Arts & Culture News

Dallas-Produced Musical 38 MINUTES Tells a First-Hand Story of the Hawaiian Missile Crisis

Paradise was lost in 2018 during Holly Doubet's vacation. Her experience during the Hawaiian Missile Crisis inspired her to write a musical.
Paradise was lost in 2018 during Holly Doubet's vacation. Her experience during the Hawaiian Missile Crisis inspired her to write a musical. Matthew Micah Wright/Getty
It took Dallas composer Holly Doubet two weeks to get out of bed after returning from her vacation in Hawaii in January of 2018. Once she did, she began writing music. It was the best way she knew how to process what she — and more than a million other people — had just experienced.

The result is her first musical, 38 MINUTES, which Doubet completed with the help of some impressive Broadway firepower. The musical tells the story of Jessica, a single mother who is vacationing in Hawaii during the Hawaiian Missile Crisis, and it’s based on Doubet’s first-hand experience of the event.

Like the musical, Doubet’s real-life story starts on the morning of Jan. 13, 2018. Doubet and her boyfriend, Michael Vendrell, were packing their bags to leave Hawaii and fly home to Dallas when an emergency alert reached their phones at 8:07 a.m.

It sounded like an Amber Alert, which Doubet remembers thinking seemed out of place after such a blissful vacation in a Hawaiian paradise. She continued packing while Vendrell checked his phone, but she stopped when she saw his face, the most bizarre look she'd ever seen.

“What is it?” Doubet asked, and he showed her the message. It read:


The alert went out to every cellphone, television and radio in the state of Hawaii and was seen by more than a million residents and visitors. What they didn’t know was that it was a false alarm accidentally sent out during a test.

The alert was sent amid rising tension between the United States and North Korea just a couple of weeks after then-President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un traded threats about their nuclear capabilities, and Trump famously bragged that his “nuclear button” was “much bigger and more powerful” than the one controlled in the capital of Pyongyang.

There was no reason to believe that the alert wasn’t real. People across Hawaii began to panic, and Doubet and Vendrell were among them.

“I looked at (Vendrell) and I said, ‘What do we do?’ It was weird because it was so quiet," Doubet recalls. 'I said, ‘We need to find somewhere to go.' I put my fanny pack on my waist and put my driver’s license in there in case my torso was found. I was still in my house shoes and my pink pajamas.”

There was only one room in their resort that didn’t have windows, so the couple headed there. As they ran, Doubet called her adult sons, but only her eldest picked up. At first he didn’t believe her, but after some convincing, Doubet was able to give him a final goodbye.

“I told him, ‘I just called your brother and I didn’t reach him. I just want you to know that you’ve been the best part of my life, you and your brother," Doubet says, "'I love you so much, and I will love you when I’m gone. You’ve given my life meaning. Tell your brother, please. We’re running to find a place to hide.’

“It still brings me to tears when I think about it now,” Doubet says, her voice cracking.

When they arrived at the room, it was already packed shoulder-to-shoulder with other vacationers. There’s no social protocol for how to act when you’re crammed in a small room with 40 people waiting to die, so they found themselves making small talk.

“It was like, ‘Where are you from? Do you have any kids? Why’d you come to Hawaii?’ We couldn’t really talk about dying, so were just sort of quiet and very gently talking to each other,” Doubet says. “People kept looking at their phones to see if there was any information. No one was screaming and crying and falling on the ground. We were just ... how do I say it? It was almost prayerful.”

In what Doubet believed could be her last moments on Earth, she reflected on her life.

She had moved to Dallas to write songs for Barney and Friends after working in the music industry in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for nearly two decades, but she was forced to leave the industry after a nasty divorce when she needed to find an alternative way to support herself and her two sons, who were still young at the time.

That was years before she found herself in a room full of strangers in Hawaii. She hadn’t been able to return to creating music full-time and didn’t know her journey would take her back to music, or anywhere. Although there was a lot Doubet would still go on to accomplish, she was at peace with her life so far.

“I was thinking, ‘I’m 60 years old and I have no regrets in my life,'" Doubet says. "'My two sons are grown and I’ve done a lot of fun, wonderful things. There’s nothing that I wanted to do that I haven’t done. I’ve had an amazing life, and if this is how I die, then I’m OK with it.’”

At 8:45 a.m., exactly 38 minutes and 13 seconds after the first alert was sent, a second alert was dispatched, saying:

“There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False alarm.”

Just like that, it was over.

"I put my fanny pack on my waist and put my driver’s license in there in case my torso was found. I was still in my house shoes and my pink pajamas.” – Holly Doubet

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All across Hawaii people came out of hiding and continued on with their lives. But the event was, as Doubet put it, “life-altering” and it demanded to be fully processed.

Doubet and Vendrell returned to Dalllas, and Doubet struggled to cope with the trauma for the first couple of weeks. The event, dubbed the “Hawaiian Missile Crisis,” brought a lot of things into sharp focus.

There was only one thing Doubet wanted to do with all her thoughts and feelings, and that was to reach back to her musical roots and write songs that encompassed everything she experienced. So she did.

“It started out just being me," she says. "I thought, ‘Dagnabbit, I’m going to write a musical.’ But I’m glad it didn’t end up being just me. It has been a massive project.”

After writing several songs on her own, she enlisted the help of her lifelong friend, Kathy Babylon, who's been a studio singer since she was a child and has worked with bigwigs such as Frank Sinatra, The Carpenters, Joe Sample and Nigel Olsson. Doubet and Babylon wrote 10 more songs together.

“I incorporated everything that I experienced in those 38 minutes into the show,” Doubet says. “It was either my own experience or something that someone else had told me about their experience.”

The song “This You Should Know” offers the perspective of a mother saying her last goodbyes to her young children and Doubet says it never fails to bring listeners to tears. Other songs reflect on the beauty of Hawaii and its “Aloha” culture. Some songs such as “Mine Is Bigger Than Yours” bring comedy into the mix.

Once a first draft was completed, Babylon used her connections to get Grammy and Emmy Award-winning director and producer Paul Bogaev involved in the show. Bogaev has worked on projects such as Elton John’s Aida and Broadway productions of Chicago, Nine, Dreamgirls, Across the Universe, Mulan and The Lion King, so it was a big win when he told Doubet and Babylon the story was “extremely moving” with a “rich and varied” score and agreed to serve as the musical director.

Bogaev asked another Broadway veteran, Gabriel Barre, who is known for his work on Billy Elliott, Pippin, and Jesus Christ Superstar among others, to direct. They also enlisted the help of playwright Joseph McDonough for his expertise on the script.

Doubet says the project has improved by leaps and bounds since assembling a team of such hard-hitting professionals. The script recently won a $5,000 grant from the Donald Fowler Theater Arts Memorial Fund of the Dallas Foundation. However, there’s still a lot of fundraising left to do in order for Doubet to reach her goal of turning it into a full-scale production.

Luckily, one of the blessings that Doubet received from her life-changing 38 minutes of staring death in the face is that she now has a whole new perspective on ... basically everything.

“I’m not afraid of anything,” she says. “I’m not afraid of success. I’m not afraid of failure. I feel like I’m hitting the prime of my life in my 60s, and I want to share that with people.”

You can help support Doubet’s work by attending a concert reading of 38 MINUTES on Dec. 9 and 10 at 8 p.m. at Sammons Center for the Arts in Dallas, 3630 Harry Hines Blvd. in Dallas. Tickets are $250 and can be purchased through the Kickstarter campaign. All the songs are available to stream on Soundcloud.

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