With eyes on a movie, Fargo-Moorhead stars get their first shot at new musical ‘Philly and the Dreamer’ – InForum

MOORHEAD — Rebecca Rizzio graduated from Concordia College in 1999, but never left her alma mater too far behind. So when she was looking for a place to stage a musical she was developing, she turned to the Frances Frazier Comstock Theater.

The director and a community cast and crew will present free performances of music from “Philly and the Dreamer” on Wednesday and Thursday nights on the Concordia Stage.

The show is written by Minneapolis musician John Cal, based on his experiences trying to make it with his rock band Philly in the late 1970s.

Cal and Rizzio met a few years ago when she learned he was looking for someone to lead and help grow his work.

“I was really inspired by this guy who wrote a musical, but he’s not a theater guy, just a musician,” she says.

Rebecca Rizzio leads a rehearsal of “Philly and the Dreamer” at Concordia College as Andrew Bates looks on.

John Lamb / The Forum

Before starting work on the musical a decade ago, Cal had stayed out of the spotlight and spent 35 years selling insurance. Most of the show’s 25 or so songs Cal wrote in the late 1970s for the current band, Philly, named after the lead singer, whose real name was Phyllis.

“The music has more impact than the band was at the time,” she says. “If the group had succeeded, we would know who these people are.”

She refers to the music as “classic rock meets Broadway. It’s catchy with beautiful harmonies that we really don’t hear often.

She and Cal were working on the show in workshops and getting closer to staging until the COVID-19 pandemic shut down theaters in 2020. As the theater came back to life, they began considering a location outside of Minneapolis to stage an informal production. A return visit to Moorhead last summer opened his eyes and ears.

“I came to see ‘Cinderella’ in Trollwood last summer and damn it, what a talent,” she says.

She was particularly impressed with McKenna Brye in the title role.

“I saw her and thought, ‘This girl is good. These kids would do a great job.

Arianna Grollman, McKenna Brye and Samara McDermid perform a number in “Philly and the Dreamer.”

John Lamb / The Forum

This made him think that Fargo-Moorhead might be a good place to stage an early production of “Philly”.

She contacted people she had known from her time at Concordia, such as theater director David Wintersteen and director of choral activities Michael Culloton. Soon after, a call went out for artists and musicians in the community to try out pieces.

“It’s a Fargo-Moorhead project,” says music director Andrew Steinberg, who says the show attracts not only artists with Concordia ties, but also local troupes like Trollwood, Theater B, Act Up and Fargo- Moorhead Community Theatre.

This week’s production features a live band led by Concordia music teacher Russ Peterson and featuring bandmates Chris Gould and Doug Neill as well as Tom Christiansen, Evan Wood and Steinberg.

Drew Swenson was drawn to the audition after a suggestion from Theater B co-founder Wintersteen. Swenson landed the male lead, Johnny, a songwriter based on Cal.

“He’s a dreamer. He aspires to be a producer and songwriter,” says Swenson.

The cast of ‘Philly and the Dreamer’.

John Lamb / The Forum

The romantic relationship between Johnny and Philly, played by Brye, is dramatized in the show, which in real life was more platonic and professional.

This week’s performances will forego sets, dialogue, and a lot of acting, instead focusing on music. Rizzio will feature narration to drive the story forward between numbers to help put the songs in context, flesh out the story a bit as well as colorful characters like Philly’s mobster manager.

“I’ll tell a bit of the story, but I won’t go into all the details,” she says.

Instead, she says these shows will focus on music as she hopes to bring back a full theatrical production next year.

“Before we do a full show, we want to introduce the music,” she says.

Rather than set her sights on making it to Broadway, she hopes to film the entire staged show in hopes that it will be picked up by a distributor and turned into theaters and streaming services.

“We could be Minneapolis’ next musical. This could be the musical born in Fargo-Moorhead. They really embraced it here,” she says, referring to the cast and crew. “It goes back to Concordia’s mission, ‘to influence world affairs.’ A hit musical with a positive message can have a huge positive impact. It’s an inspiring show full of possibilities.

What: “Philly and the Dreamer”
When: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday
Where: Frances Frazier Comstock Theatre, Concordia College, Moorhead
Information: Tickets are free but must be reserved on eventbrite.com

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