Music swells as the show opens, introducing the audience to what love is represented through song. As the production continues, sounds echo and each sound is tailored to represent love in different ways.
The musical song cycle, written by Michael Wysong, sophomore from Larned, and Brody Horn, a senior from Columbus, present love as an idea, something that is both tumultuous and understanding. During auditions for “Love is…” potential candidates filled out a brief questionnaire asking what love meant to them.
“Everyone had so many interesting responses,” Wysong said. “My absolute favorite one was where someone wrote down ‘Love is gentle,’ then scratched it out and wrote ‘Shit.’ I was like, ‘That's great. I love that. There's a song there.’”
Wysong and Horn met last year in a cabaret class. Although their styles of music were different, the two felt they’d be a great artistic match for one another.
“He’s got a great voice, and I wanted to write for it,” Wysong said.
He said the two started writing pop songs together based on their own experiences and those of others.
“I’ve been in love, I’ve been heartbroken; both of those feelings are so opposite, but are from the same place,” Horn said. “Writing about heartbreak is much easier than about love because when you’re in love, how do you express that?”
The two began collaborating on the “Love is…” project last semester. It will premiere on May 9 at 8 p.m.
“I wanted it to be something college students could get into,” Wysong said. “I wanted the style of it to meld musical conventions with radio pop. It’s not your mother’s musical, but it’s also not something your friend would listen to on the radio either.”
The musical song cycle, fittingly named “Love is…” features a scene of a couple in turmoil periodically interrupted by numerous songs about relationships and love. Each song tells a story with a different character than the last, and a different story than the subplot scene.
“There’s one woman who comes out and sings about how she’s an actress and she left to go pursue her dreams,” Wysong said. “There’s a guy who thinks his girlfriend is cheating on him and is going through her cell phone; that’s just a fun song.”
Wysong was also recently awarded a research grant to study musical song cycles, something with very little previous academic work.
Song cycles differ from musicals in that there isn’t a major plot carrying through the production. A song cycle has a theme that carries throughout the show, but not necessarily characters or plots.
Wysong will travel to New York City during spring break to attend shows, meet writers of other song cycles and spend time working in his field.
“The grant was icing on the cake,” he said. “The research is my baby, but the show is our child.”
John Staniunas, a professor in the Department of Theatre, is Wysong’s mentor for the academic grant. Staniunas met Wysong last year and said Wysong blew him away.
“He was immediately cast in our first musical,” Staniunas said. “He’s very impressive musically. He knows music extremely well and of all the students I’ve ever had, he's the most knowledgeable about musical theatre I've ever taught.”
Between the grant and the production, Staniunas said Wysong is setting himself up for future success.
“Scholarship, research and production are the best of all three worlds coming together,” he said. “I think Michael is very driven, and he’s going to make a mark in musical theatre one way or another. We’re very excited he’s part of our program.”
The professor said some of Wysong’s best attributes are his musicianship, sense of humor, “crazy, wacky way of looking at the world” and his passion.
But, Horn said, the planning and execution of this milestone can also be nerve-wracking.
“It’s really exciting, but it’s also terrifying,” Horn said. “It’s the first time we’ve shared our songs with public audiences. It’s very...new for both of us.”
Wysong said his biggest concern is audiences relating to the work of two college students. Wysong said he worries people will think he and Horn are naive, since both in their early 20s.
Horn recognized his concerns as well, but said he believes audiences will find a piece of themselves in the music.
“We’re trying to show how love is a complex thing,” Horn said. “It’s the most complex feeling any human being can have. Hopefully people will leave happy.
“Hopefully, if people don’t relate to the whole show, there's at least one song in there that people can feel represents how they feel about love in this moment,” he said.
— Edited by Vicky Diaz-Camacho