by JESSICA HOLLAN
It started as many things do: with a phone call.
On an early Saturday afternoon, a group of chattering university students gather in a cramped music room. The director holds a phone to his ear, desperately trying to find the whereabouts of some of his cast. However, this director is unique.
Unlike most, Ian Holbrook is not only the director, but also the lead romantic interest, composer, producer, and playwright of Prodigal Hearts, a fantastical adventure that combines the best of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz with a modern, original portrayal that gives this story a life of its own.
While this musical is a reworked version of one that he wrote in high school, he said that it is a product of self-restoration after a struggle with depression landed him in the hospital.
“After I had gotten out of the hospital, I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do [with] these exploding ideas,’” said Holbrook, a sophomore at TU who studies professional music. “This was the first one that popped into my head because Wonderland is very good for self-discovery imagery, and I’ve always wanted to use The Wizard of Oz’s plot because it’s just a good outline and it gives sense of the hero’s journey.”
“I loved the original idea Ian had to combine both these stories into one thing and then add his own stuff. I’m definitely excited to do it,” said producer and multi-character actor, James Portis. “When we first started [working on the script], Ian was really open to interpretation and different things. He was open to me doing the Caterpillar as a Snoop Dogg kind of character with a hookah and the White King with a cowboy hat. So there was a lot of things to build on; he didn’t just throw the script at us like ‘this is what you need to do.’ There was a group effort to find what clicked and what made sense.”
First year student Dillon Mikan, who will be making his theatre debut as Captain of the Queen’s Guard Ulsuras Iscariot, agrees with Portis.
“I get to put my own spin on [Ulsuras],” Mikan said. “I get to put my own interpretation on the character and make it mine. It’s fun to play evil characters.”
Mikan also said that while he enjoys the entire script, his favorite song is “Wild Kid,” an original piece composed by Holbrook and performed by first year student Brandon Utley.
“‘Wild Kid’ is so much fun to listen to,” said Mikan. “Brandon does it really well.”
Utley stars opposite of Holbrook as Alex McKinney, a teenage boy who finds himself in East Wonderland, a country stuck under the cruel tyranny of the evil Queen Evanna.
“This is a new experience for people to come see and enjoy,” said Utley. “It’s just awesome how [Holbrook] wrote this entire thing himself and now he gets to show it to the world.”
Utley’s favorite part about Alex McKinney is his relatability.
“He’s very misunderstood and just wants to fit in, and I feel everyone can kind of relate to that,” he said.
Another character who should resonate with audience members is the Queen of East Wonderland, Queen Evanna, played by Senior Heather Traska.
“I love being able to play the villain, and this villain is super complex. I think there is a lot of relatability in Evanna,” said Traska. “Everybody at some point in their life feels misunderstood, and she definitely deals with that a lot. She deals with the concept of ‘am I just destined to be evil or do I have any say in the matter?’ and I think that’s really interesting.”
With an original storyline and a plot twist this writer certainly didn’t see coming, Prodigal Hearts looks to be a show that nobody will want to miss.
Prodigal Hearts will debut its script in an exclusive one-night read-through on March 30 at 8 p.m. in room 205 of the Hayes Center for the Arts. Admission is free, so in the words of Queen Evanna herself: “Come on out and see it, fam.”
You can check out more of Ian Holbrook’s original works, such as the medley below, under the stage name Project 39 on YouTube.