Tucson composer R. Clark Jewett directs his dream - "The List: The Musical"

Tucsonan creates rock musical based on job hunting on Craigslist
2013-05-12T00:00:00Z 2013-05-19T19:09:12Z Tucson composer R. Clark Jewett directs his dream - "The List: The Musical"Kathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

R. Clark Jewett is giving his mother the gift she really wants.

"My dream for Clark is that he has a fulfilling and happy life," says Lorie Jewett about her 23-year-old son.

He's happy.

"For the time being, anyway," he says.

Of course, he's driving himself a little crazy doing it.

Jewett has written the music, lyrics and book for "The List: A Musical." He is also producing and directing the production, which has a two-day run next weekend at the Fox Tucson Theatre. And he's doing this with his right leg in a brace - he was hit by a car while crossing the street in March.

"It's the most exciting and craziest time of my life," says Jewett, sitting in the bedroom of his midtown home, his crutches close by. His bed is unmade, and a copy of Stephen Sondheim's "Finishing the Hat" shares a couch with some clothes. Jewett sits on a chair sandwiched between the computer and Casio piano keyboard he uses to create his compositions.

Jewett, who grew up in Tucson and graduated from Canyon Del Oro High School, attended the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., on scholarship and earned his bachelor's in music composition from there last May.

"After getting a degree in composition, I was left with 'What do I do now?'" recalls Jewett, sweeping his thick hair out of his eyes.

"I had to do a musical."

But on what? And what style? He loves operas, musicals and musical comedies. Narrowing it down might have been difficult.

But then one day, bored, he started to cruise through Craigslist, the online classified ad service.

It was full of quirky ads for quirky people. "It was so funny," he says.

That was his eureka moment: He would write a musical comedy about twentysomethings looking for work on Craigslist.

"I saw a contemporary rock musical," he says.

Creating music for individual characters was nothing new to Jewett.

"When I meet people, I wonder what music would accompany them," he says.

He returned to Tucson after graduation, put fingers to keyboard in July and finished the script in January. Mounting the play in the Old Pueblo was a no-brainer.

"I thought, 'Where is a place where I know people and artists?'" says Jewett. "So I came back to Tucson and asked everyone I knew, old and new friends, if they would help."

Many were one-time CDO classmates.

It was at CDO that Jewett discovered his love of musical theater. He had played cello most of his life, but didn't see his first musical, "Avenue Q," until he was 16. That was the same year he first stepped on a stage for a theatrical performance.

"I had just wanted to play cello before that," says Jewett. "I just play for fun now."

His parents, Lorie, a social worker, and Rob Jewett, an educator, weren't prepared for his new interests.

"I was surprised to discover his love of musical theater," says Lorie. "I was surprised because he's a math and science geek."

Jewett was a natural on stage, recalls Erin Paradis, his senior year drama teacher at CDO and now the head of operations at Basis Schools. At CDO, Jewett wrote plays and music, sang, acted, directed. He immersed himself in theater.

"He brings a lot of joy to his performances and to the arts," says Paradis, who has offered Jewett guidance in staging "The List."

"He has the ability to be completely uninhibited and to think off the top of his head and come up with something beautiful. ... Clark is very intelligent, and he likes to challenge himself and push the limits, especially in the arts. He was such a phenomenal student."

He had made good friends at CDO, and while some of them no longer pursue theater, many of them still have the passion. And they are willing to help. The cast of 17, which has been in rehearsals since late January, includes a number of CDO grads.

Jewett's roommate plays trombone, so he incorporated that instrument into the score.

Jewett even went on Craigslist looking for musicians. "I didn't get many responses," he says, recognizing the irony of going on Craigslist to find musicians to play in a musical about Craigslist. Eventually, his roommate pulled in his musician friends to help fill out the 11-person orchestra.

Jewett doesn't have a budget for the project. "It's what I can afford," he says. "It's expensive, though, getting into the thousands." He is using his own money to pay for everything , including the rental of the Fox for the two performances.

Through college, he prepared for such an adventure, earning (and saving) money by teaching singing and working in a recording studio.

He hopes ticket sales will help him recoup costs, and he has made a commitment to donate proceeds to Arts for All. He figures even if he doesn't recoup his costs, he'll make a donation to the nonprofit organization, which provides theatrical opportunities to children with disabilities.

"It was an easy choice," says Jewett as he adjusts his thick eyeglasses.

"I can identify with an artist with disabilities. I am legally blind," says Jewett, who was diagnosed with glaucoma when he was 7 years old. "Arts for All helps out with kids that have disabilities and I think that is cool."

In addition to working on the musical, Jewett has spent the last year applying to graduate schools. He hopes to attend Berklee School of Music's master program at the school's Valencia, Spain, campus. There he can study scoring for film, TV and video games.

On a recent Monday night, he sits at a small table, his laptop computer open and playing the score while the actors sing during rehearsal in a cramped, windowless room at the Historic Y.

Jewett snaps his fingers, keeping time the way a metronome would, and his uninjured leg never stops jiggling. Every once in awhile, he encourages an actor, or makes a suggestion. His voice is always gentle, belying his stress about the performance.

"This musical is like the world's biggest heart attack that lasts six months," he says.

He fantasizes about his musical playing elsewhere.

"It would be beautiful if someone wanted to produce it. Once I get the recordings (of the live performances), I'll try to shop it around."

He has other dreams, too. He'd love to write musicals, win Tony Awards, and compose music ("If I can compose and get paid for it, I will write for pickled herring," he says dryly).

And he is very intent on spreading the gospel of musical theater.

"Maybe I'm young and naive, but I want to get people out to see musicals," he says.

"Every town should have a musical theater. I wish it was like a movie theater, and people went all the time."

His mother has dreams, too.

Besides his happiness, she wants him to "find someone he loves, and be good to others."

But she's ready for whatever shape that takes.

"Nothing surprises me anymore about him," she says. "I'm going to start preparing myself for big shocks along the way. He's game to try anything, which is kind of nice."

If you go

• What: "The List: A Musical," by R. Clark Jewett.

• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

• Where: Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St.

• Tickets: $10.

• Reservations: 547-3040 or foxtucsontheatre.ticketforce.com

• The story as described in the show's flyer: "'The List' is a musical confirming everyone's suspicions about the internet. Follow our heroes Rikki and Seth as they meet strangers over the internet who invariably turn out to be weirdos. Experience what may be the first ever 'feel-bad' comedy of the summer! 'The List' will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and then it will make you scream uncontrollably. If you are ready to finally see super villains onstage singing side-by-side with FBI agents, then this musical is for you."

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at kallen@azstarnet.com or 573-4128.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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