A musical born in Kansas City about a dynamic period in the city’s musical history is heading to Broadway.
“Overture the Musical,” written and composed by Krista Eyler and Barbara Nichols, will premiere at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre on July 24 during the New York Musical Festival.
Joel Morrison, who plays one of the show’s romantic leads, looks forward to taking the show on the road.
“I’m proud to be part of a musical that’s so beautiful and well-written,” said Morrison, a financial adviser who lives and works in Lee’s Summit. “We’re carrying a flag of Kansas City to New York. I love this city, and it’s a chance to tell others a story about our city.”
A week ahead of the opening, Eyler, of Overland Park, and Nichols, of Leawood, will travel to New York with cast, band, crew and sets to rehearse on the Jewel Box stage.
Through dance, romance, comedy and drama, “Overture” spotlights a pivotal time in the history of the Kansas City Philharmonic. Set during its 1953-1954 season, the Philharmonic was striving to become a world-renowned orchestra, while also struggling for financial survival. Financially insecure through much of its existence, this economic peril brought together a partnership of those in the KC region determined to keep the Philharmonic alive.
The show’s characters portray actual people involved with the orchestra, with the exception of fictional characters, Lily and Christopher, who share a passion for music and fall in love.
Lily, an office assistant for the Philharmonic, is played by Eyler. Morrison is Christopher, the group’s assistant conductor.
Morrison began performing in musical theater in middle school. Though he chose a full-time career in finance, he has continued performing. He and Eyler have shared the stage in several local productions the last few years.
For Morrison, the role of Christopher has opened the door to a number of firsts.
“This is the first time I’ve been in an original musical, so it’s my first experience originating a role,” he said. “There’s risk in performing an already established role. It can be hard to break out of the box of preconceived expectations from the audience and fellow performers.
“There aren’t any expectations or fences around this one. I can try something new and there are no limits.”
At the New York Musical Festival, Morrison will also take the Broadway stage for the first time.
“When I got the call from Krista to join the production last year, I thought we’d do the musical locally and move onto something else.
“I’m doing this for the fun of it and trying to keep the pressure off of myself, but going to New York is a really unique opportunity, so I hope I don’t psych myself out too much.”
This is also the first opportunity for Eyler and Nichols to take one of their shows to Broadway. And Eyler is passionate about sharing the musical with a wider audience.
“This story is about saving something beautiful,” she said. “Most people in Kansas City don’t know that the reason we have a Symphony is because there was a Philharmonic before it. The Philharmonic was this golden thing in our city and we want people to know about it.”
The spark for “Overture” was ignited in 2016. Eyler had written a song called “Favorite Sounds in the World,” inspired by an image of a woman on a staircase listening to an orchestra tune up. The narrative began to unfold, as she imagined a larger story about the woman and orchestra.
“Three years ago, I texted Barbara with the idea for this show,” Eyler said. “A few weeks ago, I called and asked, ‘Did you ever believe three years ago we would be here now?”
First performed at the 2018 Fringe Festival, the writer/composer team has faced some struggles on their journey to the New York festival — and their grand jury selection for a top 10 spot in the event.
“Finances have been the biggest obstacle,” Eyler said. “Costs can range from $40,000 to $100,000 to take a production to the festival, depending on how large it is, how many equity versus non-equity actors are performing and more. It’s an extraordinary undertaking of time and finances.
“I feel like we are doing and experiencing everything the Philharmonic did,” she said. “But, I think once you find something you believe in, or are given a spark of an idea that needs to be seen, you fight for it, find people that believe in you and see it through.”
Eyler and Nichols are delighted by the support metro-area fans have shown for the work.
“We’re in a season of blessing,” she said. “Hundreds have donated to fund the trip. There are so many people here who love the music and believe in the show.”
Morrison is one of those — both as performer and citizen.