Amelia's Journey, an original musical about America's most famous female pilot, opens tonight at Chesapeake Arts Center's Studio Theatre, where it premiered one year ago to sold-out houses for the entire run.
Long fascinated with Amelia Earhart's story, Annapolis attorney and composer-lyricist Doug Schenker composed a musical about the pilot, whose fame was the creation of publisher-promoter George Palmer Putnam.
About 10 years ago, Schenker engaged local playwright Linda Page to join him in bringing theatrical life to Earhart and Putnam, tracing the relationship from their first meeting in 1928 until her disappearance in 1937.
Although Earhart disliked Putnam when they met, she eventually grew so fond of him that she married him. Preoccupied with promoting and publicizing Earhart, Putnam never allowed her enough time to sharpen her flying skills to become a better pilot.
Describing his musical score in an earlier interview, Schenker said, "It follows the relationship between reluctant celebrity Earhart and Putnam, who exploited his media contacts and used multiple commercial sponsors to create a superstar who wrestled with the demons of celebrity."
The Amelia opening tonight is directed and choreographed by Christy Stouffer, who also plays the part of competing female pilot Annie Page.
In a recent rehearsal, Stouffer's choreography revealed an exciting dimension, above what was offered last year. The opening scene features a fresh, homespun choreography that emulates what was supposedly designed by Putnam to celebrate Earhart's expected July 4, 1937, return.
At rehearsal, lead players Mary Spencer and Scott Tanski expressed enthusiasm about reprising their roles for a third production. First was the premier, then at New Year's in Annapolis a 40-minute version was performed. Recently returned from her honeymoon, the former Mary Simmons again seemed perfectly cast as Earhart. Tanski has also grown more comfortable in the role of Putnam, summoning the required forceful demeanor at rehearsal.
Diane Ligon plays Earhart's lifelong friend, Gwen Bowen, and veteran actor Walt League takes on the role of Earhart's flying instructor, Duke Munroe. Elizabeth Lasner, another stage veteran, plays Putnam's secretary.
As to how this show differs from last year, Schenker said, "It has been tightened up and one torch song put back in for this third presentation. And we have also extended the run, because last time we had to turn people away. So that nobody will be turned away this time, another weekend of performances has been added."
Other changes include more choreography featuring upbeat dances with some songs in a different tempo. But basically it is the same show that sold out every performance last year. Everyone involved in putting on this show agrees that without the groundwork of first director Eloise Ullman, the musical might not work as well as it does this time around.
Amelia's Journey plays Friday, Saturday and Sunday through July 31 at Chesapeake Arts Center's Studio Theatre.
For tickets, call 410-636-6597.