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Performing Arts

Soul music

Charles Martin January 12th, 2011

An ambitious new musical from an Oklahoma-based playwright stages an encore ahead of a national tour.

Soul on Fire
2 and 7 p.m. Thursday
Douglass Theatre
900 N. Martin Luther King

Musical theater is often seen as a monolithic world of jazz hands and non-threatening gangsters in flamboyant zoot suits. But there are musicals that use the genre to tackle more substantial themes, whether it’s sexual identity in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” or the devastation wrought by abuse in a new work by an Oklahoma playwright titled “Soul on Fire.”

Tyrone Stanley set his musical in a fictional town based on his own birthplace in North Carolina and follows the plight of a girl grappling with the rippling affects of sexual abuse and the small town community that failed to come to her aid.

“I didn’t veer too far away from what it was like to grow up in the small town I came from where, if you were raped and came up pregnant like my heroine does, you were sent away to ‘handle business’ whether that was to get rid of it or have it and give it away,” Stanley said. “One particular incident that was very painful and never resolved was part of the reason I’d wanted to get out of that town very quickly.”

We’ve gotten so many testimonials from the audience.

—Tyrone Stanley

Stanley began composing individual songs based on what he’d seen growing up and, over time, he wrote more than 40 songs of different genres. While working as a professional actor in New York, he said he didn’t have the time to do anything with the project.

After coming to Oklahoma to study playwriting at the University of Central Oklahoma, he decided to enlist help to put together “Soul on Fire” for its debut in October. Stanley said the audience reaction was significant enough to necessitate an encore performance set for this Thursday as well as to start assembling a national tour.

“We’ve gotten so many testimonials from the audience that ‘This is me, something that I never told anyone,’” Stanley said. “We heard it from everyone from teenagers to a 70-year-old woman: ‘It was something I could never tell anyone, and this made me feel free.’” Tinasha LaRayé Williams has been working with Stanley since he became the director for Wings of Harmony, a performing arts program for at-risk youth. She has helped put together “Soul on Fire” for more than two years and stepped in as the co-director as well as to fill the role of Jessica, the sister of the abuse victim.

The biggest obstacle for the production, according to Williams, is finding funding.

“In Oklahoma, you have to do this as a hobby, as your second job. Commitment and dedication is something we all struggle with because we sometimes have to ask, ‘Am I going to eat this week or rehearse this week?’” she said.

“One thing I love about America is, if its good art, it will find a place to flourish. Broadway is not the end all, be all. We have a goal for Broadway because it is an achievement which will say something about the project, but it is more important for us to tour so we can touch more people’s lives, so we can reach them where they live.”

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