-Broadway at Theatre Off Park.
A musical revue of his work, Something Bound to Begin, was produced at the American Heartland Theatre and in NYC at Don't Tell Mama. Dolginoff developed his musical, Thrill Me (about the Leopold and Loeb murder case) in workshop with director Martin Charnin.
Dolginoff is a graduate of the NYU Dramatic Writing Program. He is repped by Ronald Gwiazda of the Rosenstone/Wender agency.
In record stores, his music is represented on CD by the cast recordings of One Foot Out the Door, Most Men Are, Thrill Me (concept album), Journey to the Center of the Earth and Something Bound to Begin, all released by Original Cast Records.
Politicos are not foreign to musical theatre. New York mayors Fiorello H. LaGuardia, Jimmy Walker and Ed Koch were the subjects of musicals, and Teddy and Alice, Annie, I'd Rather Be Right and Eleanor were tuners with famous Roosevelts as key characters.
— By Kenneth Jones