'Distant Thunder': Native Musical Aspires to Take Broadway by Storm
Now that Distant Thunder, the Native American musical, has premiered in New York City’s posh Greenwich Village, the next big step is to book the show at a theatre off Broadway, said the play’s co-author Shaun Taylor-Corbett.
But that’ll take both money and a venue.
Last month, Amas Musical Theatre, a culturally diverse playhouse in the West Village, hosted three performances of Distant Thunder over a two-day period. It was the first Native American musical the theatre has offered in its 40-year history, said Joe Trentacosta, Amas’s public relations representative.
“We’re trying to have a huge New York presence in two years, but we need to have funding,” Taylor-Corbett said. “Funding is essential.”
It’s been more than four years, in fact, since Shaun and his mother Lynne Taylor-Corbett co-wrote Distant Thunder. The story, as expounded on the play’s Facebook page, is a modern tale about a half-Native American, half-white lawyer who returns to the Blackfeet reservation in Browning, Montana from Chicago to reconcile with his estranged father.
Shaun, a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation himself, described the play as “a contemporary musical about life happening now.” The story, which has its roots in Shaun’s own life, also incorporates Native American traditions as well as U.S. history, i.e. references to boarding schools and land acquisition.
“We’re depicting real people, not stereotypes – not an outsider’s image of what a Native American is,” he said.
Shaun, who also wrote the music and lyrics with composers Chris Wiseman and Robert Lindsey-Nassif, said he’s aware that non-Native audiences might expect to see Indians in typical regalia when coming to a show. He knows that some might expect the quintessential Native posturing as mostly seen on television, but that is not Distant Thunder, he said. The play puts real Natives in real situations in this era.
“I think when people hear of a Native American musical they imagine the historical image [of an Indian], which is why we have the standup [comedy scene],” he said. “But I think people will identify with it more because it’s contemporary; it’s more tangible.”
And although Shaun said he’s pleased with the turnout and response of the crowd at Amas Musical Theatre in February, he added that he, his mother, and the cast, hope for an off Broadway production so they can add new fantastic elements, such as Native dances.
“We want to have a pow wow on the stage!” he said excitedly.
Lynne Taylor-Corbett, who also directs the musical, said Distant Thunder is the first play she and her son have worked on together, but she anticipates it will not be the last.
“I can’t imagine having the closeness of creativity [with anyone else on] this particular project,” she said. In the meantime, she added, the Taylor-Corbett duo will put all of their efforts into this play before they begin to draft a new one.
After all, getting to Broadway is not an unfamiliar effort for Lynne – she’s well acquainted with the competitive climate of Broadway productions. In 2000, she received two Tony nominations for Best Director and Best Choreographer for the Broadway show Swing! Currently, Lynne’s adaptation of The Lion King is in its seventh year at Hong Kong Disney and her production of Cougar the Musical is playing at St. Luke’s Theatre off Broadway.
“I think our goal is to reach a more mainstream audience because I think there is a tremendous lack of information about life on the reservation,” she said. “We believe that Distant Thunder is a story that could be really relevant to other people.”
Lynne added that she hopes when non-Native audiences leave the theatre after a performance, they’ll reflect on the storyline and say, “I never knew about any of this.”
Still, a Native American musical on Broadway? Shaun said it’s high time that Native America is provided a space on the esteemed Broadway platform.
“I think it’s just about time,” he said. “… Man, it’s about time!”
Actress Marisa Quinn, Lipan Apache, who plays the role of Dorothy Dark Eyes, said Distant Thunder, among its many attributes, is an affirmation of the contemporary indigenous presence in America.
“We are still here today,” she said emphatically.
Quinn, who also appeared in the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, lauded Shaun and Lynne Taylor-Corbett for not only writing the musical, which she describes as “magical,” but for also putting the modern Native story out there for other Natives to see and to be inspired by – especially the budding generation of Native artists.
“You can’t be it if you can’t see it,” she said.
The Taylor-Corbett team recently applied for a federal National Endowment for the Arts grant in the hope of receiving the resources to fund a big-time off Broadway production.
Until then, Distant Thunder is available and ready to be booked at any theatre interested in hosting it.
For those who’d like to get involved with Distant Thunder, or to learn more about how you can host the musical, email Shaun Taylor-Corbett directly at distantthunderthemusical[at]gmail.com.