We're Gonna Die is a cabaret-style musical about something we all have in common – certain death. This is not, as director and producer Jake Nice points out, the story of star-crossed lovers who "come together, sing about their love for each other, then turn to the audience and do a tap-dance routine."
Instead, We're Gonna Die is a more casual collection of prose stories and songs. While it's not entirely comedic, Nice considers the show is more akin to stand-up comedy. "It almost feels like a secular sermon," he says. "Not that anyone in the show is telling people how to live their lives, but in the sense of sharing stories that are meant to comfort and unify us."
Penned by playwright and musician Young Jean Lee, who debuted and starred in the show in New York in 2011, We're Gonna Die makes its regional premiere with four performances in Dallas, Denton and Fort Worth. Sammy “Rat” Rios will play Lee's role of The Singer, and different local bands will join in for each performance.
The first performance is at Second Thought Theatre in Dallas, followed by another of Lee’s plays, Straight White Men. As assistant director of the latter production, Nice began researching Lee and came across the album version of We’re Gonna Die, released in 2013. He says that the collaborative nature of that recording, which featured David Byrne, Laurie Anderson and Adam "Ad Roc" Horovitz, among others, inspired him to pitch a version of the show to Second Thought.
“And Sammy had this idea, too, of bringing in different musicians for each performance," Nice says. "To make it about a sense of community in each location, with band members that are attached to each performance venue.”
Each band will perform their take on the same songs. At Second Thought, the performers will be Dillon White, Donovan Jones (Black Taffy), Rob Martinez (HONOR SYSTEM) and Drew Hall, Second Thought’s director of operations. Brick Haus Collective in Denton will offer the musical stylings of Ariel Hartley (Pearl Earl), Chris Escarfullery (Catamaran), Hagen Hauschild and Jackson Russo (MNKR, Kites & Boomerangs). The show will announce lineups for the performances at The Wild Detectives in Dallas and The Blackhouse in Fort Worth in the coming weeks.
“It’s definitely more work than doing it with one band the whole time,” Nice admits. “But I think what makes it appealing is that people may be interested in seeing the show multiple times, because each lineup is going to be very different.”
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Nice and Rios met as students in the theater department at SMU and remained friends after graduation, Nice says. They also share collaborators in the Dallas music scene – Nice is vocalist and guitarist for the beach rock band Surprising Flavor, and Rios is a synthpop singer-songwriter – but they hadn’t worked together before.
Nice read We’re Gonna Die in November and immediately pictured Rios in the lead role. “I think that she has the right feel for the show in terms of music – it’s kind of indie-pop, indie-rock music,” he says. “I thought that she would get the vibe of it."
Another way that We’re Gonna Die differs from most musicals, Nice says, is a minimal amount of rehearsal time. “The bands are comfortable with the music, but it’s not like this is a super well-oiled machine,” he notes. “Everybody’s there to just jam and have a great time together and bring the audience something simple, something refreshing and something they can relate to.”
We're Gonna Die opens on Saturday, April 29, at 5 p.m. at Second Thought Theatre in Dallas. Also showing May 12, 8:30 p.m. at Brick Haus Collective in Denton; June 2, 8:30 p.m. at The Wild Detectives in Dallas; and June 11, 7 p.m. at The Blackhouse in Fort Worth. Tickets are $10 at the door or online at https://were-gonna-die-ddfw.ticketleap.com.