Local playwright brings musical ‘Arthur & Merlin’ to Nittany Theatre at the Barn

Frank Wilson plays Merlin and Sarah Rito plays the sorceress Nimue in “Arthur & Merlin.”
Frank Wilson plays Merlin and Sarah Rito plays the sorceress Nimue in “Arthur & Merlin.” Photo provided

The often tempestuous and rock solid relationship between a father and son is the focus of local playwright Jerry Sawyer’s latest musical work, “Arthur and Merlin.” Sawyer’s three musical plays include explorations of the important ties that bind men to their fathers.

“ ‘Camelot’ was the first musical I saw as a kid,” Sawyer said. “It was in Pittsburgh. After that I read a lot about the Arthur legend.”

Sawyer has used that legend as the background for his latest work, which will be produced by Nittany Theatre at the Barn.

“All three of my shows are about fathers and sons,” he said. “This is the last of my trilogy. It includes a strong father figure and why it is so important. Without a strong father in his life, you will seek approval from someone in that role.”

Sawyer’s previous works include a musical play about Vincent Van Gogh and Sherlock Holmes and their fathers.

Sawyer’s latest is a new story about King Arthur and Merlin the Wizard. The playwright insists that the musical will be a strong blend between humor and drama.

“In this new treatment we find a deeper relationship between Arthur and Merlin and less emphasis on the love triangle of the musical ‘Camelot,’ ” Sawyer said. “The show is funny and serious, magical and earthy.”

The process Sawyer uses to create and his musicals starts with him writing the lyrics to potential songs. Then he creates a melody, and musicians like Matt Doebler — a New York orchestrator and conductor — flesh out the orchestration. Local composers are actively involved in developing the songs as well.

This show, according to Sawyer, has been a long journey as he has worked on it for the past five years.

Kat Shondeck will direct the production which will be performed Sept. 25-28 and Oct. 2-6 at the Nittany Barn in Boalsburg.

King Arthur will be played by Cody Rhodes, currently enrolled in Penn State’s music theater program. Old Merlin will be played by well-known local actor Frank Wilson. Middle Merlin will be played by Everett Van Heyst and Young Merlin by Sam Eikenberry.

“The trilogy looks at a neglectful father, and abusive father and a surrogate father,” Sawyer said.

Composer Ian Duh, one of four writers who contributed to the score, said he found working on a new musical both fun and “terrifying in a good way.”

The other composers include Steve Dixon and TK Lee, as well as Sawyer.

“We’re presenting new material with beautiful music that’s never been heard,” Sawyer said. “And there is a troubadour who explains the passage of time and moves the story forward between scenes.”

If you go

What: “Arthur & Merlin”

When: Sept. 25-28 and Oct. 2-6

Where: Nittany Theatre at the Barn, Boal Estate Drive, Boalsburg

Info: nittanytheatre.org