New John Denver Musical, BACK HOME AGAIN, Tunes Up for San Francisco Run

BACK HOME AGAIN is aimed for New York, but is in no hurry.

Back Home Again, Stuart F. Lane’s musical that uses the John Denver songbook to tell the story of an Afghan war veteran trying to find his place in life after his return to America, will get its first full production January 11-21 at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, CA, near San Francisco.

The musical, which uses 16 Denver hits like "Rocky Mountain High,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and “Take Me Home, Country Road" to tell the original story by Lane, has been in development for six years, Lane told Playbill.com.

Lane described himself as an admirer of Denver’s, and not just for his music. “His songs promoted humanity, the environment, home, and family.” Lane envisioned a stage show that would not be a revue or a concert, but “a completely new, original, dramatic story where the songs move along the plot and engage the audience. I wanted to give context to the songs so the audience can see them in a new light.”

Back Home Again, which draws its title from another of Denver's pop hits, is about “a soldier searching for himself and finding it through his family and his girlfriend,” Lane said.

The California production features Maddie Shea Baldwin, Shawn Bowers, Brian Russell Carey, Brad Greer, Michael James, Jessica Jaunich, Sarah Killough, Jeff McCarthy, Ethan Steiner, Billy Harrigan Tighe, Kalyn West, and Whitney Winfield.

The Walnut Creek production is directed by Sheldon Epps, choreographed by Patricia Wilcox, with scenic design by John Iacovelli, costume design by Nicole Wee, lighting design by Jared A. Sayeg, sound design by Rafe Carlotto, with music direction, arrangements, and orchestrations by David O. Casting is by Stewart/Whitley.

Here are some examples of how the songs are used. “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” which was written by Denver but better known as a hit for Peter, Paul and Mary, was Denver’s ballad about how he hated to leave home and go on concert tours. It has been repurposed as the soldier’s song of farewell to his fiance as he goes off to war. “Rocky Mountain High” becomes a story about how the soldier’s grandfather finds salvation through nature in the mountains.

An early draft of the show was done at the Dix Hills Performing Arts Center on Long Island, followed by workshops in Manhattan after Epps came aboard as director. “John Denver [1943-1977] was an amazing troubadour,” Lane said. “The arranger, David O, has done an amazing job with John’s songs, turning solos into duets, trios and choral interpretations.”

Early in the show’s development, Lane was given the John Denver Spirit Award for his work in keeping the songs alive, and introducing a new generation to the spirit of Denver’s work.

But while he said he’d eventually like to see it done in New York, he is in no hurry, and is planning a series of productions elsewhere in the U.S. “This kind of show has a huge audience everywhere but New York. With the exception of Waitress, country-Western songs have had a checkered history on Broadway. San Francisco will be a great place to start. It’s outsdoorsy, but there are plenty of theatre people. After that we can go almost anywhere; Texas, Oklahoma, you name it.”

Lane has lofty expectations for the project. “I think we have a great American musical here that will unify the country, and help bring us together,” he said. “It’s a very positive show.”

The show is being produced by Lane‘s wife and business partner Bonnie Comley, and Harold Thaw; co-produced by Alex Washer, Leah Lane, and Alyssa Renzi; and associate-produced by Jay Hershkowitz.

Tickets can be ordered at lesherartscenter.org, by phone at (925) 943-7469, or at the Lesher Center box office at 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA.