Taking Flight: The Falcon as Theater and Chamber Music

Preview by Betsy Schwarm

Spoken words, stage action, live music, an engaging story of an imaginative child and her personal superhero:  what more could one desire of a theatrical experience, especially one for the entire family? It’s playwright Josh Hartwell‘s new work, Music of Flight: The Falcon.

Josh Hartwell

Hartwell attests that the musical element came first.  “Barbara Hamilton from the Colorado Chamber Players contacted me about writing a comic hero-based play to go with these specific pieces that featured birds.”  Hartwell was enthusiastic about the idea, in part because he says “I am and have always been a comic book and superhero fan.”  Moreover, he and Hamilton’s CCP have collaborated previously on three other projects.  No superheroes in those partnerships, but much intersection between live music and spoken word.  

Betty Hart

By Hartwell’s invitation, additional creative voices had a place in the process, especially that of director Betty Hart, whose work has graced many stages around the Denver area, including the Denver Center Theatre Company.   Hart remarks, “We had a pre-rehearsal workshop to hear the piece aloud by our fantastic cast. That workshop led to another iteration of the script. Each draft is stronger than the one that preceded it.”

Hartwell says there’s a significant subtext to Darlene’s imagined adventure: “It’s also about having heroes, what it means to be a hero, and that any child can endeavor to be any kind of hero they desire to be or become.  And, of course, it touches on the ideas of birds and flying and honoring nature.  A lot to put into a relatively short play, I hope it all comes through.”  

Music of Flight: The Falcon has a handful of characters, though only two actors.  Ronald McQueen is the Falcon; Michaela Murray is Darlene, and several other passing voices.  Hartwell says he’s eager to see how the ensemble will “bring these characters to life.”  

Ronald McQueen as The Falcon

The story revolves around young Darlene, who, the playwright says, “relies on her imagination (and her “conjured” hero) to help guide her through questions she has about identity, her future and potential aspirations, and societal judgments and expectations.”  Even adults might find those subjects daunting.  However, Darlene draws both strength and inspiration from her personal superhero, the Falcon.

Many tales of indigenous peoples have human characters finding courage in the support of unseen spirits.  Hartwell sees the similarity, though it was not a direct inspiration.  However, he adds, “it could be said that there is a sort of spiritual connection between these characters as well as with nature. “

Barbara Hamilton-Colorado Chamber Players

Here, the musical component can both literally and figuratively give wing to complicated ideas.  Barbara Hamilton, violist and artistic director of the Colorado Chamber Players, drafted a list of bird-themed chamber music, choosing from both earlier repertoire and current composers.  French Baroque composer JP Rameau evokes the squawks and scratchings of chickens through his La Poule.  In his String Quartet no. 32, “The Bird”, Viennese master Joseph Haydn captures the trills and warbles of song birds.  A flute and cello duet by Brazilian composer Villa-Lobos has flute phrases rising birdlike above the sober steadiness of the cello.  

Maria Newman

American composer Maria Newman (daughter of film composer Alfred Newman) had very specific birds in mind in her chamber suite Pennipotenti (2005): translating as “the power of feathers.”  Hamilton selected music from all four movements of the suite:  The Dipper, a small, semi-aquatic songbird; The Snowy Owl with its mournful hooting; The Hummingbird, playfully flitting about; and The Falcon:  neither small, nor semi-aquatic, nor particularly song-like, but certainly linking to the superhero character in Hartwell’s play.  Four very different birds bring different visions of flight. Of birds and the play’s protagonist, the playwright observes that Darlene “fantasizes about how superheroes or pilots might feel while flying.  It’s connected with a child dreaming of her future and all her possibilities.”

Director Betty Hart says, “The music is a character in the play. I’m encouraging Michaela and Ronald [the actors] to genuinely listen and allow the music’s rhythms and emotional tones to affect the words and physical movement.”  Words, music and motion all further character development.  

The Falcon: Music of Flight is a short, family-friendly theater piece, intended for ages eight to eighty.  Six performances will be given, all with McQueen and Murray inhabiting the characters and the Colorado Chamber Players providing the live music.

A ticket and information link follows, though here’s a quick overview:

– Downtown Denver:  Thursday and Friday, May 4-5, 2023 at the Studio Loft (4th Floor) in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House – 11am and 7pm each day.  Entrance via the Studio Loft downstairs lobby on 14th Street north of the Convention Center light rail station. Address: 980 14th Street, Denver. A cashless bar will be open before and after each show for drinks and snacks (credit and debit cards only).

– East Aurora:  Saturday, May 6, 2023, at the People’s Building, 9999 East Colfax, Aurora – one performance, 11 am only. Snack bar open before and after the show.

– Parker:  Saturday, May 13, 2023, at the Parker Schoolhouse on Main, 19650 Main Street – one performance, 11 am only.

Groups of ten students or more get a 20% discount, with one free adult chaperone for each set of ten students, on May 4-5 (USE SCHOOL10).  Group tickets for 10+ are also available for May 6 at People’s Building. (USE GROUP10).

Tickets and further information are available here:

Music of Flight: The Falcon combines the talents of playwright Josh Hartwell, actors Ronald McQueen and Michaela Murray, director Betty Hart, and members of the Colorado Chamber Players, represented by violist Barbara Hamilton, flutist Paul Nagem, violinist Paul Primus, and cellist Sarah Biber.  Their collective task:  to express the aspirations and potential of an imaginative girl, and evoke the spirit of her personal superhero, too.  

Hart is confident that the tale will fly, perhaps as well as the Falcon himself. “My charge is to tell the story in a way that engages the generations of people who will attend. We are using movement, humor, and powerful live music to connect to our audiences.”

When the world gets complicated, we could all use a superhero.  Let us envy young Darlene and revel in her adventure!

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