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Becoming Spellbound! at Stray Dog Theatre

Spellbound! A Musical Fable premieres at the Stray Dog Theatre August 6.
(Courtesy of Stray Dog Theatre)

Told through a mash-up of fairy tales and fables, Spellbound! A Musical Fable details one woman’s quest for self-acceptance and strength—and its world premiere is August 6 here in St. Louis.

Gary Bell and Robert White joined “Cityscape” to talk about the history and production of Spellbound! on Friday.

“This has been the longest birth in recorded history—for two men especially,” White said. He and Bell were inspired to write the first drafts of the musical while traveling in Europe in 1994. Collaborating long-distance after Bell moved from New York to St. Louis and founded Stray Dog Theatre, the two created a musical centered around socially-relevant themes of diversity, inclusion, and cultural understanding. Eleven years and many rewrites later, Spellbound! has been updated to reflect the changing times.

“We had to just rip out chunks and chunks,” White said. But that left room to recreate the show with a variety of musical styles, fresher themes and more interesting characters.

Influenced by anime and graphic novel design, Bell and White focused on contrasting the diversity of many cultures’ traditional fables with their fundamental sameness, matching less-known stories with the more familiar. And the all-local cast presents these stories with colorful characters: sorceresses, shape-shifting beasts, and fairies, to name just a few.

Spellbound! is kid-friendly, as any adult themes are “a wink” in the comedic tone of the rest of the show—but it does touch on more serious topics like self-discovery, inner strength, and family dysfunction. The musical follows protagonist Arabella as she journeys through the land of Samaren in a journey to understand herself and help her father. “Unlike heroines of the past, she is not a demure, quiet gal,” Bell said. “She is very assertive and strong.”

“Our male lead is also very non-traditional,” he added. “Usually it’s a Prince Charming kind of a guy who comes to save the damsel in distress. We’ve taken that idea and turned it on its head. He’s the one who needs most of the saving.”

Diversity was very important to Bell and White in the construction and display of the show: the world of Samaren is inclusive, and romance flourishes among many different characters, not just the protagonists.

“It is a love story…the heart of it is a comedic love story,” White said. “And we chose to have many different characters express their love.”

Related Event

Spellbound! A Musical Fable

  • August 6-22, 2015
  • Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8:00 p.m., with additional performance at 2 p.m. August 22
  • Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue, Saint Louis, MO 63104
  • More information

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.