WaterTower Theatre in Addison is premiering a new musical inspired by Jack the Ripper. KERA’s Shelley Kenneavy discovers what drove Dallas actor and retail buyer Donald Fowler to tackle this gruesome subject.
It starts with a blood curdling scream.
“By way of introduction! We are the damaged of London. We each carry bits of the truth. Together the bits form a mystery. We’ll share them and you’ll be the sleuth.”
The damaged of London. That’s the ensemble of the musical Creep – they play the street people, the prostitutes and working girls who often were Jack the Ripper’s victims.
Donald Fowler wrote the book, lyrics, and music for Creep. It’s set in 1880s London when Jack roamed the city, and people feared anyone could be the Ripper. The new musical offers a different take on Jack.
One of the more mysterious things about Creep is the show’s creator doesn’t know how to read or notate music. So why would he compose an entire musical? Fowler says, “I literally felt an itch in my finger, and I started plunking around on an old Casio keyboard, and here I am.”
Fowler plays by ear. “That, that’s been something I’ve been able to do since I was little – little.” Orchestrator Dan Kazemi of Milwaukee Repertory Theater was hired to flesh out the compositions.
Fowler did come from a musical family; his great-grandparents were Vaudevillians. So he knew performing was in his future. And in 1999, while acting in Dallas, he met attorney Nick Even. Fowler didn’t know it would take 15 years to see his musical in a complete staging. And he didn’t know how important Even would be to the life of Creep. Even remembers, “I was around I think the first week that he wrote the first two songs that ultimately became part of Creep.”
WaterTower’s Out of the Loop Festival gives smaller organizations and artists a platform for their work. Fowler used it in 2010 to shape up his show. After that, Fowler, Even, and a group of friends collaborated to turn the show into a full-fledged production.
In this area, Even knows what he’s doing. He’s a Dallas Opera board member and has been on WaterTower’s board. He chaired the special committee raising funds to produce Creep at WaterTower. It wasn’t an easy road. But Even says the long path helped Creep build local support. “It became sort of a band wagon that we got lots of people on,” Even recalls. “So when the piece ultimately returned to WaterTower this fall, it brought with it a community of support.”
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it! The killer signs his name! Jack the Ripper swears it in blood, he’ll slaughter and he’ll maim!”
Fowler says his inspiration for the musical came partially from the 2001 movie From Hell starring Johnny Depp. From Hell finds a Masonic conspiracy behind the Ripper killings, but conspiracy was not what interested Fowler. He was more curious about the origins of evil and what makes people commit horrid acts.
So why turn all that into a musical?
Fowler explains, “I found theatrical excitement in that someone very unexpected would be the killer. 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.”
Fowler says Creep has been well-received by audiences at WaterTower. So what will happen to the show after this production? Well, that’s still a mystery.
Creep plays at WaterTower Theatre in Addison through October 25th.