As a young, handsome man, Dorian Gray’s desire was simple; he just wanted to see a painting of himself done by a female artist. Once he saw his portrait though, he became obsessed with it and soon it was the center of his life.
That’s the premise for Richland’s upcoming production of “Gray,” an original musical by Richland drama chair Andy Long that will run later this month on campus. It’s based on “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” an 1891 novel by Oscar Wilde, made into a movie in 1945.
Long said the book has been the inspiration for countless movies, TV shows and plays. The book includes wonderful essays by Wilde on the class system, time, love, sex, art and temptation. The essays are never included in any of the films because they are not attributed to the characters; they’re just commentaries by Wilde.
Long said he read the book in high school. He ran across it again when he was looking for a new theater project, and it became the inspiration of his original musical, “Gray.”
“It really kind of blew my mind,” Long said. “It has at its heart the great moral lesson of what we do,” Long said. “The play itself is a morality play.`”
Long said he came up with the idea of creating a pop chorus to sing original songs inspired by Wilde’s commentaries. The goal was to update the production for modern times.
Eight drama students are in the cast. They include Jabin Lewis as Gray, Jordan Bradford, Carlos Hernandez, Amanda Rodrigues, Mac Kenzie Johnson, Kim Dominguez, Cori Clark and Kyla Burns.
Long said the actors in the chorus are not listed in the program. The concept of the play is that they are simply a chorus of actors who are presenting this story.
“They step out of the chorus and take on the characters right in front of the chorus,” he said.
Chris Watlington, a musician and composer who lives in Center, is a college friend of Long’s. He wrote the music for “Gray.” He and Long corresponded over the summer by email about the music. Adam Wright is musical director; Michael Albee serves as choreographer.
Long said the portrait of Gray in his production is not an actual painting.
“The painting will talk. It will move, too,” Long said. “It’ll be projected. It’ll be on stage for quite a while. “
Long said the musical won’t include the supernatural, although a pact with the devil was an important part of the novel. Gray made the deal saying, “I would give my soul if this could happen,” to stay young forever.
“But a big deal is not made about it in the book and so a big deal is not made about it in the play except that, right before he says this, there is a commentary by Oscar Wilde about how words matter and what you say matters,” Long said.
Long said he believes the major theme of the musical is that we have become a culture that wants what we want, when we want it, and we think we are justified in doing anything it takes to get it.
“We’ve gone away from a society that thinks we have to earn things and feels like we’re not a society where we should just be given things,” he said. “And that’s kind of the overall theme.”
The costumes for “Gray” were designed by another drama student, Raven Lanuza-Brown, who has appeared in two Richland productions: “Boeing, Boeing” and “Boom.”
“Gray” will preview tonight and will run Oct. 17, 18, 19, 21 and 22 in Fannin Performance Hall, Room 102. All performances are free of charge and take place at 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. with no intermission.
Long said “Gray” is not for kids. It’s “rated R” for language and there are some sexual situations, because Dorian Gray has sex with lots of people and breaks some hearts.
“He turns into quite a selfish human being,” Long said.