The Blank Theatre Company has done it again..." is what critics have to say about the world premiere of the musical Sky's End, by Joseph Alan Drymala, now playing at Los Angeles' Ovation Award-winning Blank Theatre Company.
Sky's End is the first musical to be produced on their newly renovated stage at the Second Stage Theatre in Hollywood. Director Daniel Henning said the piece is the best sumbission he has ever gotten from anyone of any age group -- and Drymala, the show's composer, librettist and lyricist -- is 18. He graduated high school in 1995.
Critics now share Hennings' response to Drymala's creation:
"Joseph Alan Drymala...is unmistakably a promising new talent in the musical theatre world." --LA Times
"Drymala...has a profound understanding of human feelings in the most troubled of circumstances...His music is heartfelt and his lyrics passionate."--City Night Life Entertainment Magazine "...Sky's End [is] an inspired, original and uplifting musical...the excellent ensemble cast finds touching humanity and truth punctuated with vigor and freshness that is remarkably polished...There is no doubt Drymala is an original stylist in this amiable first success that has a resonant charm and power that makes me eager to see how his talent will develop and blossom. Sky's End is our CRITIC'S PICK OF THE WEEK, DON'T MISS IT!"--Gerri Garner, American Radio Network
Sky's End was a winner in Blank Theatre Company's Fourth Annual Young Playwrights Festival in June. The play, about a young man with a rare bone marrow disease and his hopes, fears, and loves, is directed by Henning, who decided to include Sky as a mainstage production. "I think it's a remarkable show...it's a professional musical."
Drymala, who wrote this first musical at age 16-17, discovered Blank Theatre Company's Young Playwrights Festival through the Dramatists Sourcebook, an anthology of playwrighting contests, submission opportunities, etc. Eight winners from all over the country received professional workshops of their shows, with a 2-week rehearsal process accompanied by a professional mentor.
Henning first heard the tape one groggy morning on his way to the theatre. He popped the tape in, heard a few notes and couldn't believe his ears. "I thought I must be really tired," Henning said, knowing the composer was only 18. When he listened to it again later on, he was blown away.
Henning served as Drymala's mentor in the Festival workshop process, along with musical director Stephen Bates. From the time Henning first received the script through the workshop, and to the end of rehearsal, the show has been torn apart, put back together and includes six new songs.
The LA Times reported that director "...Henning does a good job bridging ...gaps and keeping an upbeat tempo throughout the show. Wisely toning down melodramatic tendencies, Henning draws out nuanced performances that flesh out some of the weaker parts."
The original workshop of Sky's End coincided with Blank Theatre Company's long-running acclaimed production of the Los Angeles premiere of Breaking the Code starring Dennis Christopher. After Christopher saw the workshop of the Sky's End, he pulled Henning aside and said ,"How old is he???" After hearing the playwright's age, referring to the emotional content of the lyrics, he asked, "How does he know this stuff?"
Drymala takes a healthy pause to response to Christopher's question. He answers, "Partially because I am not a particularly expressive person on the outside."
The Texas-born composer originally sought expression through singing and acting, which he wanted to do on Broadway. Writing music was something he did as a hobby while training to be a performer.
In fact, he taught himself everything he knows about music, from playing piano to composing. "There were no good composition teachers, if any, in San Antonio," Drymala said. The artist's later high school experience was filled with reading composition and music theory books. The idea to write Sky's End "just happened." He didn't share his compositions with his friends, who were neither composers nor as into musical theatre as he.
Prior to Sky's End, he did begin adapting a musical version of A Tale of Two Cities. "I was on a big Les Miz kick, the composer explains, "I had just seen the show and...you know." He has since abandoned the project.
Then, on his first trip to New York in 1994, Drymala had an epiphany. In the darkened seat of a Broadway theatre, while watching his favorite composer, Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning Passion, Drymala's passion to create musical theatre was inspired. "I knew it would be most fulfilling to see characters that I had invented, that had come from within myself, being fleshed out into real and animate people on the stage."
From that moment on, Drymala was committed fully to musical theatre composition. He will study composition at the University of Texas in Austin this fall. While Drymala's first musical is getting a mainstage production at a renown Los Angeles theatre, he tries "to let a little as possible go to my head." He couldn't be more thrilled at the opportunity.
He is very grateful to Henning and has also benefitted tremendously from working with him. "It's pretty amazing that he was able to see what was wrong with the show and knew how to fix it." Henning, in turn, has great faith in Drymala as a person and playwright.
Waiting in the wings are 14 outlines of other shows Drymala plans to create. Currently, he is three-quarters of the way through with his second musical, Blue Manhattan, about four characters stuck in a rut on the same block in New York City. The musical style is jazz and minimalist, and serves as a metaphor for the plays themes.
With the increasing popularity of theatre, talented new composers are in high demand. The Blank Theatre Company just may have found a new star in the sky.
Sky's End runs at the Second Stage Theatre in Hollywood, Aug. 29-Sept. 29. Tickets are $22 and are available by calling (213) 660-TKTS.
-- Blair Glaser