JOHN DIETRICH AND WILL BUCK
John Dietrich is a born storyteller, whether he tells his tales in word pictures, dance steps or musical lyrics and notes. Over the years, he has enjoyed relationships with such prestigious entities as Walt Disney for ice shows like "The Little Mermaid," directing and choreographing national tours of shows like "Singin' In the Rain," and "Beauty and the Beast," helping create projects for such stars as Dolly Parton and Dollywood, leading the giant balloons as part of NBC Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and highstepping it with the Rockettes at Christmas time at Radio City Music Hall, to name drop just a few.
Dietrich was always a performer, growing up in a family that encouraged theatrical events. He remembers his dad, a music teacher and church choir director, telling him one day while he was in fifth grade to "grab your clarinet"and audition for "The Music Man.” Thus began his career in theater; although he was sidetracked in college as a journalism major, he soon recognized the error of his ways.
Experiencing a great story is always central to his mission. If challenged to direct an ice show, for example, "I knew that if I figured just how to tell the story, I could then figure out the medium.” Soon he was directing 220 performers on five stages, with kites and boats. "I surround myself with people who know how to help." Clearly he thrives on a challenge, "knowing each one has the value to shape me."
Evidently, John Dietrich is a man who has no regrets, just like the heroine of his latest musical theater project "Only Anne" set to open as one of a trio of new musicals coming to Goodspeed's upcoming Festival of New Musicals the weekend of January 15-17, 2016. The idea for "Once Anne" was born while Dietrich and his writing partner Will Buck were penning their thesis musical two years ago at the New York University Graduate School. Will was 25 and John 50 and they discovered, by accident, that both men admired and loved Jane Austen's writings and wanted to take her Victorian Era novel "Persuasion" and her heroine Anne Elliot and transform it.
The men felt Austen portrayed women who were progressive and had different personalities. They wanted to take the tale out of the Napoleonic Wars and move that aristocratic society forward one hundred years to post-World War I into the Jazz Age. Maintaining that Anne "lived in a land of strolls and sighs," they wanted to introduce automobiles and telephones and a speed of time after the horrors of war.
To Dietrich and Buck, "this is complex writing, with a universal theme of romance, a human story of miscommunications and misconceptions." A clash between the upper classes and the nouveau riche as well as the impoverished strata, the story concerns Anne who falls in love with a poor Naval officer Frederick Wentworth and is persuaded by family and friends to break their engagement and end their relationship. Wentworth has few prospects and is beneath her in social status.
Ironically when the play opens, set in 1920's England, seven years have passed and Anne's vain and extravagent father, with the help of her older sister Elizabeth, have landed the family on hard times. They will be forced to rent their estate Kellynch Hall and move into more modest accommodations in Bath.
When Anne and Frederick cross paths again, he is now a prestigious and respected Admiral in the Royal Navy and her circumstances have suffered. Both are involved with new suitors. Can the past be revisited? Is reconciliation possible? Will the changing world help or hinder their chances?
Dietrich's goal, no matter what venue or genre, is to "tell a great story and tell it incredibly well." "Only Anne" has enjoyed staged readings as well as a presentation at the 2015 Rhinebeck Writers Retreat where Donna Lynn Hilton from Goodspeed discovered it. Dietrich is looking forward to his two week retreat in East Haddam "to dig in again and change a word, a scene, a lyric. I will get to hear it again, and listen to actors all day. That's a wonderful gift."
To Dietrich, the workshop process is a "luxury providing valuable insights and new directions." He and Buck often work by phone or email, and more rarely sitting in a space together. "We don't need to spend hours in a room together. I need to be alone and don't enjoy having someone waiting for inspiration to strike." Their motto is "whoever has the idea first or theme first goes first."
For tickets ($25, students $15), call Goodspeed Musicals on the Connecticut River in East Haddam at 860-873-8664 for information on the Festival activities or online at www.goodspeed.com. "Only Anne" will be performed on Sunday, January 17 at 1 p.m.
As an audience member, Dietrich wants you to discover that "love conquers all and survives all if it is true love. Life's so short. Be true to yourself and don't have regrets." Dietrich also hopes the audience will appreciate the fascinating moments when a character has to sing or dance, a musical moment that deepens the story lines. He knows he will be thrilled to hear his words come to life and he promises, like Anne, to have no regrets.