TRAVERSE CITY — Writer and actor Hunter Bell remembers well the "emotional roller coaster" that was writing and performing the 2008 Broadway show "(title of show)."
Now he gets to experience it all over again as he and co-writer Jeff Bowen work with Interlochen Arts Academy to expand the show for its theater students.
The Tony-nominated musical, which chronicles its own creation by the pair as an entry in the New York Musical Theatre Festival, was originally staged with four actors including Bell, its bookwriter, and Bowen, its lyricist. Likewise its "apropos edition" suitable for high schools and general audiences.
So when Interlochen's Bill Church was looking for a musical his 18-member theater ensemble could take to New York as part of the Academy's 50th anniversary celebration, the writers agreed to help create a larger-cast version.
"We wanted to expand the show," said Bell, Church's friend and former freshman suitemate at Webster University, and an occasional Interlochen guest artist. "We thought it would work with other people and we wanted it to be seen by as many people as possible. We thought it was a great story, a great score."
Church, Interlochen director of theater and comparative arts, said he went through the script and suggested changes, which both writers initially approved. Then he and the Academy theater ensemble met with Bell and Bowen in a video Skype session during their first rehearsal in September.
Church said Bowen plans to come to Interlochen Oct. 23-24 to watch a rehearsal and discuss what works and what doesn't. After fine-tuning the show, the Academy will premiere it Nov. 8, 9 and 10 at its Harvey Theatre. Then the students will take the show on the road to New York's Helen Mills Theater for four invitation-only performances, Nov. 16-18. Both Bell and Bowen expect to attend, Church said.
The show follows struggling writers Hunter and Jeff as they write a musical about writing a musical for a new festival just three weeks off — and dream about the show changing their lives. Along the way, they and actress friends Susan and Heidi, and the group's pianist, Larry, learn lessons about themselves as people, friends and artists.
The show's title was taken from the space on the festival's application form which asks for the [title of show].
Church said it's unusual for high school-age students to have an opportunity to expand a show in collaboration with the original creators. Besides creating 13 new characters, the project involves additional costumes by student designer Evie King from St. George, Va., and an expanded set by Interlochen set designer Matthew McCarren. Theater arts instructor and music director Mindy Rohn is re-arranging the music for the expanded cast.
"All of these songs normally being sung by four people now are being sung by 17 or 18," Church said. "It gives the show a different feeling, a different energy."
Following their Interlochen performances, the students will work on tightening the show and consolidating the action for the much smaller New York theater, Church said. "This is important training for young actors, preparing for different venues which require different kinds of playing energy," he said.
While in New York, the students will get to take dance and theater classes and to meet with "high-profile" Interlochen alum who are actors, Church said.
'They're having all of these firsthand experiences, which is very unique. It's really very exciting to expose them to that," he said.
Bell, who is currently writing a new musical with Julie Andrews, said the most appealing part of the Interlochen project is knowing the creativity and joy of collaboration the students are experiencing — much like their counterparts in "(title of show)."
"It's that process and that journey and what they discover about themselves," he said.
The Interlochen cast stars junior Ben Lohrberg of Danville, Ill. as Hunter, senior Matthew Brouillard of Racine, Wis. as Jeff, senior Sari Koppel of Trumansburg, N.Y. as Heidi, and senior Sigrid Wise of Jackson, Miss. as Susan. Tony Macht, a senior from Baltimore who also plays in the Academy jazz combo, will play Larry.
Tickets for the Interlochen show are $22 for adult, $18 for seniors and $9 for students. They go on sale Monday, Oct. 8 at 9 a.m. at the Interlochen box office, (800) 681-5920.