NEW ULM - Longtime friends Dan Johnston and Kent Reeder had just finished performing the musical "Oklahoma" when Johnston said, "this isn't very good, let's try and write something better."
So they did. And four years later all of their sweat, tears and many sleepless nights will be rewarded when Martin Luther College performs their original musical "The Sundance Kid" the first weekend of November.
Johnston and Reeder, who both went to Luther Prep in Watertown, Wis., started working on the musical in the winter of their junior year in high school.
Dan Johnston plays Butch Cassidy, Elizabeth Johnson is Anne Stark and Lucas Bitter is Sundance in Martin Luther College’s presentation of “The Sundance Kid.'
"The first song we wrote, we wrote late at night and I went into a piano room the next day and put a melody to it and stuff," said Reeder, who is the director. "I thought, 'this is really good, we should write a musical.' From then, Dan would come up with an idea and write some lyrics or I would come up with an idea and write some lyrics.
"We wrote songs on choir tours, on the bus and sometimes just with a piano."
While Reeder was working on the music, Johnston was trying to put a script together.
If you go...
The Sundance Kid will have three performances. Nov. 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. in the MLC auditorium. Tickets are $10 with discounts for children and seniors. For more information call (507) 233-9114 or go to mlcforum.org.
The Sundance Kid Cast:
Sundance - Lucas Bitter
Butch - Dan Johnston
Elissa - Kim Lehninger
George - Kurtis Wetzel
Brett - Micah Ricke
Anne - Liz Johnson
Parker - William Dunn
Vern - David Wendland
Dunham - Cale Mead
Clyde - Peter Metzger
Peter - Peter Janke
Joe - Derek Bartelt
Penny - Sarah Zietlow
Mrs. Thurman - Tiffany Pringle
Joshua - Paul Elmquist
Chorus Ladies - Elisabeth Zuehlke, Kathy Georgson, Julie Jabs, Karen Luehring, Rebecca Balge, Jenni Mickelson, Julie Boggs, Sarah Enstad, Emily Heidtke.
Chorus Gentlemen - Scott Cooper, Greg Hein, Aaron Jensen, Richard Owen III, Paul Elmquist
"It took a while," said Johnston, who plays Butch Cassidy in the performance. "I would pound something out and go show Kent. I would ask him for suggestions and ideas on how it could be improved. I would email the script to him during the summer asking him to check it out."
Johnston is especially proud of how well Reeder put music to his script.
"Kent did an excellent job with the music," Johnston said. "It's wonderful. He spent a lot of long hours and sleepless nights putting this all together. He even decided to add a second piano to the mix to make it even more majestic."
The play is about Sundance Kid [played by Lucas Bitter], Butch Cassidy and their gang the Wild Bunch. The story starts out on a train that they rob. Then they rob a bank and kidnap the bankers daughter. As the play goes on, the daughter Elissa [played by Kim Lehninger] and Sundance start to fall in love. He starts spending all of his time with her which brings conflict between him and the rest of the gang. In the end, Sundance has to decide between love and his friends.
They picked the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid because they were influenced to do a western after performing in "Oklahoma." They also liked the story and the movie with Robert Redford and Paul Newman. They are both quick to point out that their version isn't like the movie and probably not historically accurate.
Writing the musical was difficult in itself but equally difficult was getting permission from the school to put on an original musical.
It's the first time that a musical written by students will be performed at MLC but not the first performance. Two years ago, MLC put on the play "The Things They Carried" which was an original work but it was an adaptation of a book.
But before they could produce "The Sundance Kid" they needed to get permission from the student-run forum board, which proved to be difficult.
The two first tried to do the musical last year but were denied.
"We did a lot of revamping and we gave ourselves an extra year to work on it," Reeder said. "This year we presented it again and they said yes."
They had tryouts in late August and they have been practicing ever since to get ready for their first performance Nov. 7.
Johnston wrote the play but he isn't the star. In fact he wasn't even planning on acting in it at all.
"I was not part of selection process," he said. "I decided to stay completely out of that part. From the beginning, I was going to stay completely out of it. But once we got here and I saw there wasn't a whole lot of male involvement, we decided one should be in it and one should direct it."
With it being an original show, there have been a few challenges. The first obstacle was what would the set look like?
"We had to totally create something," Reeder said. "We couldn't watch the movie and see what they did."
Also, how should the characters act?
"The neat thing is we both had a vision in our head," Reeder said. "But that vision has changed for things. You have a picture of a character in your head, then you put a person in there and they have ideas on their own. But in the end it has all jelled together."
Bitter, for one likes to be the first to do the role.
"I think it's kind of cool to be the first one to make the character come to life," he said. "To be the first one to interpret it is exciting. Sundance is sort of a laid back character and I am a laid back guy. It has been fun to do."
But Lehninger thought being the first to play a role was a little intimidating.
"It was tough when I went to audition because I didn't really know who my character was," she said. "Especially since I didn't know the guys that wrote it."
Opening night is just a few weeks away and now everything is starting to take shape.
"Everything is coming together," Johnston said. "It's exciting to see something you have worked on this hard finally come together like this."