Ponce de Leon would be jealous. The Fountain of Youth was discovered in a new musical, opening soon at Sussex Central High School.
In March, the Take Two Drama Club will debut an original show, “Under,” created by two school district teachers.
The zany comedy was written by David Warick, SCHS drama teacher, with music and lyrics by Eric Tsavdar, Selbyville Middle School music teacher.
In the show, after discovering an elixir of life in Florida in the late 1950s, a billionaire secretly builds the town of Under. Real-life celebrities known for mysterious deaths or disappearances came to this underground utopia.
Here, Marilyn Monroe has become warm and nurturing, Billie Holiday is a wise woman, and James Dean is still cool.
“They have their talent, but they don’t have an audience,” Warick said. “We come in at a time where there’s a lot of problems.”
The show opens with Under’s wealthy founder, “Harry Allenby” flying into the sunset. He mysteriously disappears, but the show finds him again in Under.
Meanwhile, Allenby’s bitter son is left to run the company, but he’s clueless about Under. Worlds collide when Allenby’s grandson is kidnapped by the underground villains.
“We don’t want the audience to know right away what’s going on,” Warick said.
Audiences get a proper musical introduction to the whole underworld in the Act 1 finale.
The musical rounds out with a few love interests, a possible zombie apocalypse and the evil “Lord Lucan” (a real-life Englishman who disappeared amidst accusations of attacking his wife and killing their nanny).
Under residents can drink to remain forever young, but they can’t return to the real world, aboveground, because sunlight ruins the effects. They’ll decide whether to enjoy an eternity underground or face the spotlight aboveground. But they’ll definitely get their grand finale.
Like any great show, the musical studies how people face their problems and the future. But it sure approaches that from a unique angle.
“Have you every heard of a show where celebrities fake their deaths and live underground?” asked freshman Abbey Ruark.
Most of Tsavdar’s original music and lyrics are in a classic 1970s/1980s rock style, plus touches of 1950s, 1960s and grunge music, based on the character’s era.
Audiences see or hear about Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur, three Alcatraz escapees, Aaliyah, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Selena, Kurt Cobain, Elvis, Jim Morrison and 1971 plane hijacker D.B. Cooper.
“It’s very easy to imagine that anyone could be there,” Tsavdar said.
The creators tried to evoke these public figures in a respectful way. How do they justify showing Marilyn onstage decades after history records her body was found in Los Angeles? Often, the characters are seeking a simpler life, or they recognize their own potential for self-destruction.
“They talk about it in their songs … ‘If I don’t do this I’ll be dead,’” Warick said. “[Under’s founder] is offering them a chance, and they recognize it. He’s trying to make a place” built on happiness, where they can be their best selves. Drugs and booze are forbidden in that healthy utopia.
“It’s nothing that’s extremely serious, but it’s not extremely silly either,” said junior Rebecca Payne. “It kind of brings in the serious factor of life, but then the factor of having fun without losing too much control, and not letting power get to your head.”
Warick’s original script was based on one quirky idea from Tsavdar. The formula worked for their other slightly supernatural show, “Dr. Ghost,” which SCHS premiered in 2012.
An original show is challenging, but students get to perform the work of respected teachers, and the teachers can write specifically to student talents.
“This is a great cast,” Warick said of the more than 30 students.
“We have a lot of new talent, too. People are working really hard to perfect their roles, and a lot of kids are so passionate,” said Rebecca Bristow, grade 10. “People should at least come and support them.”
“We all work really well together,” said stage manager Kayla Reed, grade 11, who said people shouldn’t underestimate what the Sussex Central drama department can do.
“I’m hugely grateful to the students … They’re giving me and David a chance,” Tsavdar said. “If they’re having fun on stage, the audience will enjoy it.”
“It’s an original, so it’s something that’s never been seen before,” said freshman Elizabeth Holz.
“I think it’s liberating, as an actress,” said junior Kerinn Walls. “You create your own character. You don’t really have anyone — except for the actor themselves — to copy from.”
To distract from scene changes, a dance captain — Natalie Atkinson, grade 11 — choreographed mini dances/movements to set the scene.
In a true collaboration, several Indian River High School students were invited to perform, too.
Show times are at 7 p.m. on March 10, 11 and 12. The box office opens at 6 p.m. The cost is $8 general admission; $5 for students, seniors and military; and $5 two-for-one special rates for middle school students. No one will be turned away for inability to pay.
Sussex Central High School is located at 26026 Patriots Way, Georgetown.