It takes a special talent – not to mention determination – to pursue an idea for 15 years; to create a musical when you can’t read or notate music.
Donald Fowler did just that, with “Creep,” a musical story of Jack the Ripper, which debuted at WaterTower Theatre in 2015.
Fowler died Sunday. He was struck and killed by a DART streetcar while jogging.
He acted on several Dallas stages, though Fowler was also a talent in retail. Most recently, his taste and eye influenced the gift shop at the Nasher Sculpture Center, which he’d led since 2016.
In 2015, Shelley Kenneavy produced a piece for Art&Seek that aired on KERA FM about WaterTower Theatre’s premiere of “Creep.”
She learned that Fowler didn’t know how to read or notate music. But that didn’t stop him from composing a musical.
“I literally felt an itch in my finger, and I started plunking around on an old Casio keyboard, and here I am,” Fowler told her.
Fowler came from a musical family and played by ear. “That, that’s been something I’ve been able to do since I was little – little,” he told Kenneavy.
It took 15 years for Fowler to see his idea on stage. Along the way, he had help from attorney and friend Nick Even. The two met around the time Fowler began work on the project. Even led fundraising efforts and helped produce the show.
Fowler told Kenneavy he was inspired by the 2001 movie about Ripper, ‘From Hell,’ starring Johnny Depp, which posited a Masonic conspiracy behind the killings. He was also interested in evil, and what leads people to commit atrocities.
“I found theatrical excitement in that someone very unexpected would be the killer,” Fowler said. “I’ve heard audible ‘Oh my gosh!’ — that sort of thing. And that’s exciting. Who doesn’t like a good surprise ending? I know I do.”
Amy Lewis Hofland, executive director of the Crow Museum of Asian Art, met Fowler when she purchased – and later returned – a lazy Susan from Fowler when he worked at the home-store Nest. That may sound like an improbable beginning to a deep friendship, but across social media this week, Fowler was remembered not just for his talents in theater and retail, but also his grace, charm and ability to connect with others.
“I know how you liked your omelette. Your coffee,” Hofland wrote in a tribute on her blog.“I know how you took care of ALL of the people we encountered. I know how you liked to drop into lyrical, musical theater dialogue at any moment. That was us together.”
She continued: “You are leaving us with so much: the poetry of your musical scores, so many treasures from the Nasher Store, the conversations that will never leave me, a friend, a brother. “