St. Louis Review features YSP program, new original musical ‘Just Pretend’

Thanks to Youth Sing Praise alumna Colleen Dulle for the feature article of the new musical ‘Just Pretend’ by Bradley J. Behrmann and Orin Johnson in the St. Louis Review.  The article also includes coverage of the Twitter Talk Back Session following the world premiere.  Photos by Weston Kenney.

Link to the full article here.

‘Just Pretend’: This Is Happening

I will take a page from Orin’s book and reflect for just a moment on the nearly two-year collaboration that will culminate tonight at 7pm with the first staged performance of Just Pretend, our new musical.  When Orin and I embarked on writing a musical, we batted around a number of scenarios, but the story of Esther—a young woman of faith—most appealed to us.  We were hopeful her story of struggling with when and how to reveal her faith to others would appeal to YSP participants as well.

I have to thank Orin who has been an incredible collaborator.  His music is smart even when it’s funny.  It’s cerebral, soulful, and even a bit sly.  The most fun I have had on this project are the times when we’ve both been in the same room crafting a song together, but the tunes I find myself humming while doing the dishes are all his.

I have to thank my dear friend Amanda who agreed to direct the project and who offered massive amounts of feedback following the January reading.  The number of friends and family who have lined up to help two novices put on their first show has been humbling.  Many thanks.

Though neither Orin nor I have children, we are proud parents nonetheless.  I have been able to witness the final stages of rehearsals this week, and just like a parent, we’ve watched these 45 participants help our baby to its feet.  I have a few nerves putting my child on display for everyone tonight, but like a parent I have to say, “It’s not perfect, but it’s ours.”

The character I most connect with in our show is Mordechai.  He gives Esther a “little nudge” towards expressing her faith more fully.  I hope our show is able to nudge these YSP participants and their audience towards a more full expression of faith.  And in conclusion, I nudge you (one more time) towards attending the show.  If you are able to join us tonight at 7pm at the OLS Shrine, we would be honored with your presence.

“Know you have faith enough.

Know you are strong and true

And that God’s love, always,

Like mine, will follow you.”

New Works, New Life

A solid two months have passed since the clock chimed in the New Year, and one persistent theme has emerged thus far in the way of my musical theatre life:  new works.  Thus far in 2015, I have…

…finished writing a new work.

…auditioned for a new work.

…performed in a staged reading of a new work.

The truth is that I’ve found religion in the new works process.  Though I never claimed to be on the cutting edge of new musicals, I felt ahead of the curve.  I had a bootlegged CD—yes, a CD—of The Last Five Years before most had heard of it.  I knew someone who worked on The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee before it moved to Broadway.  I enjoyed seeing new musicals.  I was hip, right?

My older, wiser self would tell my younger, more naïve self, “Nice try.”  I’ve come to realize that what my younger, more naïve self was actually enjoying were new ‘hit’ musicals.  Even the freshest, newest work that I could have hoped to see was already years, if not decades, old by the time my butt made it into the seat.  When I thought I had found a jewel of a show, I really was seeing only the most polished version of that stone.  That the work probably started out as a crude rock escaped my awareness as did any thought of the cutting, faceting, and grading of it.

My younger, more naïve self really had no concept of how shows developed.  I mean, I knew musicals had composers, lyricists, and book writers.  I knew there was source material out there—sometimes.  I knew there were things called ‘previews’ and ‘out-of-town tryouts’ where creators could change their mind about many facets of a show before officially opening it.  But really my knowledge was the theatrical equivalent of a four-year-old asking “Where do babies come from?”

It’s only been in the last fourteen months that I’ve been learning the answer.  When Orin and I decided we should write a musical together, we more or less walked upstream until we arrived at the headwaters of that mystical river known as ‘New Works.’  There’s not much up there.  It turns out most people who know what they’re doing are already in the river somewhere, paddling downstream towards a clearer destination than what we had.  We waded—and waited—up there in the headwaters for a couple of months.  I remember in our earliest meetings at Shaw Coffee, Orin and I just looked at each other.  The territory felt remarkably uncharted.

But we gradually started piecing together a boat for ourselves, and we launched our ship downstream.  Fourteen months of collaboration later, we are proud of our story of Esther, and I am anxious to share more about the process of creating Just Pretend as we draw closer to its premiere on June 27.


All the cool kids of St. Louis theatre and/or liturgy realms gathered for a reading of ‘Just Pretend’ on Jan. 10, 2015 at St. Margaret of Scotland in St. Louis.

Aside from that, I had the supreme pleasure of auditioning for a new work recently for some real stars of the musical theatre world right now.  I hesitate saying too much right now least I jinx it.  Truly, I am not holding my breath that I will be cast in the show, but that doesn’t stop me from praying for it daily.  The real takeaway for me was being able to read a script and score from some highly respected creators and see that it was a) not perfect and b) not finished.  It seems like everyone has to go back to the headwaters and work downstream.  What a relief.

The last project I alluded to just wrapped up yesterday.  Our MFA class at San Diego State was honored with the opportunity to work with Tony Award-winning actor and La Jolla Playhouse Artist-in-Residence BD Wong to perform a reading of his new musical Mr. Doctor, which he wrote with Wayne Barker.

The piece tells a beautiful story, and the themes it weaves using the play within a play (within a play) are intellectually and emotionally rich.  Theoretically, Mr. Doctor is at the same stage of development as Just Pretend, but let’s face it:  BD and Wayne know how to paddle a canoe better in these waters than Orin and me.  I have much to share from the experience, and I am excited to do so in the weeks ahead with this new series I’m calling “New Works, New Life.”

Next week, however, I’ll be revisiting the MFA process again with “Something’s Coming—Part 7” as we will be passing the one-year mark of an audition that literally changed my life.  Thanks for reading, friends.


The SDSU MFA Musical Theatre class performed ‘Mr. Doctor’ in the Experimental Theatre along with La Jolla Playhouse Artist-in-Residence BD Wong on Feb. 27-28, 2015.

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