From the Von Trapps to Mary Poppins, Firehouse Theatre has seen numerous musical characters grace their stage, and in May they’ll add an unexpected icon to that list: Lee Harvey Oswald. Performed for the first time ever in its entirety, audiences can watch Oswald, the musical, Friday through Sunday, May 3-5.
Adding to the unique experience of seeing the show's debut, is the impact that Dallas audience's reaction will have on the still-evolving production. These developmental performances that Firehouse is hosting will be useful learning tools to understand what pieces of the show can be improved.
Oswald producer Ally Beans was born in Dallas and found her passion for the theater in North Texas before attending college and making her way to New York. She recognizes the invaluable input a Dallas audience can give to a show such as this one.
“I think the idea of putting it up here, getting a Dallas audience in front of it, is — what works, what doesn’t, what plays well,” Beans says. “What do we maybe not have historically accurate? What is true to the city and true to the people here? I think we’re looking for all of that feedback, because it’s very important to the team that this show is something that Dallas feels ownership over.”
Oswald, written by Tony LePage, with music and lyrics by John Sassanella, examines the life, the infamy and the infinite questions that still surround the lone gunman who assassinated President John F. Kennedy. (Allegedly, as the guy who sells merch in Dealey Plaza will tell you for $5.)
The musical has been a labor of love for the writing team of LePage and Sassanella, with their first words they'd written together penned backstage as they performed in a Broadway run of “Rock of Ages.” Throughout the many years since, no matter what acting jobs pulled either apart from their work-in-progress, the duo always found the time to rework their passion project.
It's increasingly to difficult to search the name Oswald without having to weed through a forest of boundless conspiracy theories — a fact that the musical touches on lightly. While the production doesn’t indulge in the more fantastical theories of Oswald’s involvement, they've crafted a creative device in having two Oswalds appearing on the stage — the one who committed the murder, and the one who is innocent. By having both versions exist, audiences can see two possible explanations of the lingering mystery, without an end-goal of proclaiming his innocence.
“We're not looking to put the man who assassinated a president on a pedestal,” Beans says, “We’re not looking to humanize him, we’re not looking to change minds necessarily, we’re just telling the story. There’s not going to be a tap number, it’s not that kind of musical.”
To avoid romanticizing Oswald, the musical tells his story through the perspective of his widow, Marina, by exploring the surrounding impact of Lee Harvey’s criminal actions and what they meant for a family still carrying the Oswald name.
It’s a responsibility that the creative team of Oswald prioritize — that the figures represented in the production are real people — in some cases still alive — and the proper way to honor them is by not sacrificing true events for fabricated drama.
“I think audiences are going to be really surprised by it,” Beans says. “And just how historically accurate it is. But I think the intention is, we want to do it here first and make sure we do it justice.”