A new musical with strong Colorado roots is having its world premiere in Louisville this week.
The show is based on a Fort Collins family that achieved its 15 minutes of fame in 2009.
Richard Heene and his wife, Mayumi, made a frantic 911 call to alert the authorities that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, had floated away in a mylar weather balloon.
But, as the Heenes’ story spread across major national media outlets, it turned out to be a hoax. Hours after the initial call, rescue crews found Falcon safe in his family’s attic.
At the time, the show’s creator, Billy Recce, was only 11. Thousands of miles away in New York state, he was transfixed by the saga unfolding on his television.
“I found the story very funny in seventh grade,” Recce, now 16, says. “But I also thought there was something more about this family than how the media treated the story.”
He wanted to portray the Heenes as a relatively ordinary family dealing with an explosive media backlash.
Recce says the new musical also looks at society’s obsession with fame at any cost -- even if it puts a strain on families.
“It talks about how we live in this ‘American Idol,’ reality TV society today,” Recce says. “And I wanted to explore how that takes a toll on family.”
And, with heightened emotions and high stakes, Recce felt the story lent itself well to musical theater. He says it really “sung” to him.
“Different moments in the story you could just tell, oh there’s a song here when the cameras are chasing the balloon,” Recce says. “It could easily be musicalized.”
The opening song from the show, titled “Follow Your Dreams,” won a musical theater award at the Thespian Musicalworks Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska this summer.
In Lincoln, Recce met the drama students of Monarch High School, who were also competing at the festival. He expressed interest in producing the full show in Colorado for its world premiere.
“They thought about it and then said, ‘We would love to do this,’” Recce says. “I think the show was ready at the time, so I was all for them doing it.”
The teen worked closely with the Monarch High School cast, Skyping from New York during some rehearsals and reworking songs or scenes where necessary.
Members of the cast visited CPR’s Performance studio last week to share two numbers from the new musical.
Solomon Abell (Richard Heene) and Sydney McDonald (reporter Brittany Witherspoon) sang “People Need Love” with Oliver Ullman accompanying them on the piano.
Elise Falkenstein (Mayumi Heene) and Mikayla Aiken (Falcon Heene) joined Abell for a musical routine titled “Trio.”
“Trio” represents each family member’s perspective on what’s happening.