Theater preview: 'Deseret the Musical' is author’s labor of love

Published: Saturday, Aug. 31 2013 1:30 p.m. MDT

James Bounous (Daniel), Summerisa Stevens (Allyson) and Spencer Stevens (Jacob) star in "Deseret the Musical."

Courtesy "Deseret the Musical"

PROVO — While a practicing family physician, Carl Bell delivered nearly 1,900 babies. He’s about to welcome another child — after a 15-year gestation.

“It has been a labor of love,” he says. “I’ve worked on this project for so long that I just had to let it have its birth.”

This baby is called “Deseret the Musical,” and Bell is the scriptwriter, lyricist and composer of some of the melodies.

“The script has literally been in his drawer all this time along with other things that he’s written,” says the director, Kymberly Mellen. “When he had spare time, in between his medical practice and raising 10 kids, he would shop it out at local theaters. But no one was interested in a new writer without a strong history of produced works. Ultimately, he decided, ‘You know, I’m 66 years old' — he just recently had a birthday — 'and I don’t want to go to my grave saying I should’a, could’a, would’a.’ ”

Bell has dabbled in writing plays for many years, and one of his plays, “A World and a Way,” was produced at Brigham Young University in 1983.

“I’ve always recognized the effectiveness of plays, so I enrolled in a playwriting course over at BYU. Of course, a requirement of the class was to write a play, and I learned quite a lot from the expert professors at the university there,” he says.

After encountering little substantive interest in his work, the author decided to demonstrate his faith in the play “by investing a substantial chunk of change to produce the piece himself,” Mellen says.

Once that decision was made, Bell focused more intently on perfecting his writing and invited musical arranger Karrol Cobb and orchestrator Kregg Mowrey, along with Mellen, to assist him.

While these contributors gave suggestions, “The story is a reflection of its author, who has lived a life of devotion to his religion and his family and to service in his community with his practice as a family doctor. You really feel his spirit,” Mellen says.

“At its heart it is a worshipful homage to Utah and the Mormon pioneers.”

“Deseret the Musical” is set 22 years after the pioneers entered what was then Deseret Territory, soon after the ceremonial Golden Spike was driven at Promontory Summit in 1869 to complete the first coast-to-coast rail network.

“With the arrival of the railroad, the people of the territory had the opportunity to get out of these valleys and mountains, to escape from the sagebrush and the dry weather and the hard life,” Bell explains. “So they had a decision to make. The train is the antagonist along with harsh life in the Deseret Territory.”

“With these new settlements, the pioneers are facing a different challenge. It’s not how to cultivate this land. It’s what happens when the outside world comes to Utah, for better or worse,” Mellen says.

The main character of “Deseret the Musical” is Allyson, a vivacious, 20-year-old yearning to see what life might hold outside of Utah. She is nearly engaged to Jacob, a strong and handsome hard-working farmer. When Daniel arrives from San Francisco and promises to take her to see the world, Allyson must to choose between following her dreams or staying with the people she loves.

“The message is commitment, a commitment to the people you love, and not throwing what you love away in exchange for dreams of something that might be better,” Bell says.

A version of the musical received acclaim from LDS composer Janice Kapp Perry, who called it “absolutely wonderful. Loved the songs. Loved the story. Nobody should miss it.”

“I know I won’t make any money by staging the show, but I hope audiences will be uplifted and entertained,” Bell says.

If you go

What: “Deseret the Musical”

Where: Covey Center for the Arts

When: Sept. 5-23

How much: $15-$22

Tickets: deseretthemusical.com

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