The West Coast premiere of the musical “October Sky” will launch The Old Globe Theatre’s 2016-17 season. With book by Drama Desk nominee Brian Hill (“The Story of My Life”) and Aaron Thielen (“Hero”), and score by Michael Mahler (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid”), the production was inspired by the 1999 Universal Pictures film based on a true story. Rachel Rockwell is director/choreographer.
The story is set in a mining town in the 1950s where a young man faces his future: following his father to work in the coal mines. However, that changes in October 1957, when the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, goes into orbit and Homer is inspired to build rockets.
Director Rockwell (“Brigadoon,” “Wicked,” “Billy Elliot,” “Bring It On: The Musical”) said she became interested in the story when approached by colleagues Hill and Thielen. “They asked if I wanted to work with them on making the ‘October Sky’ film into a musical. We had known each other for years and collaborated on a lot of projects, so I said ‘yes’ and we’ve been working on if for several years,” she explained.
The musical premiered at the Marriott Theatre in Chicago to rave reviews.
“The audiences loved it,” Rockwell said. “It’s a family story and connects to Midwestern values. Families from small towns especially identify with it. In the cast, we have eight or nine actors from San Diego with great talent, a handful of actors from the original company, and new ones from New York. But we’ve made a lot of changes in the show, so they are all learning together.”
According to Rockwell, the story is very similar to the film, but with a musical score to enhance it. “Fans of the film will not be disappointed,” she said. “Because we have to show them the story (we can’t just rely on camera shots) it’s a little more active than the film version. We noticed at the Marriott Theatre premiere that some of the gentlemen were shredding tears ... the story is very strong on the father-son relationship.”
One of her favorite scenes contains the song “Moonshine.”
“It’s really a fun song,” she said. “The score is beautiful, unique and a wonderful combination of rockabilly music of the era. The tone is of the Appalachian music of West Virginia.”
She said the play has an incredible appeal for all ages and will have a profound impact on anyone who was alive when Sputnik launched.
“That was a life-changing experience on Earth, and it altered the way humans think about what we can and can’t do,” she said. “It opened doors. Young people, who are still at the beginning of their journeys and deciding what their dreams are going to be, will find this show compelling. It will have parents thinking about what they do for their children and the sacrifices they make. It’s also got broad appeal for fathers and sons with its rich story-telling, and it’s also good family entertainment grounded in 1957 ... a story of hope for parents, little ones and seniors.”
IF YOU GO: “October Sky,” runs Sept. 10 to Oct. 23 on The Old Globe Theatre’s Shiley Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park, San Diego. Tickets from $36. (619) 234-5623. theoldglobe.org