A Long and Windy Road

Preview by Mare Trevathan

“The Wind”– a new musical by David Nehls. One performance only!
Sunday, January 14 @ 2:00 pm
Su Teatro, 721 Santa Fe Drive in Denver. Tickets $26.

As a composer/lyricist and music director, David Nehls has a deep, impressive, and wide-ranging history.

Perhaps you saw his work as music director very recently in “Damn Yankees” at the Arvada Center.

You may have seen his work even more recently at the Garner Galleria in “Miss Rhythm”, which he co-wrote with its star, Sheryl McCallum.

David Nehls

Or, like me, you may have just seen the cheerily low-brow (and very well executed) “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical” playing at the new Miners Alley Playhouse space through December 31.

But what you’ve certainly not seen is Nehls flying solo as composer, lyricist and author of “The Wind”, premiering at Stories on Stage on Sunday, January 14 at 2pm (performing at Su Teatro).

Emily Van Fleet

Featuring the remarkable talents of Emily Van Fleet (star of the recent “Beautiful” at the Arvada Center and currently performing in “A Christmas Carol” at the Denver Center), this one-woman production is long in the making.

Nehls, a huge fan of old movies, first encountered the story by happenstance nearly ten years ago in 2014 while watching the Turner Classic Movies channel.  Adapted from the novel of the same name written by Dorothy Scarborough in 1925, the 1928 silent film version of “The Wind” stars Lillian Gish as the isolated heroine, Letty, driven insane by the interminable wind. 

“It’s this esoteric exercise in madness,” says Nehls. “Letty is waiflike, prim and proper. She’s sent from Virginia to West Texas in the 1880s. By the end of film she’s haggard and grizzled. Like a year later.”

Nehls says, “Something about the story just grabbed me. The imagery was fascinating. And the character journey… I’d been looking for something besides the typical musical to write. And I love that era: the late nineteenth century. Especially in the United States. The fashion, manners, art…

“When it hits me, I write it.”

Originally, Nehls contemplated making it a dance piece. “But then there was a ballet of ‘The Wind’ in London in 2017 that was a huge disaster, so I moved away from that idea!”

But one day, while coaching Van Fleet, he was “looking at Emily who I’ve worked with for years and it just struck me that ‘The Wind’ is a solo piece and here’s an actor who could portray all of the actors in this story. So I asked her if she’d be interested.”

Emily Lewis, Violin

She was.

Says Van Fleet, “This woman’s journey is so interesting. I’ve always been fascinated with stories of women in isolation and their slow descent into madness.” 

The two have been workshopping the piece informally on their own over the years. “Emily would come over to my house and read and we’d say ‘is there something here?’” 

David Short, Cello

There was a challenge, says Nehls, in shaping Scarborough’s words for a modern audience. “It was a bit heady and esoteric.”

But by the summer of 2019 they had a draft (insert your own wind pun joke here) they “were quite pleased with”. So they scheduled a workshop of the production at the Arvada Center with Lynn Collins directing. As fate would have it, that was in May of 2020. 

“We still did it. Streaming, of course,” says Nehls. “We were maybe the first streaming theater thing in Denver?”

Covid, says Van Fleet, made the story all the more resonant with her. “This theme of being isolated and going crazy felt so relevant.”

In a second workshop- also online- in January of 2021 at the People’s Building with Aaron Vega directing, Nehls says they found more humor and character. “And suspense,” he says. “It’s Hitchcokian. It’s intensely theatrical, but also has the feel of a radio play”. 

The Stories on Stage production in 2024 will be the fIrst time having “a real live audience”– ten years since Nehls first encountered the story on his tv.

“I cannot wait to have people experience it,” says Van Fleet. “David’s score is haunting, driving. It’s catchy. There’s a patter song that’s really cute and fun.”

“I’m so excited to have a live audience,” concurs Nehls. “We’re eager to see how people react to it!”

To be part of that discovery, mark your calendar:

“The Wind” is a one-person musical with music, lyrics and book by David Nehls, performed by Emily Van Fleet, accompanied by Nehls, violinist Emily Lewis and cellist David Short (who orchestrated the piece). One performance only! Sunday, January 14 @ 2:00pm – Su Teatro, 721 Santa Fe Drive in Denver. Tickets $26.

  • Insider tip: Nehls says the show works independently of knowing the book or movie, but he does encourage silent film buffs to check out the Lilian Gish version. 
  • “It’s the last silent movie MGM produced. Years later, Gish said she thought they were on the cusp of making something that was true art in silent film.” But then came the talkies, halting the development of the silent film format.

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