What do you get when you mix the creative talents of multiple Pepperdine graduates with the experience of a professional musical theater composer?
An unconventional rock drama that blows the corsets off Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge!”
“HERE.I.AM” is a modern-day adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984” that explores issues of privacy and freedom from the technological perspective of today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world.
It is the brainchild of 1997 Seaver theater arts alumnus Pete Deutschman, who called in most of his Pepperdine and professional contacts in transforming his brief treatment into a full-blown musical he and his collaborators dubbed a rock drama.
“What ‘Moulin Rouge!’ has done is garner the attention of a new generation of musical theater individuals, and in that, musical theater doesn’t have to be musical comedy,” Deutschman said. “It is using music, using lyrics, using a mode that is very familiar to our generation — the Napster generation that is downloading MP3s left and right — to tell a story.
“I look at the success of country music in the early 90s,” he continued. “If you look at any country music song it tells a story. Our generation is hungry for stories, hungry for stories and music. It’s a revolution that is taking place right now. ‘Moulin Rouge!’ was the first step, I think ‘HERE.I.AM’ will be the second.”
The creative team includes 2001 Seaver graduates Ben Murrie and Andrew James, 1999 graduate Kevin Sage and musical theater veteran conductor Rob Blaney. Deutschman is producing the project through C2C Entertainment Group, Inc., of which he is president and CEO. Michael Kirsch of Imax films also worked with the group in developing the video elements of the musical, now a year and a half in development.
“It had always been a dream of mine to do an adaptation of George Orwell’s ‘1984,’ ” said Deutschman, who is also the executive vice president for the entertainment Internet media and development firm VPI.Net.
After writing a treatment for what was originally called “2004,” Deutschman sought out writers who could add cohesion to his ideas.
“I knew it needed to have two writers who had not been through the formal show development to Broadway process,” he said. “The collaborative process can be really intense at times. We needed to have a fresh voice, specifically for this project. This project is targeted for a new audience for theater, a new audience for Broadway and we needed to have a voice that spoke for that.”
He found that voice in Murrie and James, though they entered Pepperdine the fall after he graduated. He met Murrie, a psychology alumnus and son of Pepperdine communication professor Dr. Michael Murrie, and James, a liberal arts, composition and theater alumnus, through his fraternity, Sigma Chi. Both actors, the pair met as freshmen and started their a successful production company, 5th Talent Productions, their sophomore year.
Deutschman found his music man in Rob Blaney, who he and his wife, 1999 Seaver graduate April Madigan-Deutschman, had worked with on “Cabaret” and “Godspell.” Though not a Pepperdine alumnus, Blaney ran in Sigma Chi’s recent Run/Walk for Hope and “fully intends on taking a class” someday.
The foursome brought in Sage, a Seaver theater alumnus, to direct the various readings they have held. A producer, writer, actor and director, Sage helped bring the characters to life.
“You start to feel like a parent, you really get attached to the characters,” Sage said of collaborating on the rock drama.
The Pepperdine connections don’t end at just those actively involved in the creative process.
“The characters involved are all loosely based on individuals we know, because of that they all have a very unique voice,” Deutschman said. “Most of the character’s went to Pepperdine.”
But what exactly is a rock drama?
“To my knowledge a rock drama has not been attempted,” Deutschman said. “There are rock operas, like ‘Rent,’ but not rock dramas. In ‘HERE.I.AM’ there is serious dialogue, serious moments where you can pull entire scenes out and have a legitimate play.”
The music also sets the show apart.
“We wanted to stay away from the musical theater cliché of song, and then action and then a song again,” James said. “We wanted the musical to really stem from the emotions of the characters and to be a lot more passionate than maybe some other musical songs are. Hopefully the songs in this rock drama are there more of an extension of the inner monologue, rather than to communicate something else. They are there because the characters can’t do anything else but sing what they are feeling.”
Blaney, who has been involved musically in more than 90 shows, especially wanted the music to stand on its own in the pop/rock genre.
“Someone can hear one of these songs being performed on a rock station and not know it is from a musical,” he said.
The term, of course, is also their own creation.
“Once they pulled the ballet number, rock drama really fit,” Sage said jokingly.
The drama of the show explores the relationship between two best friends, Robert and Brian, and the powerful wireless tracking technology that challenges their friendship. Robert finds himself unknowingly leading the project, called HE-NAY-NI (Hebrew for HERE.I.AM), that Brian is fighting against.
“Today’s political issues are privacy and freedom,” Deutschman said. “When it was conceived it was truly in my mind of being an important issue we were all going to be facing in the future. Technology and wireless technology and security holes and data being transferred back and forth through the Internet seemed to me … to be becoming a much larger issue.
“It wasn’t until Sept. 11 that we really truly realized how important this is going to be in the short term and in the long run,” he continued. “And how important it is for all of us in society to make that decision of what is more important, our freedom or our privacy.”
Murrie said that Sept. 11 brought a “certain relevance to the topics at hand” as he and James continue to revise the script.
Deutschman, who studied Biblical Hebrew as his foreign language at Pepperdine, drew the name for the project from a passage in Genesis where Abraham tells God “Here I am.” According to Deutschman, however, the FBI has a similar database.
He regularly sends James and Murrie articles about new technology that is just around the corner and about privacy and freedom concerns that echo the dialogue of their characters. The setting is a “world slightly skewed,” as it hints at technology just around the corner.
The show is not just about technology, however.
“It is about brotherhood, friendship, what is right,” Deutschman said. “The privacy and freedom aspect is there, but it is almost like an additional character.”
Deutschman and his collaborators have high hopes for the rock drama — they want to simultaneously premiere it on the New York stage just as the celebrity cover album and feature film is released.
Although the group is still seeking investors, they have captured the interest of both Hollywood producers and the four top workshoping theaters in New York after only one formal reading.
Deutschman said they meet possible investors and strategic partners several times each week. Los Angeles lawyer Mike Backstrom, also a 1997 Seaver graduate, is the legal adviser for the group.
The word of mouth has allowed Deutschman to recruit veterans from Broadway, film and television to perform at the April 17 reading, as well as former Songfest host Dwayne Britton, a 1997 Seaver graduate, to play Robert. His ability to schmooze creative talent may be the reason his brainchild is maturing so quickly.
“(The members of the creative team) are absolute genius and I am so fortunate to be working with them,” Deutschman said. “I have this theory to surround yourself with people who are excellent at what you think you can do and then take credit for it.”
April 04, 2002