Composer / Lyricist Peter Mills speaks about the origins of EVERGREEN…

December 18, 2009

Composer / Lyricist Peter Mills speaks about the origins of EVERGREEN…

What were the inspirations for the story of EVERGREEN, and for the music? Well, it’s an original story, but one which is modeled closely on the “monomyth.”  Cara and I wanted to follow a

mythic structure – as outlined by Joseph Campbell – partly because we were dealing with the ancient roots of the winter holidays, which originated in man’s collective unconscious, with symbols of trees and fire.  So we very consciously followed the structure of “the hero’s journey.”  Also, in reading about the origins of holiday symbols we encountered specific mythic characters—including “proto-Santa” figures, which can be traced back to Odin and Norse mythology, as well as Dionysus and other shamanic figures.  We looked at “Santa” representations in many different cultures.  Some of those characters worked their way into the story as well.  We also decided early on that it was going to be a journey, or quest, which passed through a series of three distinct worlds, in an homage to George Lucas films.  We move from a desert world, into a sea world, into a stone forest, and finally into the crater of a volcano, where we find both the green of the trees and the red of the fire.  Our lighting designer, Doug Harry, has done a fantastic job of making each of these worlds visually different.  For the music, traditional Christmas carols were definitely a source of inspiration.  Sprinkled throughout the score are various Christmas carol references, although they are probably not recognizable unless you know they are there.  For instance, the opening notes of the score are a variant of “O Come All Ye Faithful” – invoking the gathering of the people—and of course when the petrified stag appears we hear a minor key version of “Rudolphthe Red Nosed Reindeer” – although it would take a good ear to pick it out!

What do you mean by calling EVERGREEN a “holiday” show? We wanted to explore the meaning of Christmas and other winter celebrations.  We researched the mythology and origins of many different, iconic

symbols that are prevalent at this time of year—why so many of them involve trees, and lights.  Believe it or not, these symbols probably tie back into man’s ancient discovery and mastery of fire – incredibly important during the darkest and coldest time of the year.  Also, the evergreen tree is a symbol of life, of nature sustaining itself.  The fire provided by the wood of the tree also allows man to survive the winter.  We then brought these ideas into an environmental context, opening out idea of “surviving the hard winter” into a broader context of mankind’s survival in the face of environmental disaster.  When you think about it, again this goes back to man’s mastery of fire, and of being able to control and manipulate his world in the first place.  With this simple knowledge came the beginning of great collective responsibility.  Lastly, a lot of what winter solstice rituals are about is celebrating the idea of renewal—the green reminder that Spring will come again even when it seems most unlikely.  Our story hopes to look at that idea of renewal in the context of a family, an individual, and in the world overall.  Really, the show is a parable about the potential for renewal, even when we are at our darkest moments, and things seem unredeemable.  I think that’s something that everyone needs to be reminded of, from time to time—especially after the challenging year we’ve all just experienced!  At this time of year, when we come together to celebrate our lives with family and friends, sharing our stories, memories and experiences, the reminder that we are always able to begin again is really central to the meaning and message of the “holidays.”

Is EVERGREEN a kids’ show? Well, it’s definitely a show with kids in it—twelve, in fact!  However, we think it can be enjoyed by kids from 1 to 92.  (Actually, it’s only recommended for ages 6 and up.)   I think the stories we hear as children, which are so important to shaping our impressions of the world, are the ones we return to, even as adults, to remind us of our values and to inspire us.  So, EVERGREEN is intentionally a simple and broadly allegorical story, with a lot of whimsy and fantasy elements, and depending on your age we hope you will interpret the different metaphors and characters in the show in different ways, determining your own meaning.  Often, when we were rehearsing, we reminisced about moments in The Neverending Story, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and other favorite books and movies.  If these are the sort of stories you enjoy and can watch over again, you’ll hopefully enjoy our story as well!

What was it like working with the youth ensemble? Incredibly energizing.  These kids worked as intensely as the adult performers we usually hire and are deeply engaged with the story we are telling!  Also, many of them have

memorized the entire show and act it out in the wings when they aren’t on stage, so there is a great performance going on backstage as well.  Of course, there are different levels of experience amongst the group, but it has been a true pleasure to watch them rise to meet the challenges we put in front of them.  I think part of the joy of this show is watching young performers telling the story, both in the characters they play and in their own presence on stage honestly, as themselves.  They are an “evergreen” element in the show as well, as it’s easy to imagine these kids in 10-15 years, as our next generation of Broadway performers.

Finally, the perennial question:  what is your favorite song that you wrote for EVERGREEN?
“Feel Free.”  It’s a really specific and dramatic situation—that contains both humor and pathos.  Hopefully, the humor heightens the poignancy of the moment!  I also think it’s interesting to watch the actor (Whitney Kam Lee) going through such a detailed physical process (petrification) as he sings the song.  Also, really, the song is quite simple – but that’s usually much harder for me to write.  I’m always happy when I feel I’ve succeeded at this!


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