Ruling Passion – A Musical Comedy About Richard III
What do … Rock and the Blues … have to do … with this “Ruling Passion”?
2015 Media reported, “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 post this 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. 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. It was the then-new DEARBORN TOWN CENTER. B.B. admittedly loved to oftentimes play “Mother Hen”. He managed to steer these two creative-types … to many a late-night coffee klatch … (held in B.B.’s suite after his performances). Those were the days of BB being able to walk freely amongst the huge Dearborn Center. He would say, “Let me walk you home” … meaning we’d go to our adjoining suite down the hall. Then we’d walk BB 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 him and Deborah as his guests for his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Obviously we were up late. But a 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 … in November … Dennis was struck down by CANCER. What he had was LEUKEMIA – Type AML … (aka acute myeloblastic leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia, and acute nonlymphocytic leukemia). Dennis’ battle and eventual victory is detailed on the webpage titled, “The Journey”.
Dennis had a lengthy incredible battle with two near-death experiences. The first time … he heard the following … “Go back, my son, it is not yet your time. Your calling is on Earth, not in Heaven!” The second time … he heard … “I am the Lord, your God. I will heal you completely. You believe in me!” That’s what started him … to try … to complete the play’s score. For Dennis, this play’s music is particularly meaningful and seemed fittingly titled “RULING PASSION”. Why? He began the music before he began the treatments for his 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 watching over his “The Les Paul #1” … in the hands of another. Yes, it’s the one Les Paul dubbed, “That Lucky Les Paul”. The guitarist? Bill Gordon. He’s the one who introduced us to Les Paul. Bill “Smoochie” Gordon was a media pioneer and talkshow host … who knew Les Paul and Mary Ford from back in the day, as they say. Being BG’s musical director … DC 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 and look what it did for him. How so? It was back in 1980. Les and Dennis did an impromptu concert at the Cleveland Clinic. It was just prior to Les’ open heart surgery. How it happened is … Les Paul JR. called Gibson-Rep-Dennis. He asked DC to bring some LP model guitars (to the hospital). Rusty aka Les Paul JR. hoped his dear Dad aka Les Paul SR. would see them and might want to play again. To explain, Les SR. had NOT been playing … since learning he had to have heart surgery. He was depressed … but when Les saw how down the other patients were … he told Dennis, “Let’s try to cheer these folks up … grab one of those guitars you brought. I’ll take THIS one …”THE” Les Paul … and yes … it IS pronounced “THEE”, (it was a marketing thing). Les said he wanted to cheer them up. They did. And Les made it through his surgery. Thus he dubbed Dennis’ guitar “That LUCKY Les Paul”.
To learn more about what it took … to get Gordon down to the clinic to visit Les … go to … the webpage titled, “The Les Paul #1”. Unbelievable.
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. I was told 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.”
Earlier that year we attended the telethon aka televent for the National Leukemia Society. It originated from the Paramount Pictures Studios in Hollywood, California.
The TV Pioneer was still hosting talkshows and Steve Allen along with his wife actress Joyce Meadows interviewed Dennis as that year’s ONLY ADULT LEUKEMIA SURVIVOR.
There the iconic Steve Allen addressed the issue of one being “Spoken to”. He was deeply spritual. As was his dear wife, Jayne Meadows. She and her sister the actress Audrey Meadows had a missonary father. I bring that up … because it was in her DNA … to be kind. And she was … to both of us. To explain … just as they began to discuss our ordeal … I started to tense up. (I should note that I’m was no shrinking violet … we were used to being on camera … onstage, etc.) But, not to worry … Jayne had me covered (in prayer, no doubt). I know she sure strong-armed me. Look at the one photo. I just relaxed and rolled with it, as they say. So then Steve says, “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!” … and … “Why, you should be here in L.A.” We found out later that it was NOT just a Joyful jest (pardon the pun). It was an invitation. To explain … apparently Steve Allen did that sort of thing … helping others to rise to their potential. This was according to an interview Jayne did on the Larry King Show (after Steve’s passing). Oh, the shoulda, woulda, couldas! We coulda got guidance from the great one. Well, maybe today … from Above … they could send down some pointers? BUT … back to those moments in 1990. It was fun from then on. Steve became enamored of Dennis’ piano improvising … and versatility. Chandler-the-Chameleon had captured his heart. They played off of one another. What a memory. What Angels.
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 happened. … 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 as someone else plays his BELOVED 1904 Sohmer 9 Ft. Concert Grand. That someone else is childhood chum George Foster. Perhaps that piano is what piqued his interest in the play. George graciously offered to lend his voice to this project. This northerner turned southern gentleman was at the time … a member of the North Carolina Opera Company. Now if we could only find singers who lived a little closer to Cleveland (read: near the Chandlers’ Studio).
The fabulous Adina Bloom might be a voice to add to the demo … that Dennis needs to make … to show what he can do.
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 playing … at that same restaurant. After her dinner and during his break … they meet … they talk … they sing. It was love at first note. Perhaps Composer Dennis could call upon her? We did dub her “dame ‘dina” … meaning … maybe if we ask nicely?
One day the time will be ripe for “Richard’s Music”.
So, as we recap those above-mentioned 2015 Media reports … “WORLD RENEWED INTEREST IN ALL THINGS, RICHARD III”. And to paraphrase, “DNA tests CONFIRM that the bones found in an unmarked grave in England … ARE the BONES of KING RICHARD III”…
We shall see what wonders may come our way. We give thanks to you here … for taking an interest in reading about … our Ruling Passion … making Music.