“Yet Another Funeral” far from “yet another” musical

Photos of the cast of “Yet Another Funeral” courtesy of photographer Kelly Tunney. In photo: Clayton Rush & Kayla Grimm.

Photos of the cast of “Yet Another Funeral” courtesy of photographer Kelly Tunney. In photo: Clayton Rush & Kayla Grimm.

To create something from scratch is a herculean task. There is no source material. No standards to fall back on, nor previous creators work to emulate. It all comes down to vision, inspiration and assembling the best team you can to bring the creation to life. Recently, the California University Theatre Department undertook this challenge by producing one of its six annual theater shows from a pair of student’s work.

The name of the production is ‘Yet Another Funeral,’ music and lyrics by Dominic A. Carrola with libretto by Anthony N. Carrola and directed by California University of Pennsylvania Professor, Dr. Michele A. Pagen. The Carrolas are students and Dr. Pagen a Professor.

“The production started out as just a simple suggestion back in 2014 between Dominic and myself while working on Miracle on 34th Street, the Musical,” Dr. Pagen recalls.

Following that conversation, Dom took to writing, rewriting, and then rewriting some more. He drew inspiration for Disney and Dickens, definitely an eclectic mix when considering musical theater.  His writing partner, Anthony resisted the project initially as musical theater simply wasn’t his genre.

“I’m more of an action and drama guy, “says Anthony.

Despite his resistance, Dominic eventually convinced him to join the project. The two began to bounce varying storylines off of each other. They would settle on one and then spiral it out into as many creative directions imaginable until they settled on one that seemed to stick: loss and depth of character. Character rich, Dom tapped his own past for things that inspired him musically.

“I grew up in a culture of Disney and musicals. Disney always gives a culture to the music as if it is an additional character to the film,” Dom added. “Then the characters of course. I was influenced by the Dickens story, ‘Our Mutual Friend,’ which combined psychological insight with social analysis.”

“There’s kind of this mindset people have about getting what they want,” Anthony adds. “Things that people want versus what it is that they lose.  This is the core of the story.”

The logical setting for their blossoming story and characters and concept is a funeral.

The next part of getting this dream from paper to center stage rested on the California University and its willingness to provide resources and support for the project. Typically, staff sits down with the faculty a year in advance to select six shows for the upcoming year. The selections are made to meet the needs of the program, students and community.

“This was a very easy sell to produce,” recalls Dr. Pagen. “We had a new crop of faculty that was enthusiastically behind the project and a very excited student body who constantly check the events board for opportunities.”

The dream was in motion. Next the team of Pagen, Corrola and Corrola had to select the right actors for the newly cast characters, stage crew, lighting, sets, make-up, everything. They were working from scratch which is both challenging and exciting.

“Michele reaffirms, “It’s really exciting if you think about it. I told the cast they will be the first cast to ever play these roles, ever.”

Photos of the cast of “Yet Another Funeral” courtesy of photographer Kelly Tunney. In photo: (l-r) Sidney Popielarcheck, Kitty Hoffman, Nick Franczak, Kayla Grimm, Saleem Carpenter & Amelia Wisinski

Photos of the cast of “Yet Another Funeral” courtesy of photographer Kelly Tunney. In photo: (l-r) Sidney Popielarcheck, Kitty Hoffman, Nick Franczak, Kayla Grimm, Saleem Carpenter & Amelia Wisinski

The first table reading with the actors took place only two months ago and here the cast and crew are on the eve of the first ever production of ‘Yet Another Funeral.’ Be sure to get your tickets early for this landmark presentation that will be seen for the first time anywhere from this young stage writing duo. You may just be saying to yourself, “I remember when I saw this for the very first time,” one day.

Dates for the show are: April 7, 8 and 9 at 8 p.m., April 9 at 2 p.m.

Steele Hall’s Mainstage Theatre

Tickets are .50 for students with a CalCard, $12 for the public

Box office number is 724.938.5943

Assistant Director is Bethany Swan*; Choreographer is Maria Gismondi; Music Director is Yugo Ikach; Lighting and Projection Designer is Deb Peelor; Scenic and Properties Designer is Sabrina Hykes-Davis; Costume Designer is Joni J. Farquhar; Production Stage Manager is Kellee Cohlhepp*

Michael Meketa is the Orchestrator*

*are current students
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Story by Fred Terling for Pennsylvania Bridges