SALT LAKE CITY — Some people go to Costco and come away with bulk foods. Songwriter/playwright Michael McLean goes there and comes away with the idea for his new two-person musical, “Threads.”
“I was there with my 2-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, Sadie,” he said, explaining that her real name is Proxeda Louise, “but I call her Sadie so she won’t have to be home-schooled.”
“We’re walking through Costco and we see the princess costume dresses,” McLean said while sipping a diet something in a Deseret Book conference room in downtown Salt Lake City. “And she has to have one of those dresses. When I finally relent and buy the dress for her, the joy in her face is so overwhelming I decide I’m going to buy her everything she wants for the rest of her life.”
Standing there in Costco, McLean says he had “this huge epiphany about women and clothes.” The music and lyrics of a song — “I’m Not Leaving ‘Til I’ve Got That Dress On Me” — started coming together in his mind.
“I started thinking about women and clothes,” he said. “In my mind I saw this fashion show, with all of these really amazing women I’ve known over the course of my life. They walk the runway of the fashion show wearing remarkably different things that reflect their lives. They are all beautiful in their own way, and their clothes become a metaphor for choices they’ve made as well as a device that allows them to sing about their lives.
“And I’m sitting there thinking, I want to give part of that outfit to Sadie,” McLean continued. “I want to get everything Sadie needs from these incredible women.”
The result of McLean’s epiphany is “Threads,” a new musical that is premiering this weekend with performances in Vernal (Friday, May 10, at the Uintah High School auditorium) and Salt Lake City (Saturday, May 11, at the Cottonwood High School auditorium).
Upcoming performances are scheduled for Gilbert, Ariz., (June 1 in the Mesquite Auditorium in Gilbert), and Richfield, Utah (June 22 at the Sevier Valley Center).
For times and ticket information please go to threadsshow.com.
The show is intimate, with a cast of two that includes McLean and McKenzie Turley, who plays nine different characters ranging from a little white girl to an older black gospel singer.
“McKenzie is amazing,” McLean said. “We did some recording in Nashville and the production people were just blown away by her. They kept asking me, ‘Who is this? Why haven’t we heard of her?’ Well, they will. She’s that talented.”
The intimacy of “Threads” comes as a result of McLean’s 2005 experience producing his earlier musical, “The Ark,” off-Broadway.
“I came home from that experience disappointed,” he said. “All my life I had dreamed of playing in that sandbox (he graduated from high school, he says, “across the river from New York City”), but we ended up getting sand kicked in our faces.”
Not by audiences, who he said gave the show standing ovations every night. But by critics who “hammered the show” because “this musical dared to talk about hope and God and redemption and reconciliation.”
“It was like the critics were saying, ‘How dare you!’” McLean said.
“The Ark” was produced on a business model predicated upon success in New York.
“If you can keep the show going in New York long enough that it finds its audience and achieves success, then you can take it anywhere,” McLean said. “But I decided that model doesn’t work — it costs too much.”
So he started thinking about creating smaller shows that are affordable and producible, like his popular Christmas production, “The Forgotten Carols.” He also started thinking about doing shows that focused on his primary audience: women.
“The New York audience is not necessarily my audience,” he said. “My audience is mainstream American women, ages 15-83. It’s mothers and their daughters. That’s who comes to my shows. And I thought, ‘I would love to do a show that is aimed specifically at my audience.’”
All it took to come up with the idea was a trip to Costco with his granddaughter.
“This show speaks to the audience that I understand about things that I care about deeply,” McLean said.
Although "Threads" is now ready to begin speaking to that audience about those deeply felt things, McLean doesn't consider it to be "finished." The show has evolved through the creative process and will likely continue to evolve as it is performed, he said. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“For me, the joy is not in the performance,” he said. “I’m grateful that people come, and that they respond as they do. But I’m not kidding myself — people don’t come to see my shows because I’m such a great performer, because I’m not.
“For me,” he continued, “the thrill is in the creation. It’s in the process. It’s in the growth. That’s how I learn stuff. So I’m thrilled to be doing it again.”