Production based on local author’s children’s book
By Ann McCreary
“The Last Salmon,” a compelling story based on a book by a local author and told through music composed by an award-winning songwriter, takes the stage at The Merc Playhouse on Feb. 26.
Described as “a chamber musical for kids and people who love them,” the show tells the story of a wild salmon, Buck, who travels with his fishy friends from his river home out to the ocean and back again.
Their sometimes-dangerous journey carries a message of hope for the future — not just for salmon but also for people and the world.
Music for the “The Last Salmon” was written by Casey James, who has written more than 100 songs recorded by major artists including Elton John, the Spinners, Lou Rawls, the Temptations, Johnny Mathis and Jennifer Lopez, among others.
James has a number of gold and platinum records to his credit, and has received numerous commissions for work performed in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Beijing.
James, who plays piano and sings in the production, has written music for the show using contemporary styles such as hip-hop and indie-pop.
The original production of “The Last Salmon” is written and directed by Ki Gottberg, artistic director of The Merc Playhouse and a drama professor at Seattle University.
The story is told through music and dialogue by seven singers and musicians, said Gottberg. It’s not a traditional play with sets and costumes, she explained.
“Its more of a music event rather than a theater event,” Gottberg said. “It’s more like going to a concert.”
Gottberg said the idea for the show began when she met local author Phil Davis in 2013 and began a conversation about his children’s book, The Last Salmon, and the idea of creating a theater production based on it.
“The book had a message and he wanted to get it out. I suggested we turn it into a chamber musical,” Gottberg said.
The book incorporates themes of Native American tradition. It is “a story about stewardship and harmony and about messages of the Great Spirit and natural balance,” Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, wrote in a forward to the book.
“It is a story about the world that sustains us all and about the stake we have in its future,” Frank said.
Gottberg said she was intrigued by the idea of incorporating conservation and environmental themes in a musical theater production. Davis is active in the Methow Conservancy, which is hosting post-performance discussions after some shows.
“To me, an arts organization is most interesting and successful when hookups are made with different interest groups like environmental groups. This was a perfect kind of set-up,” Gottberg said.
The show “is designed to be a kids’ production, in that the original book is a kids’ book,” she said. “It’s a really charming show. Adults will like it maybe even more than kids.”
The story is told from the perspectives of humans and salmon, as the singers/actors move between the characters.
In addition to Casey James, the performance features Dayton Edwards on flute and drums; Asa Daniels, on the trap set; George Schneider, flute and percussion; Rebecca Kenney, vocals; Andrew Tuller, guitar; and Nick Bosco, bass guitar.
“The show is all original and made in the Methow,” said Gottberg, who received a grant from Seattle University’s Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability last year to support her work in writing the script.
Performances will be held Feb. 26 – March 6, with show times at 7 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. March 3 is “Pay What You Can” night. The performance is about 70 minutes long. Tickets are $5 to $15.
Post-performance discussions facilitated by Methow Conservancy will be held immediately following the show on Feb. 27, March 3 and March 6.
For more information call 997-7529.