By Cecily Markland
Dozens of chorus and cast members, musicians, dancers, set designers and crew, from across the Phoenix metro area, have spent many months in rehearsals and working behind the scenes, all preparing for the historic return of the 40th anniversary production of “Saturday’s Warrior,” which opened June 26 in Gilbert.
“To bring ‘Saturday’s Warrior’ back after 40 years has been a major undertaking. I really don’t think anything quite like this has ever been done before—but, then, there’s never really been anything quite like ‘Saturday’s Warrior,’” says director, Norlan Jacobs.
Indeed, from the time it was first performed in 1974, “Saturday’s Warrior” seemed to create a “perfect storm”—just the right blend of humor and dramatic tension, heartwarming characters and interesting story line, toe-tapping music and memorable lyrics, and a message that gave a chance to talk about—and maybe even question—the eternal nature of relationships and just what the preexistence may have been like.
Called the “most popular LDS musical of all time,” the original “Saturday’s Warrior” had its first appearance in 1973, when Doug Stewart’s script won first place in the Utah Playwriting Contest. Several other wins followed, as Doug, with composer and co-writer, Lex de Azevedo, formed two touring companies, which played to sell-out audiences in California, Utah and the other western states.
Norlan Jacobs, director and mastermind of Arizona’s 40th Anniversary production, was the original director of the Utah Company, starting in 1974.
“We played at three venues, sold out more than 200 performances and played to a quarter of a million patrons,” he says.
Two years ago, Norlan presented Doug Stewart with his idea of doing “an updated, rewritten, contemporary, 40th Anniversary version” of “Saturday’s Warrior.” “Doug came back with a very positive response, and with his hope and confidence that this would very likely be the best production of ‘Saturday’s Warrior’ ever,” Norlan says, and Dreamweaver Productions was licensed to produce “Saturday’s Warrior” in Arizona.
With the show that opened June 26 and will run on a limited engagement, but at least until the middle of July, audiences will again came to know the Flinders family and the eight children, who, while waiting in the pre-existence to be born on earth, promise that they will always be there for each other to help one another through the struggles they will face. Yet, once they are on earth, and with those preexistent commitments veiled from their memory, two of the children in particular, Jimmy and Julie, encounter personal struggles which bring to light questions about the eternal nature of family and about foreordained missions in life. The play follows Jimmy as he deals with peer pressure and searches for truth.
Updates to the new play include changes to the script, the lyrics and the costuming to make the musical more relevant to today. In addition, a modern set, complete with a rotating section in the center, along with highly technical artistic effects will add to the appeal for today’s audience.
Jerry Jackman of Jackman Music has helped with the orchestration and music, so, “For the first time, the musical will be accompanied by a full, live orchestra, as well as reintroducing a live choir,” Norlan says. “This will further enhance the musical richness of this production, even surpassing that of the original record-setting Utah Production and far superior to what people have seen in old video recordings over the years.”
Brother Jacobs says, “We’ve got an excellent, wonderful, extremely talented cast. All of the roles are double cast, and every one of these performers are amazing.
“It’s just the biggest, most beautiful, most entertaining version of ‘Saturday’s Warrior’ ever,” he says, “and most of all, it causes audiences to consider, ‘What am I doing with my life? Who am I?’ and it allows the spirit to come in.”
“There is magic in the songs and power in the story. Together, it becomes an unforgettable experience for audiences,” says Michele Baer, who plays the matron and opens the show, singing the lyrics, “Who are these children coming down?” Michele, who saw the original show as a teenager, says. “People won’t believe how professional and exciting this production is. They will be amazed and will want to come back again and again.”
Kristin Mabb agrees. Kristin, who is cast as Mrs. Flinders and as the matron, is a performer by trade, who, among other things, worked at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. She says, “I had done nothing for seven years,” but she jumped at the chance to participate in “Saturday’s Warrior.”
“Saturday’s Warrior was a show I watched every Sunday when I was a child. I love the music,” she says. “Now, with this new, updated show, many more people will come to love Saturday’s Warrior like so many did in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The show is a catchy, focused-on-the- family show. Church members will be able to bring their nonmember friends, who can learn without it being preachy, how important the family is.”
Ryan Edwards, cast as Mr. Flinders, also remembers seeing the show as a youth. “I felt the spirit really strong, and it strengthened my testimony.” He says he tried out because, “I wanted to help recreate that and give that back to youth today.”
Carson Saline, who will play the lead role of Jimmy, wasn’t familiar with the play, but quickly felt a connection to the music and the story.
Carson says. “This really is a dream role. I feel a strong personal connection to the music Jimmy sings and what he goes through, and I really want the message to come through.”
“The talent pool is so strong here in Arizona, and we truly have cast the best talent available from this community,” says Brother Jacobs. “They are professional and highly motivated, the chorus and orchestra are amazing and the dancers—well, I believe people will come to see the show for a second time just to see the dancers alone.”
Brother Jacobs says his staff has been equally professional and dedicated to producing the best show ever. “Linda Dorathy, my production assistant, Kristen Malakey, our choreographer; Mary Ellen Reese Loose, our music director; Lori Woods, assistant music director, who is working with the chorus; and Eric Fielding, who did a magnificent job designing our set. Then, there’s Steve and Liz Porter, who are doing photography, props and visuals…these are just some of those who have contributed.”
Brother Jacobs says, “Everyone has been so supportive and wonderful. We’ve seen people volunteer and provide financial support, and, we are grateful for the many contributions. Most of all, we appreciate the help in spreading the word and encouraging people to attend the show. This show is back by popular demand, and is destined to capture the hearts of the newest generation of ‘Saturday’s Warrior’ fans.”
“It’s a phenomenal production,” says Michele. “You get a feeling of heaven on earth, an eternal perspective, through the magic of theater and music.”
“Saturday’s Warrior” is being performed in the Higley Center for the Performing Arts at 4132 E Pecos Rd in Gilbert. Tickets are available through their box office, at local Deseret Book stores or on www.saturdayswarrioraz.com. Help spread the word on Facebook by liking the Saturday’s Warrior AZ page.