Rock opera 'Deep Love' takes the long road to NYC

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — There's not much to do in eastern Idaho in the winter. It's freezing, windy and depressing. Why not create a musical?

Stay-inside weather — plus a healthy dose of heartache — helped spark the creation in 2009 of "Deep Love: A Ghostly Rock Opera." Six years later it arrives in steamy on 42nd Street in New York City, a snowball's throw from Broadway.

The show is the creation of Garrett Sherwood, Ryan J. Hayes and Jon Peter Lewis, three artistic guys with little musical theater experience who shaped and grew it into one of the highlights of the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

The show's first real production was in Lewis' living room in 2010 for a handful of friends. He used Christmas lights to mark off the stage and filled bowls with dry ice to make fog.

"I remember the dry ice was hissing and popping during the performance," he said. "It's been a kind of learn-as-you-go type of thing."

The show will be among 52 live events at the festival, including 22 full musicals. It runs from Tuesday to July 27 at six venues in the city and all tickets are below $30.

Since launching in 2004, the festival has premiered more than 300 new musicals, some of which have gone on to a further life on or off Broadway, such as "Altar Boyz," ''title of show" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Next to Normal."

The festival — known by its initials NYMF — provides shows with theater space, lights, sound equipment, front-of-house staffing and marketing — all key to emerging artists trying to mount resource-heavy musicals in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

The offerings this year are typically eclectic. There's one about a pope, a second that deals with illegal immigration and one about the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan ice skating fiasco.

Dan Markey, executive director of NYMF, said the number of submissions has gone up every year and this year attracted some 245 hopefuls from composers as far away as Utah and Atlanta.

"The net is wider the pipeline is expanding," he said. "More and more people want to do it either at the beginning of their career or at the end of their career."

The festival is the perfect place for the four-person cast of "Deep Love" to find some love, said Lewis, a finalist on "American Idol" who also got to the knockout round on "The Voice" with Hayes as the folk duo Midas Whale.

He hopes some of his TV fans will check out his new project: "I stayed long enough on both shows for people to kind of know me — to remain a Z-list celebrity," he said, laughing.

The show, featuring some crispy rock and soulful folk, is about love and loss set in a 1880s graveyard. The audience is encouraged to attend in funeral attire. It stars Amy Whitcomb who was on "The Voice," too.

Hayes and Sherwood, who both endured difficult breakups in the winter of 2009, wrote the songs. "Rather than going out and getting wasted, they wrote a rock opera about it," said Lewis.

Lewis helped write the story, co-directs and stars in the show. He even worked as a lighting technician for four months just to learn all the names of the theater lights.

The creative team has spent years working on the show, helping it grow from that first living room performance to one in a sold-out 1,100-seat abandoned church, to a multi-city tour.

Five dancers have been added to help tell the story, while the band has been reduced from 30 to seven. Getting it shown in New York took a lot of work but now it can shine.

"We wanted to get on the radar of people who are in the business," Lewis said. "We have something that's working elsewhere but no one really knows about us outside our little region."