Musical theatre and cabaret veteran Sally Mayes still stands by the epiphany she had roughly a decade ago when her acclaimed career hit a rough patch.
“I told my husband I’m going to do this differently now,” she recalls. “I am only going to take jobs I really want to do in places I really want to go to with people I really want to work with and it’s only going to be stuff I really want to do. And I’m not going to make as much money and I’m probably not ever going to be on Broadway again but I don’t care. I want to do this kind of work.”
The work in question is the new musical “Indigo,” a multi-generational tale that will have its world premiere June 7-25 at the Loft Theatre courtesy of the Human Race Theatre Company. Directed by Catie Davis, the show features a book by Kait Kerrigan and music and lyrics by Scott Evan Davis.
Mayes first became aware of “Indigo” while performing Davis’s songs in concert at the Kennedy Center in 2016. An initial table read of the show followed in 2017 and she continued to stay with the project in its various developmental readings in New York. The coronavirus pandemic halted the show’s developmental and producing momentum, but it will finally receive its first fully staged presentation in Dayton, hence its status as a world premiere.
The story concerns Beverly (Kristin Stokes), who braces for chaos when her mother Elaine (Mayes) is diagnosed with dementia and moves in with her and her husband, Rick (Dan Domenech). But when her daughter Emma (Madison Kopec), a non-speaking autistic teenager, crashes back into her life, Beverly must confront her past decisions and work to repair the bonds of trust and family.
Mayes, 63, received a Tony and Drama Desk Award nomination for her portrayal of Ilona Ritter in the 1993 Broadway revival of “She Loves Me.” Her credits include “Welcome to the Club,” “Closer Than Ever,” “Pete ‘n’ Keely,” “Dirty Blonde,” “Urban Cowboy,” “Play it Cool” and the charming 1995 TV adaptation of “Bye Bye Birdie” starring Jason Alexander and Vanessa Williams.
She feels grateful to portray Elaine, an opportunity she considers rare at her age.
“I’ve been attached to this from the very beginning because when you get to be a certain age it’s very difficult to find great roles,” she says. “It’s harder to do something emotionally satisfying and do something in which you can peel the onion, as I like to call it. When you work on shows, you want to have something you can keep working on in order to find layer after layer. I’ve been really fortunate to do a bunch of roles like that. And so that’s what I always look for and that is what this is. I am so honored to be in this important, gorgeous project.”
‘Heart and compassion’
Having nurtured numerous original musicals throughout its 37-year history, the Human Race is excited to champion another work that has potential to reach audiences in a relatable way.
“Our quest to share stories of the human experience comes alive with heart and compassion in the prismatic layers of ‘Indigo,’” says Emily N. Wells, Human Race Artistic Director. “We all crave better tools for inter-generational communication, especially in times of need, and ‘Indigo’ shows us what that can look like. Over 22 percent of Ohioans are currently caring for an older family member in their home.”
The Indiana-based Kopec is an autistic actress who has been a part of “Indigo” since its first official New York reading in 2019. She feels confident in the musical’s future, including its multi-generational appeal.
“This show is great and every time I keep coming back to this project it keeps getting stronger and stronger,” she says. “I love that this show is about three women with very different experiences learning how to heal from their generational trauma. There are going to be a lot of things in this show that are going to hit very close to home for a lot of people. I hope people walk away from this show with a more open mind.”
Credit: THE HUMAN RACE THEATRE COMPANY
Credit: THE HUMAN RACE THEATRE COMPANY
The cast also features Joy Lynn Jacobs as Alicia and Christian Kidd as Tyler. Jacobs previously appeared in the Race’s 2015 production of “Crowns.” Rick Bertone serves as musical director.
The production team includes: Brad Haak, music supervision, arrangements and orchestration; Adam Koch, scenic design; Matthew P. Benjamin, lighting design; Steven Royal, projection design; Lindsay McWilliams, costume design; Brando Triantafallou, sound design; Sarah Gomes, props; and Rachel Heine, production stage manager.
“Indigo” is produced in partnership with Sing Out, Louise! Productions, whose team includes three-time Tony winner Joey Monda (“Hadestown,” “The Inheritance,” “A Strange Loop”). Monda, a Wright State University graduate and Youngstown native, says the universal themes in the show will help the material connect to a broader audience.
“Everybody has the experience of being a caregiver for an aging parent and everybody has the experience of mistakes in our past that we have to confront and eventually get through in order to live life to the fullest capacity in our adulthood,” says Monda. “Authenticity has become something that is at the center of the story we’re telling.”
Credit: WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY
Credit: WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY
Monda considers Dayton, and particularly the Race, his artistic home since his freshman year at Wright State. When the time came to determine where “Indigo” would have its world premiere, he and his fellow producers opted to avoid selecting a huge, multimillion-dollar regional theatre. The intimacy and small town vibe the Race provides remained top of mind and felt more appropriate.
“We were looking for a community that was going to embrace a small musical that was really just about a family, the kind of shows the Race has shepherded and has always been central to its programming,” he says. “The Race is providing us a place to really workshop the show, to see where we want to improve in our next steps. Dayton audiences can be very informative to us and we want to welcome the conversation moving forward. The Race and the Dayton audience will always be a part of the show’s DNA. No matter where the show goes, the Human Race production will always be a piece of the beginnings of it.”
Monda, a Tony nominee this year for producing the Shakespeare-meets-Max Martin jukebox musical “& Juliet,” says “all options are on the table” for “Indigo” post-Dayton, including regional theatres, London and Broadway. Various regional theatres have already committed to attending the production to see if the show fits their programming.
“We’re very hopeful Dayton isn’t going to be the last stop and will grow from here and build momentum,” he says. “In the conversation about diversity and inclusion we’re having, we tend to think of it only in terms of race – not neurodiversity and able bodied-ness. This show is a totally different exploration of that part of the conversation. What is it like to have people who think differently and process information differently in the room together? The bond between Sally Mayes and Madison Kopec is really remarkable.”
Mayes looks forward to discovering where “Indigo” stands in its latest stage of development. She appreciates the freedom regional theatre offers to be bold and daring.
“I think there is something very valuable about being able to go to a very nurturing theater company, work out the kinks, and figure out what your piece is,” she says. “There’s such tremendous pressure when you bring a show into New York so it’s important to have places you can take shows to be worked on. And the Human Race Theatre Company is known for working on new pieces. I love regional theatre. It’s a safe space and they take the risks.”
HOW TO GO
Where: Loft Theatre of the Human Race Theatre Company, 126 N. Main St., Dayton
When: June 7-25; 2 p.m. on June 11, 18 and 25; 7 p.m. on June 11, 13, 14, 20 and 21; and 8 p.m. on June 7, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 22, 23 and 24.
Cost: $20-$43. Two sections of $20 seats are available at any time through the box office. Ten $10 rush seats are available 90 minutes before any performance.
More info: 937-228-3630 or www.humanracetheatre.org
Pay What You CAN: Tuesday, June 6, 8 p.m. Admission by non-perishable food donation for The Foodbank OR a cash donation to benefit Autism Society of Dayton
Inside Track Thursday: June 8, 8 p.m. Pre-show discussion begins at 7:15 p.m.
Sawbuck ($10) Sunday: June 11, 7 p.m. There are $10 tickets available beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the door.
While We’re On The Subject: Sunday, June 18, 2 p.m. (post-show discussion).
Parent’s Day Out: Sunday, June 25, 2 p.m. Separate activities for kids ages 5-12.