Original musical follows the plight of the Lost Boys of Sudan
7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 16 Rockwell Room, 268 Main St. $20 for evening productions; $15 for Saturday matinee tanyataylorproductions.com
A meeting with two of the Lost Boys of Sudan nine years ago inspired Park City-based singer, songwriter and choreographer Tanya Taylor to learn more about the refugees’ plight.
Solomon Awan and Gabriel Atem, who lived in Salt Lake City at the time, were two out of more than 20,000 youths who were orphaned by the Sudanese Civil War, which lasted from 1983 to 2005 and killed millions.
“I don’t know why I asked to interview them, because I have no interviewing experience,” Taylor said. “But I felt like I should. And I feel like that meeting was supposed to happen, like it was intended by God.”
Little did Taylor know that interview would mark the start of a project that would culminate with a musical called “Sudan & Me,” which is set to premiere Friday, Feb. 15, and Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Rockwell Room.
The musical’s main characters are brothers Solomon and Deng.
Solomon, played by Tim Gallagher, is based on Awan, who, after spending 14 years in different refugee camps in across Africa, finally made it to the United States and graduated from college, according to Taylor.
Gallagher is a featured soloist with the Park City Singers choir.
On the other hand, Deng, who is portrayed by Vegaz Taelor — the son of B. Murphy, a former member of the vocal group the Platters — is a refugee having a hard time integrating into a society at peace.
“Some of the immigrants were forced to become child soldiers in the Sudanese Army when they were 11 and 12,” Taylor said. “And they saw and committed atrocities that no child should have had to do.”
Other actors in the musical include singer-songwriter Yanique Bland, Peg Tan and Nick Massarella.
Bland is a soloist with Le Pumz Dance Group, and Tan has performed in the Park City Follies, Taylor said.
Massarella has opened for LeAnn Rimes, Little Big Town and Dierks Bentley.
“This cast has been so supportive,” Taylor said. “They are 100 percent invested, and they have taken this on full-force.”
The music during the performance will be played by Taylor on piano, Bigatel on guitar and Palmer Krehel on percussion.
“What we wanted to do was tell the story of the Lost Boys through their own eyes,” Taylor said.
The idea to write the musical came after Taylor asked to attend a church service with the refugees at All Saints Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City shortly after she interviewed Awan and Atem.
“When I first started going, I remember sitting in this session that ran two-and-a-half hours,” Taylor said. “They were all speaking in Dinka, the Sudanese language, and I sat there thinking how tough it was.”
Not only was she the only white person in the congregation, she didn’t understand the language.
“I felt awkward, and that’s when I came to this stark realization of that was how they felt every day of their lives,” Taylor said. “I felt if I couldn’t find the compassion to sit there and be part of this, how can we expect them to feel comfortable integrating in our country? I mean, it takes work on everyone’s part. We have to be willing to extend ourselves like they are extending themselves.”
A few months ago, Taylor introduced Bigatel to the Lost Boys’ plight, and they recorded a podcast called “Sudan & Me.”
The podcast gives in-depth background on the Lost Boys’ story and serves as an introduction to the musical, Taylor said.
“These children have walked up to 10,000 miles, while they are scared and starving,” she said. “Many died, and the ones who survived ended up in refugee camps in either Ethiopia or Kenya.”
Creating a musical that follows a single narrative is a new challenge for Taylor, who is known more for revues.
“When I’ve done productions in the past, I usually highlighted songs from Broadway musicals or pop hits from certain eras,” she said. “But this features original songs, and there are story arcs and character developments.”
Most of the songs are written through the Lost Boys’ viewpoint, while others are written from the perspective of U.N. workers and child soldiers, Taylor said.
“Todd and I tried to be as accurate as possible,” she said. “We would do our research and read a book and write a song from what we had learned.”
Taylor said seeing the world through other people’s eyes is the secret of compassion.
“When we reach out to another human being and try to understand what they’ve been through, we come full circle in humanity,” she said. “You create a bond with that person, and we can bridge the cultural gap.”
“Sudan & Me” is about embracing other people’s culture and the challenges of integration.
“We ask how we can do better with welcoming immigrants into our culture,” Taylor said.
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