Ruling Passion – A Musical Comedy About Richard III
2015 Media reports, “WORLD RENEWED INTEREST IN ALL THINGS, RICHARD III” Why? Because DNA tests CONFIRM that the bones found in an unmarked grave in England ARE the BONES of KING RICHARD III.(Web Writer Liz Hear: Oh, we wish a MacARTHUR GENIUS GRANT would come our way. Then, perhaps this “Ruling Passion” play just might get mounted yet. Timing… read: in our lifetime.)
Before one reads the following “Notes on Ruling Passion” by the late, lauded journalist and teacher Carol Bush; we excerpt from her obituary.
“Lauded Bay High School journalism teacher Carol Bush died Sept. 27, 2006 from complications of a rare blood cancer. She was 80. Bush taught for 22 years at Bay High and launched more than a few careers among graduates who have spread across the country. They include Chris Willman, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, later a music critic at Entertainment Weekly and Chris Sinzinger, an editor at the Washington Post. Other students landed at the Chicago Tribune, Mother Jones magazine and of course, the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
While at Bay High she steered the weekly student newspaper which won a record-breaking 18 awards in one year (’75-’76) including first place from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association and numerous other awards. After retiring from Bay High in 1990, Bush taught English at Lorain Community College and was a journalist workshop presenter at Kent State University and Bowling Green University. She had been a director of annual statewide high school journalism competitions.
Carol Bush was also a president of the Women’s Committee of the Great Lakes Theatre Festival”. Written by Donna J. Miller of the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Now for Carol Bush’s Notes on “Ruling Passion – A Musical Comedy About Richard III”
“First, let me say that I hold the highest respect for Dennis and Deborah. In fact, I am in awe of both of them for having combined their talents to bring forth this magnificent work.
Only today, I read a feature on the film, “Moulin Rouge”, described as “surreal” because, in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience, it brings contemporary music into a period piece. That retro-cum-current slant is apparent in “Ruling Passion”, especially in the familiarity of the language of the 21st Century. The anachronistic humor of this device drew frequent smiles from this reader.
The Big Surprise was that Richard III is depicted as a Good Guy. What a switch!”
On all counts, of course, the music is superb. Bravo, Dennis!
Many thanks for letting me share these works. I feel honored!
Has this been submitted to the Playhouse? To Beck Center? (Known for experimentation)? Earlier when we spoke, you said it had never gone to Great Lakes Theatre Festival. Maybe the time is ripe to try.
Saga of How Deborah & Dennis Met –
How “Ruling Passion” Was Written –
How It Was Received at Its Staged Reading
It was through their mutual friend BB KING that Deborah and Dennis met back in the early ’70s. It was after Dennis expressed aloud that he wanted to compose music for the stage. When his long-time mentor, dear friend and “second father” (as B.B. calls himself), the blues legend said he knew the perfect person to introduce him to. It would be DETROIT ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER and CRITIC DEBORAH OSMENT RYAN. “Timing seems right for you two creative-types to finally meet”, was the way B.B. put it. So they did.
It happened when we were “running on the road” with him, (as B.B. calls the way family and friends have to catch up with him while he’s working on tour). This was when B.B. was becoming more and more popular, and thus one of his MOTOR CITY gigs was for two weeks in one place. There our foursome got to spend some quality time together (and in a quality place, too, for it was the then-new DEARBORN TOWN CENTER). B.B., who admittedly loves to oftentimes play “Mother Hen” with such close friends, managed to steer the two creative-types to many a late-night coffee klatch (held in B.B.’s suite after his performances). It was the days of his being able to walk freely amongst the huge Dearborn Center; saying “let me walk you home” meaning we’d go from our adjoining suite down the hall, then we’d walk him back to his suite. Then we’d stop, look over the balcony railing and begin our people-watching. (Imagine the scene. The four of us being so free… just to be! ) In addition, Deborah-the-music-reporter managed to get other blues legends to come ’round for conversations of the musical kind. (Read: Jam Sessions! )
It was during those wonderful weeks in Detroit that Deborah and Dennis spoke of collaborating on a couple of future projects. One such project discussed was her idea of a “Musical Comedy about Richard III”. That idea appealed to the Composer-in-Chandler. She said she would get back to Dennis after she wrote the book and lyrics so that he could write the music.
A few years later, in ’74, Deborah and Dennis discussed it again. This time it was in Windsor, Ontario where she was working to promote the “ANN ARBOR BLUES & JAZZ FESTIVAL IN EXILE”. Musician Dennis was there playing on the bill with two of his musical mentors and teachers B.B. King and Robert Jr. Lockwood (later aka Robert Lockwood). A great success of the landmark weekend earned kudos all ’round. Here’s headliner B.B. getting his congrats in a hug from promoter Deborah.
Talk of writing the play continued but years later. This time it was in February of ’87. That’s when B.B.King flew us to New York City to join Deborah and him as his guests for his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Forecast for a BIG snowstorm forced B.B. to leave out early for the road. He beat the storm. But, the three of us did not. We left our luxurious Waldorf Astoria suite to go to the little City Island place where Deborah was living at the time. Then the blizzard began. We were snowed in her tiny abode. There was nothing to do. So Deborah and Dennis started to write. Thus began the birth of the music for “Ruling Passion” during the “N’or Easter” that became “The Blizzard of ’87”.
February saw that fitful start of the music. Progress on the play continued but then later that year, Dennis was struck down by cancer (in November). His battle and victory over AML is written about on this website. The page is titled, “The Journey”.
After his incredible battle (and his near-death experience “Go back, my son, it is not yet your time. Your calling is on Earth!”), he completed the score. For Dennis, this play’s music is particularly meaningful and seemed fittingly titled “RULING PASSION”, for he began the music before he began the treatments for AML type leukemia.
Rounds of ravaging chemotherapy left him listless physically but not mentally. Desire to write the-music-in-his-mind gave Dennis a much-needed positive focus.
That’s couch potato Dennis and his “The Les Paul #1”. Yes, the one Les Paul dubbed, “That Lucky Les Paul”. The guitarist is our mutual friend, Bill Gordon. He’s the one who introduced us to Les Paul. Bill “Smoochie” Gordon was a talkshow host and television pioneer who knew Les Paul and Mary Ford from back in the day. As musical director Dennis became acquainted with many such mutual media types. So how lucky is that “The Les Paul #1”? Gordon got this guitar out to remind us that Les Paul played it (while Dennis played another) entertaining Les’ fellow cardiac patients in an impromptu concert just prior to Les’ open heart surgery (at the Cleveland Clinic in 1980). How it happened is that Les Paul Jr. called Dennis to have him bring some LP guitars to Les Sr. on the outside chance that his dad might want to play again. To explain, Les Sr. had not been playing since learning he would have to have heart surgery. He was depressed but when Les saw how down the other patients were, he wanted to cheer them up. He did. And he made it through his surgery. Thus he dubbed Dennis’ guitar “That Lucky Les Paul”. (Read more on the webpage “The Les Paul # 1”)
For Deborah, the play took on a less favorable focus. To explain, after she moved from Detroit to L.A. (reasoning that more opportunity might come her way to do creative writing), she set what would have been for her, easily attainable goals. She wanted to become a screenwriter and make movies that made money. Then that money could be used to mount plays. Not just her own plays but those of other writers, too. Her dream lost its luster when one of her sons was killed tragically in an accident caused by a drunken driver (on a Hollywood freeway). “Ruling Passion” is dedicated to her son, DAVID RYAN.
Thus, bittersweet were the rewards of a successful first reading of the play. It was held before an audience of Shakespearean actors at THE AMERICAN CENTER FOR MUSIC THEATRE (on Hollywood Boulevard.) Deborah called Dennis from L.A”. to inform her then-convalescing collaborator that “the music was overwhelmingly received!”… “Incredible music, who is this composer?”… “What’s he doing in Cleveland?”…to quote the lamented, late NORM MAYBAUM. He was then considered a premiere theatre figure and amongest the powers behind the famed Westwood Theatre.
Plus, Norm Maybaum told Deborah what Dennis was told earlier that year by the great STEVE ALLEN, “Dennis you should be here in Hollywood… in L.A.!” Steve also said, “Dennis Chandler, God brought you back for a reason. I’d like to see what you are going to do next… what you are going to write!”… “why you should be here in L.A.” This was while the two played piano together on a Paramount Pictures soundstage. The TV Pioneer was still hosting talkshows and Steve Allen along with his wife actress Joyce Meadows interviewed Dennis for the Leukemia Society’s Televent (as that year’s only featured adult survivor.) Wishing the late Composer Allen could hear how he inspired the composer-in-Dennis. And hear this music now. Well, maybe Jayne Meadows can… here in God’s Cyberspace?
The next move in mounting the play “would be a matter of money”, they were told. That is, a budget big enough to buy lots of stage armor and horses. Needless to say, for Dennis the rave reviews of the music was good news while at the same time frustrating news. It took a long, long “coming out of the woods” on a personal financial level, too. Time marched on. Then 9/11 hit… and of course all was forever changed. (That included theatrical projects and their budgets. too).
The picture below shows Dennis taking his turn to be enthralled by someone else playing his 1904 Sohmer 9 Ft. Concert Grand. That someone else is childhood chum George Foster playing. Perhaps what’s being played is also piquing interest. At day’s end singer George graciously offered to lend his voice to this project. This northerner turned southern gentleman is also a member of the North Carolina Opera Company. Any newly acquired expertise will help Dennis to demo what we’ve dubbed “Richard’s Music”. No doubt, by George.
The fabulous Adina Bloom is also adding voice to that demo Dennis is doing. Singer Adina only just met Dennis recently. The backstory of how they met? Picture this: The star of an Ethel Meman revue (for which she got rave reviews for those pipes of hers) has a night off from singing. She takes her eighty-something mother to dinner in Little Italy. Pianist Dennis on a night off from playing gets called to fill in at that same restaurant. After her dinner and during his break… they meet… they talk… they sing. It was love at first note. Now Composer Dennis has someone new to write songs for. I’ve dubbed her … “Dame Dina”.
Maybe the time is ripe for “Richard’s Music”.
So, as we recap those above mentioned 2015 Media reports, “WORLD RENEWED INTEREST IN ALL THINGS, RICHARD III” … and paraphrase, “DNA tests CONFIRM that the bones found in an unmarked grave in England ARE the BONES of KING RICHARD III”…
We’ll shall see what wonders may come our way. We gives thanks to you here for taking an interest in reading about our ruling passion.. making music.
January 30, 2015