It was 1973. Richard Nixon was still in the White House, but the Watergate scandal was heating up. The Vietnam War was dragging on, although peace efforts were emerging. Roe v. Wade was in the news. The population of the planet was a growing concern. Elvis Presley was making headlines with a worldwide concert broadcast from Hawaii. George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees. Tony Orlando and Dawn were at the top of the charts with "Tie a Yellow Ribbon," while Roberta Flack was "Killing Me Softly With His Song." "The Six Million Dollar Man" debuted on TV.
And that summer in Salt Lake City, a little Mormon musical called "Saturday's Warrior" hit the stage. The world of Mormon theater and entertainment would never be quite the same.
"We weren't really trying to break new ground," said Doug Stewart, who teamed with Lex de Azevedo to produce the musical. "We were both living in Southern California at the time, and we just wanted to let our hair down a bit, have a laugh or two. It was just going to be music with narration. In fact, we had five songs written before we had a story."
They started thinking it should be more than that, "but I wrestled and wrestled with what it should be," Stewart said.
"I couldn't come up with anything," he said. "Lex had already made it big in the entertainment industry, and I began to have doubts. Who was I to think I could do this?"
About that time, Stewart moved to Provo to take a position at Brigham Young University.
"Lex would call and say 'anything yet?"' Stewart said. "Over a period of several months I fasted and prayed a lot. Finally, one night, I prayed, 'Heavenly Father, what more is required of me?' And then I couldn't stop writing. I had the outline for the show within 30 minutes. When I shared it with Lex, he was amazed. He even wept at the end. But we still had no idea where it would go."
The two entered "Saturday's Warrior" into a statewide playwriting contest. It won first prize, and that prize was a full-fledged production at BYU. The buzz heated up quickly.
"Saturday's Warrior" played all summer to packed houses in the old South High auditorium in Salt Lake City.
"It was so phenomenal," Stewart said. "We began to wonder what we had created."
The next year, "Saturday's Warrior" played in Utah, California and Idaho.
"For several years it went like gangbusters," Stewart said.
It also opened the door for other "unofficial," LDS-themed entertainment in a big way.
To celebrate the 35th anniversary of the pivotal production, Stewart is bringing it back with a sequel called "The White Star."
Initial plans called for just the production of the sequel, but director Matt Neves, who actually performed in "Saturday's Warrior" as a college student, came up with the idea of combining the two works into one 2 1/2-hour production.
"The White Star" follows the character of Jimmy Flinders, the rebel teenager from "Saturday's Warrior," as he now deals with the struggles of raising his own family. Watching over them from beyond and acting as narrator for the entire production is his twin sister, Pam.
It's a story of love and caring from opposite sides of the veil, said Stewart.
"Is it doctrinal? It's theater," he said. "We take licenses. But the spirit of it is absolutely accurate."
For the music for "Star," Stewart turned to LDS songwriter Janice Kapp Perry. The production actually debuted at BYU Education Week last year.
"That was the off-Broadway opening," Stewart joked.
The combined production will have a "soft opening" in Logan this weekend, followed by its "world premiere" for two weekends at Cottonwood High School in Murray. It will then be performed in Roy, St. George, Idaho and other places.
Doing the two works together provided a casting challenge, said Neves. They had to find someone who could play the teenage Jimmy as well as the adult father. But they found their guy in Casey Elliott, of Ogden, who most recently completed a national tour as Radames in Disney's "Aida" and will again be touring in China with that production in the fall.
"Saturday's Warrior" debuted before most, if not all, the new cast was born.
"I wasn't all that familiar with it," said Elliott. "But I called my mother-in-law. She told me it was a great role, that I'd get to do some great acting. It is a cool role.
"Early on Jimmy struggles to find his identity as a person and a member of the church. As an older man, he has trials that cycle back. It's very true-to-life. And the music is beautiful and fun."
The role of Pam will be played by Carrie Colton, a student at Weber State University, who grew up knowing the story.
"The movie version was the one thing we could watch on Sunday," she said with a laugh. "But it is so much fun to play Pam. You go in thinking she's perfect, but she has trials that are just as hard; she has a lot of pain in her life."
Neves, a professor at Southern Utah University, loved being in "Saturday's Warrior" when he was young, "but I'd moved on," he said. "I'd pretty much forgotten it. What really caught my attention was the sequel. It's so powerful, so moving. I could connect personally with it, and I'm excited to help the audience connect personally to it."
Bring the tissue, he advised: "There are some very moving scenes."
Stewart decided to write a sequel because "Saturday's Warrior" was really a musical for another generation, he said.
"Today's issues are different," he said. "I wanted to write something with relevance for families today a musical for our time."
Pairing the two together "offers people a unique theater experience that they've never had before," Stewart said."We still have all the fun stuff, but I think there's a lot of wallop, too. It will be unlike any other experience."
IF YOU GO . . .
What: Saturday's Warrior/The White Star
Where: Cottonwood High School Auditorium
When: June 13-16, 20-23
Tickets: 888-359-3277 or www.LDSmusical.comAlso showing: Logan, June 7, 9; Roy, June 28-30; Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, Las Vegas, St. George, Phoenix
E-mail: [email protected]