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Is ‘On The Eve’ On The Verge Of Taking Off?

by Jerome Weeks 16 Jan 2014 9:17 PM

It’s the little musical that could. A whimsical, post-mod take on hot-air balloons, freedom, repression and time travel. On the Eve has moved from a workshop in Fair Park to a full-fledged world premiere at Theatre Three.


OTE74_SpacegroveAntoinetteSeth Magill as Chase Spacegrove and Martha Harms as Marie Antoinette in On the Eve.

On the Eve is a highly unusual musical. It’s not often a show is first workshopped by a tiny Dallas troupe, then gets picked up by a more established company – in this case, Theatre Three, where On the Eve has its world premiere this weekend. But KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports that’s just the start of the show’s peculiarities.

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First up, it’s almost impossible to explain On the Eve – at least, the story the musical relates. To give some idea of how post-modern and whimsical it is, let’s begin with what inspired the show. Its creators are friends who met at SMU: bookwriter Michael Federico and Seth and Shawn Magill, the husband-and-wife songwriting team behind the local band Home by Hovercraft. Years ago, Seth wanted to create a children’s show about Marie Antoinette and the Montgolfier brothers. He’d read that the Montgolfiers invented the first, manned hot-air balloon —  with their first test passenger in 1783 being a sheep.

Magill was interested in the topic because, as he admits with a laugh, he was in James and the Giant Peach at the Dallas Children’s Theater, “and I was doing character study for my earthworm character. I was just studying other animals that had flown in balloons that couldn’t fly because I was trying to connect with them.”

correctedThe children’s show idea didn’t take off. But Federico and the Magills would occasionally meet and re-unite, as they moved from town to town, and the idea kept bouncing around, until Federico took it and made it into a play within a play. This gets a little Pirandello-ish: We now see the whole Marie Antoinette-hot-air-balloon story being enacted by a theater troupe as if this were their last performance (the show is officially described as “post-apocalyptic”). But the actors catch the spirit of the French Revolution. They rebel against their tyrannical theater manager.

But On the Eve then turns into Six Characters in Search of a Time Zone. The show slips into time travel with a Han Solo-ish, buccaneering space pilot (played by Seth Magill) popping up.

“Yes, Chase Spacegrove,” says Federico, “a hero who’s absolutely failed at being a hero. So we get to see him sort of exposed and then he has his own journey.”

“Yeah,” says Seth. “He finds his inner hero, I guess you could say.”

And we haven’t even gotten around to explaining characters like The Holy Anointed Minister of the Church’s Belief. In addition to all these shifts and hops in time and space – or perhaps despite them – the original production of On the Eve in November 2012 had two major attractions. First was the music by Home by Hovercraft. They provide a catchy folk pop with cabaret flavorings, courtesy of the occasional cello, tuba or xylophone — not to mention the clog dancing. In fact, On the Eve is probably the first locally created musical whose songs were released on an album. Last March, Home by Hovercraft’s second CD, Are We Chameleons?, came out with eight songs from On the Eve.

The show’s other attraction was director Jeffrey Schmidt’s production design. Schmidt is an associate artist at Theatre Three who’s provided that company with some smart-looking shows, notably The Farnsworth Invention. The original On the Eve was staged in Fair Park’s tiny Magnolia Theatre, and Schmidt gave the whole space a deliberately ramshackle and tongue-in-cheek style, as if it had been assembled from cardboard boxes and scarves by a high school shop class or maybe hippies on a bus. For the new staging at Theatre Three, a few actors have been added and a new song, but Schmidt has kept the rickety, thrift-shop atmosphere albeit with an upgrade in budget and technology. The overall ‘re-purposed’ look and feel suit the musical’s pieced-together nature — which Seth and Shawn Magill insist was actually quite carefully crafted.

rehearsal2editGregory Lush, fight choreographer Sara Romersberger, director/designer Jeffrey Schmidt, Martha Harms and Maryam Baig rehearsing On the Eve at Theatre Three. Photo credit: Jerome Weeks

“I mean, watertight’s not probably a good term,” Seth says, “because I don’t know that I would trust it to take me out for a long time at sea. But now I’m rambling. But I do feel like it is watertight, but the way it’s cobbled together – “

“There’s a lot of tar and spirit gum,” Shawn interjects with a laugh.

“Yeah,” says Seth, “but if you keep the tar and spirit gum moving and stay on top of things . . . ” He leaves the thought unfinished.

If you do keep it all moving, who knows how far On the Eve might float? Or fly? Reportedly, other theaters will be checking it out – for possible future productions.

Musical excerpts from On the Eve:

  • “Talk”

  • “Lie in Your Bed”

  • “Modernized”

  • “Rocket”