Related topics

Civic debuting ‘Gift’ after long journey

February 8, 2019 GMT

Nancy Carlson Dodd is smiling from ear to ear, and with good reason.

On this day in mid-January, she’s sitting in Arts United Center, not far behind the stage where her musical, “The Wedding Gift” will soon have its world premiere.

“This is definitely a throwback to the 1950s when I used to sing in musicals,” says Dodd, who admits she hasn’t seen some more modern popular pieces such as “Rent.”

The journey toward the production, which Civic Theatre opens Feb. 16, began around 1980.

When asked where the story for “The Wedding Gift” came from, Dodd answers quickly: “Nothing. I have no idea! Where does God give you gifts?”

But she remembers hearing about some expensive gifts at a ritzy wedding in the early 1980s that led her to believe the story was plausible for the musical she was working on, which was then titled “Flossie.”

While it is no longer common, wedding gifts were once displayed at the bride’s home ahead of the wedding. Some families would even hire guards to watch the house during the wedding ceremony so thieves couldn’t snatch the presents while the home was empty.

“The Wedding Gift” is set in the 1950s as a young bride, Flossie Marvel, is left at the altar. Her parents had spent all their savings on the wedding and decide to sell the wedding gifts to recoup some of their losses. Then they decide to do it again, using their daughter to set up other men in their con.

The PG-rated musical comedy is the latest in a career of stage work for Dodd, 82, who was born in Fort Wayne and attended South Side High School before graduating from Indiana University. She performed in community theater as she lived in California and Denver with her first husband and children.

When Dodd was living in Denver, she took her kids to a play at a children’s theater. Though she says the theater is wonderful, she wasn’t impressed by the story onstage that day.

“I thought, ‘I could write a better play than this in the john during intermission,’” she says. So she wrote a children’s play, “The Magic Pebble,” and sent it with music to directors she had worked with around the country as an actress. It was produced several times and got good reviews.

Ignorance was bliss for Dodd in those days. There was some luck, or maybe a divine hand at work for her in 1996.

“I didn’t know you should get an agent if you want something published,” she says, continuing with amazement. “I just sent all the reviews and my play to (publishing company) Samuel French, and they liked it and published it!”

“Magic Pebble” and other pieces by Dodd have been produced locally, including at Civic Theatre and Youtheatre.

After her divorce, Dodd moved back to Fort Wayne and acted in local productions, including “Driving Miss Daisy” directed by Phillip H. Colglazier, who is executive and artistic director at Civic Theatre.

When she retired, she moved to Illinois to be near her daughter and lived there for six years. Then, while renting a cottage on a lake in northeastern Indiana, she was in a market : the potato chip aisle, she remembers : when a man spoke to her. It was an attorney that she had not seen in 20 years, George Dodd.

“He asked if I like potato chips, and then he asked me if I would marry him!” she says, fondly. And so she returned to Fort Wayne.

In 2010, she entered the Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival with “The Ladies in Cabin 10,” which won. Three years later, she got a call from Colglazier asking if she had anything to submit.

“I’ve got a musical that’s been sitting on the floor of my closet for 20 years,” she says she told him. “He said, ‘Well, take the music out and submit it.’ And I did. And it won!

“And that’s where I think God stepped in.”

Her niece, Dori Erwin Collins, told her to put the music back in the show. Collins, whose resume includes writing songs for the Lutheran church, introduced Dodd to musicians in Chicago who they worked with to fine tune and arrange the music. Collins wrote a couple of songs for “The Wedding Gift” as well.

In 2016, there was a formal reading and singing of the show at The Royal George Theatre in Chicago that was attended by Colglazier.

He calls “The Wedding Gift” a clever and fun piece with a nice sense of humor. After hearing the run-through in Chicago, he told Dodd that Civic Theatre would love to put on the musical, but it would need to be cut down.

“We’ve had close ties in keeping up to date on the progress and felt the timing was right all the way around,” says Colglazier, who is directing the Civic production. “And with Nancy Carlson Dodd being in Fort Wayne, ... we felt it was important to give her this next step in getting the piece produced.”

“The Wedding Gift” is the first original musical Colglazier can remember Civic debuting. Several plays were debuted as part of the playwright festival.

It is a different show now than the play that was given a public reading in 2013 when it won the festival. Some characters have changed, the length was shortened and : of course : there is music now.

“It’s been wonderful to see it transform,” Colglazier says.

Though working on an original musical might seem daunting, lead actress Rebecca Nelson says there is more excitement than nerves involved for her.

This is the first original that she has been involved in, but she has previously appeared locally in well-known shows such as “Disney’s The Little Mermaid.”

“Before there’s always been a careful balance between making a character your own and staying kind of true to what an audience expects from a character,” she says, adding that that can be restraining.

But now, she is in the driver’s seat to create the character of Flossie. There is a challenge in that too as she picks apart the dialogue to identify where her character is coming from. She says she is glad that Dodd is available to answer questions to help in that process.

Nelson is glad to be a part of “The Wedding Gift” and says she hopes it starts a hunger for more original pieces in Fort Wayne.

“Hopefully there will be somebody in the audience where their dream is to write an original musical, and this will be proof it can happen,” she says.

Dodd says she doesn’t know what the next step is for “The Wedding Gift.” There are a couple of people from Chicago that she and her niece are trying to get to come over and see the show. Perhaps it will get a production in the Windy City one day.

It’s been a long journey full of hard work to get to this point, and the writer credits a lot of people for guiding her and helping her along the way. She isn’t finished, either. She is working on another musical.

Before that is finished, Dodd is looking forward to seeing the production of “The Wedding Gift” and hopes the audience has a positive reaction.

“I hope that they enjoy it,” she says, with humor. “I hope that they don’t want their money back. ...”

“And that they’ll applaud, right?” interjects Civic music director Eunice Wadewitz, who is seated nearby.

“Absolutely! I’m bribing everybody,” Dodd jokes before adding seriously, “I guess my real hope is that it makes them smile.”