Ariel's Way

Ariel's Way

Ariel's Way and Quaker Education

The Friends Council on Education (FCE) is an association of Quaker schools and educators, embracing more than 100 schools and colleges in the US and abroad. Among its many activities, FCE organizes an annual fall gathering for heads of Friends schools (pre-K through high school). Drew Smith, Executive Director of FCE, invited me to share the story of Ariel’s Way at this year’s fall gathering, which was held at Pendle Hill, the Quaker retreat center near Philadelphia. I was delighted and honored to be asked to speak, and was especially pleased that Jessica Harris could join me in presenting, “What Love Did: The Ariel’s Way Musical at Carolina Friends School.”

Speaking at the heads of schools conference
Heads of 48 schools attended the conference and many said how moved they were to learn about the process that gave rise to the two productions of Ariel’s Way that Carolina Friends School has put up—the 2005 high school production and the 2010 alumni/professional production. It was particularly special to reconnect with colleagues Mike Hanas (who introduced me) and John Baird. Both educators are former heads of Carolina Friends, now leading San Francisco Friends School and Westtown School, respectively.
Jessica Harris as Ariel's Way dancer/choreographer

Jessica and I organized our remarks under five broad headings. I addressed the first three topics: how AW developed and connected curriculum, how AW widened and deepened community, and how AW presented and expressed the school’s mission and values. Photos, stories, and short videos brought this part of the presentation to life.

Then Jessica shared how AW summoned and spotlighted the individual gifts of the cast and crew. She read a statement written for the occasion by actor Lucius Robinson, who played Victor in the alumni production. In part Lucius said, “My experience with this show was defined by collaboration, trust, and community . . . I learned at Carolina Friends School that we are at our best when we . . . strike each other like lightning and hold one another close during the thunder.”

Lucius Robinson as Victor
Jessica also talked about how working as the Ariel’s Way choreographer opened up new professional opportunities for her in New York City. She further reflected on the confidence and the sense of creative collaboration she gained from her years at a Friends school—and how that background led not only to her becoming a founding member of Shen Wei Dance Arts but also to her establishing Decision Harmony, a company that uses movement to help professional organizations optimize their decision-making process.

In conclusion, I shared how writing Ariel’s Way helped me resolve the grief and anger I grappled with after a campus tragedy. Ariel’s Way shows how “art and imagination can transform anger, and story and song can transform sorrow” from crippling emotions to forces for creative transformation. Indeed, “this is precisely what theatre, at its best, aims to do.”

L-R: Mike Hanas, Jessica Harris, Jim Henderson, John Baird
“Art’s alchemy made something beautiful of the saddest day, and years, of my life and of my school’s history.” At the same time, Ariel’s Way “offers a distinctive way to appreciate, express, and share the vision of a world transformed by the power of love.”

Heads of eight or ten school heads took production materials to share with their theatre departments. Mike, John, Jessica, Drew Smith and I are hopeful that future productions of Ariel’s Way will be forthcoming at other Friends schools.

AW Creative Team Reunion

     About 25 of the talented people who have helped to develop Ariel's Way got together in Durham, North Carolina, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the show's professional premiere. Many of this group were my students and colleagues at Carolina Friends School.
Some of those who attended the Ariel's Way reunion
got together for a photo on our porch stairs.

     I am deeply grateful for the commitment and contributions that this remarkable group of individuals has made to bringing this dream to life. It is gratifying to learn of the many creative directions that all these actors, musicians, writers, and dancers are taking as their professional lives continue to unfold. Some are completing MFAs; others are working in professional theaters, touring with dance companies, moving into arts administration or teaching, or advancing their free-lance careers. All continue to be sources of inspiration to the audiences they entertain and the artists with whom they collaborate.

"Chasing Rainbows" and "Ariel's Way"

Chasing Rainbow: The Road to Oz is currently premiering at Flat Rock Playhouse (the State Theatre of North Carolina) near Hendersonville. I went to see the show recently and found much to appreciate in this new musical, which aspires to a berth on Broadway.

Conceived by Tina Marie Cassamento Libby, the play tells the story of Judy Garland’s early life, up to her casting as Dorothy. As befits its setting in the age of Busby Berkeley’s Depression-chasing Hollywood spectaculars, the show boasts a cast of 40+ (some playing more than one role), lavish Hollywood set pieces (including an antique car that rolls like a golf cart), fabulous costumes, full-stage dance numbers, and dozens of songs by the the likes of Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy McHugh, and, of course, Harold Arlen.

To my mind, the greatest virtue of Chasing Rainbows is the way its creative team foregrounds the music of the era. Like my show, Ariel’ s Way, Chasing Rainbows does not anachronistically impose twenty-first century musical styles on a story set in another era. The musical arrangements (by David Libby), the choreography (by Jeff Whiting), and many of the show’s vocal performances convincingly convey the spirit of swing. Chasing Rainbows compellingly presents the 1930s as the cultural period that not only nurtured the life of Judy Garland (and sowed the seeds of her early demise), but also laid the foundation of American musical theater as we know it today.

Ruby Rakos as "Baby" Gumm (Judy Garland)
The leading actors in Chasing Rainbows are excellent, as are their voices.  Young Ruby Rakos portrays “Baby” Gumm with appropriate vocal power; she also embodies the awkwardness, complexity, and naturalness that made “Judy” immortal. Equally appealing is Ben Crawford as Judy’s dad (Frank Gumm). Crawford’s portrayal of a loving dad, who struggles with his domineering wife and his own homoerotic inclinations, is touching and tragic. Mike Wartella also stands out as a young, energetic, and multi-talented Mickey Rooney.

Chasing Rainbows rests on a theatrical concept that offers no shortage of spectacle and wisely strives for intergenerational appeal. Marc Acito’s script has lots of ground to cover, but its flashes of wit and humor add pace, as does Whiting’s competent, frequently clever direction. The show runs long for my taste, and some of the songs (from the Sony-ATV catalog) are not the shiniest gems of the Swing Era. However, Arlen and Harburg’s “Over the Rainbow” indubitably is a gem—and it’s beautifully arranged by Libby (and staged by Whiting) as the long-anticipated exclamation point towards which the show naturally builds.

The Flat Rock Playhouse is a splendid setting for Chasing Rainbows. The facility and professional staff appear to offer everything this production needs to grow into its final form. Flat Rock’s Artistic Director (Lisa K. Bryant), Technical Director (Tony Lawrence), and Head of Audio (Kurt Conway), are especially to be commended. I hope that the Rainbows creative team, production staff, and cast—in addition to its investors—all find a pot of gold at the end of their run!

Ariel's Way SCORE Now Complete!

The last piece of the Ariel’s Way puzzle is now in place! With the sustained devotion of Jim Henderson and a large group of talented collaborators, Ariel’s Way has taken shape over the last decade.

This amazing show began as a script and songs to feature the talents of a particularly gifted group of high school students. Members of the original, 2005 cast of Ariel’s Way at Carolina Friends School have gone on to travel the world as featured performers, to work on Broadway with equity cards, to record original music with Katy Perry’s producer, and to earn regional recognition as the most talented new actors, dancers, and singers in piedmont North Carolina, Chicago, Los Angeles, and elsewhere.

A decade of persistent, creative and collaborative attention to Ariel’s Way refined its script, professionally produced its 20 songs, created and archived its incidental music and sound effects, developed its costume and set designs, and assembled an excellent video of the show’s professional premiere (employing three cameras and 52 audio tracks).

Even with all this investment of talent, time and money, a final piece was missing: a score.

The search for an experienced arranger began in New York with Jim’s longtime friend, guitarist Jeffrey Lee Campbell (who, after touring the world with Sting, has played the entire New York run of Mama Mia and is now about to open in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s School of Rock). Jeff sounded out a number of New York theater professionals and ultimately offered the advice that a better bang for the buck might be achieved by working with an orchestrator living in a less pricey city and less competitive market.

In the Bay Area Jim got to know several talented and experienced music theatre conductors. David Möschler, a North Carolina native and graduate of both the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and of UNC-Chapel Hill, was most helpful in this regard. After arguing for the necessity of a score (unless Jim wanted to be personally involved in every future production of the show), David took time out of his busy life as a sought-after conductor and instrumentalist to connect Jim to Dolores Duran-Cefalu.

Based in San Jose, “Dolo” is an accomplished keyboardist and arranger who has worked as a pianist, conductor, and music director on more than 80 professional shows. In recent years Dolo served as the award-winning the music director of the San Jose Repertory Theatre. Over a period of about nine months, as her busy schedule allowed, Dolo compiled a first-rate score for Ariel’s Way.

The first question to decide was how many instruments to score for. In consultation with Dolo, David Möschler, and Tony Bowman (the North Carolina musician who produced the recording of Ariel’s Way’s songs and served as the pianist and conductor for the show’s professional premiere), Jim decided on six as an economical and flexible ensemble: pc, keyboard 2, guitar, bass, drum set, and percussion.

Dolo built the score using the accurate lead sheets Jim had refined over the years of the show’s development, as well as the actual MIDI tracks heard on the Ariel’s Way CD. As she completed songs, Dolo sent drafts of the parts to Jim, who went over them with a fine-tooth comb.

Once books for each part had been assembled, Jim paid highly experienced musicians to meet with him, one-on-one, and play through each note of all the parts, listening to the CD. Further changes and revisions were made through this process before the final draft was completed. The complete score runs 222 pages for Act 1 and 210 pages for Act 2. It is now available for use by companies that wish to produce Ariel’s Way.

New Ariel's Way “Production Package” Available

A five-disc “production package” is now available for theatre organizations that are interested in putting up their own version of Ariel’s Way.

Disc One is the completely realized DVD of the professional premiere of the show, directed by Eric Love. This live recording from 2010 features video from three cameras (directed and edited by Mark Goodwillie of Pelican Productions) and 48 audio tracks (mixed by Hubert Deans of Snow Hill Music). It took me most of a year to put this video together.

Disc Two is a music CD featuring 16 songs from the show. These studio recordings were fully produced by Tony Bowman and feature Tony and Deanna Jones on lead vocals, along with Ronda Bowman, Caitlin Linney, Dave Smith, and Dee Dudley-Mayfield. Instrumentalists include Tony along with Drew Lile and Dave Smith on guitars, me on horns, and percussion by Beverly Botsford.

Disc Three is a data disc that includes the latest version of the Ariel’s Way script plus other script-related print materials. This disc also includes all the graphics created for the premiere, set and costume designs, and the printed score (28 pdf files of lead sheets, vocal harmonies, and key instrumental parts for every song in the show).

Disc Four is a data disc that includes seven tracks of incidental music specially created for the show, 11 audio tracks (performed by Beverly Botsford) that break down and demonstrate the “Lime Grove” percussion parts, 21 mp3 rehearsal tracks (fully-produced versions of all the songs in the show), plus the 22 sound effects used in the professional premiere.

Disc Five is a DVD that shows only the wide-view, back-of-the-house video recorded at the professional premiere. This disc is for use by directors, choreographers, and others interested in seeing blocking, entrances, and exits. It is NOT meant to replace Disc One.

The talented Durham (NC, USA) designer Claudia Fulshaw created the beautiful artwork for this five-disc set, which sells for $150.

Click HERE to visit the Ariel’s Way website for ordering details.

Watch the New Ariel’s Way PROMOTIONAL VIDEO


It’s taken more than a year to plan and produce, but the Ariel’s Way promotional video is now available to view. You can watch this five-minute video HERE. After he attended the professional premiere of the show, and then enjoyed the Ariel’s Way video, my friend Josh Lozoff suggested that I make a short video introduction to the show.  Josh is an exceptionally talented magician. Click HERE to learn more about “The Deep Magic of Joshua Lozoff."

To put together this promotional video I asked Mark Goodwillie and Ishmael Abdelkhalek of Pelican Pro Video to help me again. We re-assembled parts of the Ariel’s Way set for this project, recorded a heartfelt message from me (along with some bi-saxual horn playing), and included both scenes from the video and comments from a variety of people who have enjoyed the show.
Feel free to share the link to the promo video. It may be the single best way to introduce someone to “the best show you don’t know—until now!”

Ariel’s Way Website Expanded

The Ariel’sWay website now features embedded videos, four recently recorded saxophone instrumentals featuring Jim Henderson, and enhanced features for ordering materials.

These changes were made with the vey able help of Carol Thomson of FireStream Media, the Ariel’s Way website designer.

Check out my website …and feel free to share the link with friends and colleagues!

Coming soon: Pay-for-view access to the Ariel’s Way DVD through Vimeo Pro.