Monday, March 07, 2005

"Wiley!" Now Available on Audio CD!

Healy Hall Georgetown University
In the spring of 1978, I was privileged to work on the last of a series of original musicals at Georgetown University known by the umbrella name, "Calliope." Calliope XIX was called Wiley!, and it told the story of how Odysseus traveled home from the Trojan War to reclaim his home and his wife, Penelope. This musical version of Homer's Odyssey should not be confused with the failed 1976 Broadway musical, Home Sweet Homer. (Wiley! actually had more performances, as that Yul Brynner vehicle closed after one night.) The title, Wiley!, derives from the formulation "wily Odysseus" so common in classical literature.

Technically, Wiley! was not the final Calliope. The following year, 1979, the Mask & Bauble Dramatic Society revived an earlier Calliope, Senior Prom, which enjoyed an extraordinary success in the early 1970s. Senior Prom was a Fifties musical, set in a Catholic high school. Senior Prom hit on Fifties nostalgia before it was hot (long before Fonzie jumped the shark on Happy Days) and preceded Grease on the stage. In fact, after it concluded its brief set of performances at Georgetown University, Senior Prom played for several months at the Washington Theatre Club (now defunct) and was optioned for Broadway. Unfortunately, the far inferior Grease hit the Great White Way first and the producers who had optioned Senior Prom felt it would be redundant. Meanwhile, Grease -- Mediocrity Writ Large -- went on to become one of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history. (One of the co-creators of Senior Prom, Jack Hofsiss, went on to become the youngest director ever to win a Tony Award, for The Elephant Man.)

But I digress.

Wiley! was written by two Jesuits, William O'Malley and Lawrence Madden. They originally conceived it while they were in the novitiate together. O'Malley wrote the book and lyrics, while Madden composed the music. Father O'Malley is best known for his role as Father Dyer, Jason Miller's drinking buddy/confessor in The Exorcist, but in real life he has been a theologian, author, and teacher at McQuaid Jesuit High School, Fordham University, and Fordham Prep. Larry Madden has been a parish priest, director of campus ministry at Georgetown University, and a leading liturgist, as director of the Georgetown Center for Liturgy. The show's director was the late Denis Moran, S.J., who was artistic director of Mask & Bauble at the time.

The cast of Wiley! was astonishing. It included, in the title role, Helen Hayes Award-winner Lawrence Redmond (listed on the program as "Larry Redmond"), who went on to become one of Washington's most prolific and successful actors, appearing at the Arena Stage, Signature Theatre, Theatre J, and other companies. Zeus was played by Rick Lombardo, now producing artistic director at the New Repertory Theatre near Boston. Scott Pilarz, who played Ares, is now a Jesuit priest who was named president of the University of Scranton in 2003. Maryn McKenna (Penelope) is a science and medical writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and author of the recent book, Beating Back the Devil. Many other actors who appeared on a Georgetown stage for the first time with Wiley! went on to long and intensive associations with Mask & Bauble and other campus theatre groups.

As publicity director for the show (I was also on the lighting crew), I was responsible for bringing in a professional recording company to put Wiley! on vinyl. It only took a bit more than a quarter-century for the songs to be transferred to CD, thanks to the Georgetown Theatre Alumni. The score today sounds as vibrant as it did in 1978. It ranges from anthems to ballads to comic numbers to rock-n-roll pastiche. Hearing Wiley! on CD proves to me that the show deserves a revival. After all, no tale has had such a long life as The Odyssey (except, perhaps, for The Iliad -- but I digress again), and every retelling helps introduce the classic to a new audience.

The CD recording of Wiley!, along with those of a number of other Calliope productions, can be ordered through the Georgetown Theatre Alumni web site.

Now for a guilty secret: I possess an audio cassette recording of Wiley! that includes music that didn't make it, for reasons of space, to the vinyl LP. The recording company we hired did, in fact, put the entire score on tape -- including dance sequences. The audio cassette I have includes, for instance, Maryn McKenna's solo recording of "Facing the Years Alone" (available only as a duet reprise with Lawrence Redmond on the vinyl LP and CD) and several ballet numbers that served as transitions between the locations that Odysseus visits on his long journey home. My best guess is that the GTA volunteers who uncovered and re-recorded Wiley! and the other shows did not know of the existence of this more complete recording. I feel guilty because I could have turned over my secret treasure when the project began.

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