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'Saturday's Warrior' returns with new, contemporized 40th anniversary show

By Cecily Markland

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, June 30 2014 11:35 a.m. MDT

The musical "Saturday's Warrior," which debuted in 1974, returned to the stage with a contemporized 40th anniversary version of the show in Arizona on June 26.

“To bring ‘Saturday’s Warrior’ back after 40 years has been a major undertaking,” says director Norlan Jacobs, who directed the original show that played to more than 200 sold-out audiences in Utah.

The 40th anniversary version of the musical includes new staging, updated costuming and choreography, and the addition of full orchestration.

“It has easily taken 20,000 man hours to put together,” Jacobs said, “but the result is a bigger, better, more beautiful show than ever.”

The show’s success began in 1973 when Doug Stewart’s script won first place in a Utah Arts Council-sponsored playwriting contest. After productions at Brigham Young University and one in Southern California in early 1974, by fall of that year, Stewart, with co-writer and composer Lex de Azevedo, had formed Omega Productions, and two touring companies began playing to sellout audiences in California, Utah and other Western states.

Over the years, “Saturday’s Warrior” has played in more than 300 cities in 37 states, as well as in Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, France, South Africa and South America.

Jacobs said the show’s popularity is due to a number of factors, including a blend of humor and drama, along with music and lyrics that become instant favorites.

The anniversary show brings the Flinders family front and center. The musical opens in the pre-existence, where eight children — all assigned to be born on Earth as members of the Flinders family — discuss their life in mortality and make promises to support one another through life’s trials. Yet, on Earth, with memories of the pre-existence forgotten, those family bonds are threatened, as Jimmy, the eldest, faces personal struggles that cause him to question who he is and his mission in life.

“It deals wonderfully with real family struggles for unity and deals honestly with issues of peer pressure and the questions of who we are and where we have come from,” said Michele Baer, who saw the show as a teenager and now opens the Arizona show as the “matron.”

“The 40th anniversary production delivers the great songs and story of the original,” she said. “There is magic in the songs and power in the story. Together, it becomes an unforgettable experience for audiences.”

Jerry Jackman of Jackman Music has helped with the orchestration and music, so, “For the first time, the musical will be accompanied by a full, live orchestra, as well as reintroducing a live choir,” Jacobs said. “This will further enhance the musical richness of this production."

Other updates to the script, lyrics and costuming make the musical more relevant to today. In addition, a modern set, complete with a rotating section in the center, along with highly technical artistic effects add to the appeal for today’s audience, Jacobs said.

Plus, he added, “We’ve got an excellent, wonderful, amazingly talented cast. All of the roles are double cast, and every one of these performers is amazing.”

“Saturday’s Warrior was a show I watched every Sunday when I was a child,” said Kristin Mabb, a professional performer who, among other things worked at the Utah Shakespeare Festival and now, a resident of Mesa, Arizona, is cast as Mrs. Flinders for the anniversary show. “With this new, updated show, many more people will come to love 'Saturday’s Warrior' like so many did in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The show is a catchy, focused-on-the-family show.”

“It’s a phenomenal production,” Baer said. “You get a feeling of heaven on Earth, an eternal perspective, through the magic of theater and music.”

“Saturday’s Warrior” will continue at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts in Gilbert at least through July 12, and longer as ticket sales warrant. Tickets are available at www.saturdayswarrioraz.com.

Cecily Markland, freelance writer, editor, publicist and author of "Hope: One Mile Ahead" and the children’s book "If I Made a Bug," is owner of Inglestone Publishing, editor of The Beehive newspaper and The Bee-line, an LDS e-letter of events in AZ

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