For Bloomington native and Grammy award-winning songwriter, Carrie Newcomer, live theatre is giving her a place to explore new artistic challenges. Most recently that means a collaborative production with Richard "Rick" Thomas and Gary Walters in Betty's Diner: The Musical.
The story is set in a small college town in southern Indiana, where Miranda, the diner's owner and waitress, and a mysterious stranger named Gabriel call home. Both characters offer a humorous and gritty mix of everyday customers that you would find in a small town. Betty's Diner provides the backdrop for the audience to explore the nature of humanity and the importance of being present in the moment.
"Rick and I loved the idea of creating a musical that celebrated finding something extraordinary in our ordinary days and created a space where the audience felt like part of the world of the diner," says Newcomer.
Thomas is Purdue Theatre's sound design professor. The musical director Gary Walters performs regularly with the Indianapolis Symphony and is on the music faculty at Butler University. Director Robin McKee has created and directed new works at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.
That talent translates to reality when a play about a simple small town can sing. Audiences get to experience the intimate life of a Midwestern diner through Newcomer's original album-inspired lyrics and script.
Newcomer, who co-wrote the musical and songs for the musical, found inspiration in her album, Regulars and Refugees. Thomas, who co-wrote the show, suggested her song, "Betty's Diner" as its central theme.
The musical has been ten years in the making, and according to Newcomer, "it really has been a labor of love for all of us." Newcomer and Thomas were able to complete the musical despite their busy tour schedules, teaching stints, and creative lives.
Developing a musical from scratch is no easy task.
"Betty's Diner kept calling to us both and so we continued to make time to write and develop the piece," says Newcomer. One of her motives was to create a theatre piece that speaks to Indiana audiences.
This is the first time that Newcomer has invested in a theater production. Her writing process involves several stages of molding the music with her creative team. McKee's direction is a solid match for Newcomer's energy.
"[Betty's Diner] really found its true voice," says Newcomer, referring to McKee's talent.
Bringing the characters to life has been something Newcomer has really enjoyed throughout the writing process.
"I've learned so much from the collaboration and I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity."
Betty's Diner: The Musical
When: Sept. 25-Oct. 10
Where: Carole and Gordon Mallett Theatre, Purdue University, 552 W. Wood St. (West Lafayette)
Tickets: $6.50, (765) 494-3933