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Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

Saturday in the Arts is a weekly feature covering a trend, subject, event or personality of local interest. It runs every Saturday morning on Quad-Cities' WVIK Veterans Recall Highlights of Public Radio as NPR Turns 50your site for the best entertainment and arts coverage in the area, QuadCities.com!

Like the powerful, epic quest taken by their musical’s protagonist, Quad-Cities theater artists Dan Haughey and Michael Callahan have been on an imposing, challenging journey to bring their new theatrical vision to life.

Twenty months after holding a staged reading of “Aaron Power! The Musical” at Moline’s Black Box Theatre, the 66-year-old Haughey and 50-year-old Callahan are in their second decade of working toward a full professional production of the show.

“It has been a journey for us,” Haughey (pronounced “hoy”), a retired Black Hawk College theater professor, said recently. They’re now in critical fundraising mode and forming as a nonprofit organization to realize their stage dreams.

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

Haughey often performs as Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War general and U.S. president.

To fund a planned 2022 production, they will apply for a $2,500 Arts Midwest “Gig” Grant in October. Public donations will be doubled as a co-match if they win the funding, which includes a community connection component. They plan to form arts and cultural partnerships in the Q-C, and connect diverse generations of youth and senior citizen participants.

“A very important aspect of that is about how we’re going to partner with other arts organizations to do something fundamental with the project,” Haughey said, envisioning hosting a meet-and-greet this fall with young and old about the values of ancestry and immigration, at the Center for Living Arts East, 2008 4th Ave., Rock Island.

Callahan (the musical’s composer/lyricist) and Haughey (the book author) also will apply for a $2,500

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

The logo for “Aaron Power! The Musical.”

Illinois Humanities “Community Action Grant” by Sept. 10, which will match public donations.

A special feature of that community project will be conducting timely humanities workshops on topics of community violence, peace, or immigration — related to “Aaron Power” — for 5-10 high school classes in the Q-C area.

Because of Covid, over the past 15 months they’ve pretty much been put on hold in making progress, Haughey said. They can still do planning and organizing, even though they haven’t been able to really proactively fundraise.

They’re worked to form a board and apply for articles of incorporation with the state of Illinois and IRS as a nonprofit, and are working with a local attorney. Haughey said they’re waiting to get their approval as a nonprofit and have a total fundraising goal of $9,900.

“We know what the market wants to pay,” he said of fees for a director, actors and performers, as well as facility rental, insurance, musical instruments, and other administrative costs.

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They’re raising money online at www.facebook.com/donate4music, and the two men are offering a half-hour musical program for service clubs and other organizations (donations encouraged) between July 10 and November, with the following program –

 Intro/Prelude: “How Can I Keep from Singing?” (a few verses), Dan & Mike

  1. “Impossible Dream,” Mike
  2. “Music of the Night,” Mike
  3. “Galway Bay,” Dan with guitar backup
  4. “The Unicorn Song,” Dan verses (Dan & Mike chorus with “choreography”)
  5. “Song Against Change” from “Aaron Power,” Mike & Dan
  6. “When I’m Lost” from “Aaron Power,” Mike & Dan
  7. Exit/Epilogue: “Irish Washerwoman,” upbeat instrumental

What is “Aaron Power” about?

“Aaron Power” is a modern musical about love, relationships, ancestry, trust, and an American man’s quest to find his identity and estranged family in Ireland. The musical reflects Irish, Native American, and Celtic punk rock styles.

The musical – performed in a October 2019 staged reading at The Black Box Theatre, Moline – is set in the present, about a talented but troubled young Navajo-Irish man. Aaron is sent by a medicine man on an epic quest to Ireland to escape a possible crime.

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

“Aaron Power! The Musical” combines Irish and Native American themes and music.

The setting begins on a Navajo reservation in the Four Corners area of America and rapidly moves to Ireland. The action moves through several counties of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, from the east coast to the far west coast, to include the Blasket Islands.

A gifted musician, the young Aaron Thorn wants discover the mystery of his Irish roots. He meets up with a cutting-edge Celtic rock band that is running from the suspicion that one of its members may have committed an act of terrorism in Belfast. Aaron is quickly assimilated into the band, its culture and its Irish tour — a journey for its own musical identity.

Aaron falls in love with the lead singer, Kate, who helps him find his place in Irish music, traditions, and the discovery of his haunting heritage: that Aaron’s mysterious grandfather is a “Taoiseach” (pronounced “teé-sheck”): one of Ireland’s most loved yet hated political chiefs of modern times.

With the pressures of a new culture and challenges of relationships converging on him, Aaron—in a flurry of emotions—follows the band to the Great Blasket Island, and birthday celebration at the home of the Taoiseach there, his grandfather.

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

The October 2019 staged reading of “Aaron Power” featured Anthony Leiter, left, Alexa Florence and Don Madson.

Aaron aims to resort to violence, to “blow up” and deface the controversial, ill-fated family legacy that is now his own. In his struggle, he slips on a rock during a terrible island storm, and falls unconscious into a dream-like, nightmarish state.

He is confronted in a dream sequence by an apparition of his infamous grandfather, Charles Power, as he confronts Aaron with his Irish identity, family and troubled values, and even the meaning of love.

Aaron is rescued, and in the denouement, begins a healing process as he reconciles issues that have haunted him. He pledges a new-found understanding of his heritage, his love of family, and his love for Kate. He sees himself now as a man and a musician with a meaningful message, who has much to express about the world and who he really is.

He vows to return to the States with Kate, reunite with his Navajo family, and resolve his tempestuous life.

According to the authors, “Aaron Power” is a “musical of cultural discovery, family fusion, and a quest for peace. It is a right-of-passage story about personal challenge and growth, set to distinctive, uplifting sounds of contemporary Irish American and Native American music.”

A personal quest for Haughey

Haughey and Callahan have worked on this since 2010, and met at Moline’s  Bethel Wesley United Methodist Church, where Callahan is music director. Haughey asked him to collaborate on the project after hearing his praise songs for the church.

“It seemed a very personal project to him, something very important for his family, and it was something I was very excited to jump board with and stretch my composing skills with, and I’ve had a great time doing it,” Callahan said recently.

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

Bethel Wesley United Methodist Church is at 1201 13th St., Moline.

He had long been a musical theater fan, growing up in Rock Island, but never had written a stage show before.

“I started listening to musicals as far back as I could remember,” he said. “By the time I was 9, I was listening to Sondheim all the time in my room – a very normal childhood of course, sitting around listening to things like ‘Company.’”

Callahan said the Quad-Cities theater scene years ago wasn’t as strong as it is today, so this is his first real venture into the format.

“Mike is gifted,” Haughey said. “I just had kind of started my third career, which is semi-retirement. I think I was inspired; I was just inspired by his music. I said, ‘Hey, want to write a

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

Lojo Russo performs for “Aaron Power.”

musical?’ Ever since then, Michael’s been on this roller coaster with ‘Aaron Power.’ I applaud his persistence and also his talent. Mike is a talented composer.”

Haughey’s brother was a Mormon priest and very into genealogy, and he traced their family tree for years. Their family is part Irish, and his brother found a New York Times article about Charles Haughey (a cousin who died in 2006), who was Ireland’s prime minister – known as “Taoiseach” – from 1979 to 1981, March 1982 to December 1982 and 1987 to 1992.

“He was probably one of the greatest political chiefs in Ireland,” Dan said. “His reputation was, he revolutionized Ireland; he made it the Celtic tiger, the Silicon Valley of Europe, modernized it.”

“That followed me around; there was a synergy. I heard Mike’s music and there’s got to be a story to put to music,” Haughey said. “Mike’s done a nice job of responding to that and included me in some of the composition work. At one point I was a BFA musical theater major in my undergraduate work and I have a lot of ensemble experience over time in musical theater.”

He studied acting at the Florida State University-Asolo Conservatory for professional actor training. His B.A. is in Theatre Arts with a Minor in English from Eastern Kentucky University.

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Haughey (danact3.com) is a theater professor emeritus from Black Hawk College, and holds a master’s degree in playwriting and play production from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. His one-act plays include “The Private Room,” “The Deliverance of Betsey Reed,” “Labor Day,” and “Run with Me.”

He co-authored a one-act musical, “The Best Man of Flagport!” (with Tracy Davis and Coleman Harris), done around 2006 in a staged reading at BHC, music arranged by “Nervous” Neal Smith.

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

A scene in Ireland featured on the “Aaron Power” Facebook page.

Haughey’s full-length play on Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), “Yankee Gentleman,” reflects his fascination with biographical drama. He’s written and performed several one-man shows which he tours on subjects of history, culture, music or nature, including “U.S. Grant,” “Gaelic Songs,” “Civil War Melodies,” “RangerManDan” and “EA Poe: Edgar Allan Poe’s Imagination!”

His modern one-act drama, “The Private Room,” was produced in 2011 at New Ground Theatre in Davenport, and in 2017 in the Strawberry One-Act Festival in New York City.

Callahan, of Moline, has been composing music since the third grade and has written classical, folk, bell music and Christian pop pieces in his work as music director at Bethel Wesley United Methodist Church in Moline (now in his 20th year).

Callahan composed music for Genesius Guild’s production of “Twelfth Night” in 2016; is a four-time award winner at the Quad City Playwriting Competition and his work has been performed at Augustana College and New Ground Theatre.

Callahan is director of the barbershop singing group The Chordbusters, and he is also a regular performer with “It’s a Mystery.” Be sure to check out his comic strip when you are on Facebook: “Espresso Yourself” tells the tale of the octopus barista “Archimedes” and his animal friends.

Callahan has spent over 30 years as a creator, writer, photographer, performer and director in the area.

Embracing issues of diversity

In their work on and off stage, the two men both appreciate themes and characters of diversity and issues of culture.

“I was looking to make this story autobiographical,” Haughey said of “Aaron Power.” “I went to Ireland and I followed up on this genealogy research of my family and I just didn’t want it to be self-conscious. I spent considerable time in the Southwest as a college professor and theater director. I just had kind of an empathy for Native Americans as a result of that experience, especially the Navajo Nation.”

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

Haughey earned his master’s degree in playwriting and play production from Southern Illinois University.

His goal for the musical was to make a dramatic, inspiring adventure – blending Native-American dilemmas, concerns and people with the Irish quest.

Aaron does not know his heritage, Haughey said.

“He knows he’s not just Navajo, but after his father’s tragic death, he learns that he’s half-Irish and half-Native American, and also implicated in a crime,” he said. “A medicine man says, we know about you. You need to go to Ireland and find your grandfather, and that’s what sets the action into motion.”

Before he came to Black Hawk College in 1997, Haughey taught at San Juan College in

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

The cast and crew for the original musical “Aaron Power” at Moline’s Black Box Theatre on Oct. 6, 2019.

Farmington, N.M., for five years.

There is an onstage band in “Aaron Power,” which is part of the cast, Callahan said.

“There may be moments when they’re pushed aside a bit, but the idea is all the music is happening in front of you in real time,” he said. He was inspired by director John Doyle, who has staged some Sondheim musicals with actors playing instruments on stage (like “Sweeney Todd”).

“I thought that was a really neat concept, so I thought since this was based about musicians, why not show them on stage all the time, and find some musician actors who could fill the parts?” Callahan said.

In writing the score, he tried to absorb Native American influences.

“I still find myself when I’ve reviewed the music and looking for any future edits, is how honest I can be with some of the Native American sections and how true to myself I can be, while not trying to pretend to be Native American in any way,” Callahan said, noting he’s always had eclectic musical tastes.

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“I’ve listened to all kinds of music my whole life,” he said. “I come to it with the idea that it’s me and my background as an American, writing it and taking those influences of what I’ve heard around me and putting them down on paper.”

“I have no incredible cultural connections, though I’ve heard quite a bit of Native American music,” Callahan said. He is Irish on his father’s side, but has never been to Ireland.

Haughey visited the Emerald Isle in 2008, to find out more about his family. “I’ve always been enamored by Irish music, on all levels,” he said. “There are amazing and classical in their own traditions.”

Callahan and Haughey collaborated on some lyrics, but for most songs, Callahan wrote both music and lyrics.

Fundraising and feasibility

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

Dan Haughey, 66, of East Moline, is a retired Black Hawk College theater professor and playwright.

They received a small Illinois Arts Council grant in 2019 to help pay for performers and rent the theater, which was crucial, Haughey said.

“We needed that or we were just gonna put it on the shelf,” he said. “Since 2010, Michael and I would do readings and revisions, and we were lucky to surround ourselves with friends and other area performers. We did three public readings, one an initial reading and recital at our church, Bethel Wesley.”

They did those in 2016 and 2017. The Illinois Arts Council grant not only supported local performers but also covered fees for space and equipment rentals, revised manuscripts, publicity, and supplies. A key component was also funding of a professional, original-cast recording of the live music, and they also hired two sign-language interpreters for hearing-impaired audience members.

After the 2019 staged reading, they got a feasibility group together (including people in the local theater scene), in February 2020. They studied the show and their goals and recommended Haughey and Callahan form a 501c3 nonprofit organization, to raise money for a full production.

“It also had to do with getting other people on board to help with the decision-making process,” Callahan said. “Dan and I had been together

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

Michael Callahan, 50, of Moline, is a composer, music director, writer, performer and photographer.

for a while and when the two of us are discussing, a lot of things will swim around in our heads, but to get some outside input into this process and decision-making, the two of us was a bit too narrow a group for some of the decision-making ahead and it would help us tremendously to bring other ideas into this process.”

“I think we exhausted the ideas ourselves and we wanted a little more input on how to bring this to fruition,” he said.

Haughey said it would take a large sum of money to do a quality, professional production.

“We needed to be objective, so we needed to hire co-directors,” he said. “We wanted to hire quality directors to do that job.”

“The more voices that are involved with it, the better the piece is,” Callahan said. “Especially people who haven’t been touching this process before, they can come at the project with fresh eyes.”

The feasibility group did not recommend changes to the musical’s content, Haughey said.

“There’s so much going on in the culture of America,” he said. Early on, in the Native American community, there were exchanges between Aaron and his mother that they revised, based on discussions on race, culture and stresses in society.

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“It’s really hard for us to listen to it and find things that we would change,” Haughey said. “I’ve had the luxury of time, to find little places here and there. I don’t think we can move forward without this fully mounted production.”

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

“Aaron Power” in 2019 featured Nolan Schoenle as the title character and Bob Hanske as Charles Power, the chief of the Republic of Ireland.

In the ‘80s, he worked at Florida State University, producing a play (“Falling Man”) about the famous 20th-century abstract artist Jackson Pollock. They did like a work in progress, Haughey said.

“If you have a good director, you can tweak things as you go, and I think that’s where our production is,” he said.

Would “Aaron Power” be eligible to have a workshop done at a new-play festival like he did in New York City?

They did apply to compete in a few festivals like that, one called Apples and Oranges Arts, which produces new musicals on the East Coast (between Orlando and New York).

“That’s the one we competed the best in,” Haughey said, noting they typically are measured against 600 other shows for each festival. “We actually made it to the second reading of that one.”

That was soon after the fall 2019 Black Box reading, and he doesn’t know if they made it to the final round, since the festival chose two musicals out of the 600.

“We got some positive feedback that there’s something worthwhile about this musical,” Haughey said.

“Especially now you’re coming out of Covid, you’re gonna have a massive number,” Callahan said of new musicals in general.

Other projects moving forward

Callahan is music directing his first Q-C stage musical, the new Countryside Community Theatre production of the classic “The Music Man.” Starring Kyle DeFauw as Harold Hill and Peyton Reese as Marian, it will be performed June 25-27 and July 1-3 at North Scott High School Auditorium, Eldridge.

Callahan previously performed in Countryside’s production of “South Pacific,” directed by the late Brian Nelson. He’s never music directed a theatrical production before.

His experience directing Chordbusters was perfect to get into THE barbershop quartet musical, “The Music Man,” he said.

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

Countryside Community Theatre will stage “The Music Man” June 25-27 and July 1-3 in Eldridge.

Callahan got to go to the headquarters of the Barbershop Harmony Society in Nashville, Tenn., and saw the full script of “The Music Man” movie, marked up by the quartet The Buffalo Bills, which sang in the film.

“It’s been going great; we have a lot of talented and eager people,” Callahan said of Countryside, noting some of the young student performers will still wear masks.

“The shutdown was hard, but starting back up for everything I’ve been part of, has been harder,” he said. “Trying to come back from this, because everybody’s at a different level of being comfortable. It depends on where you’re at.”

“Everybody being off a year, having life happen and trying to gather them all back into a production again,” Callahan said.

For the church, his family took over music this past year and he brought back the choir a month ago before going on vacation for summer. They did virtual choirs during Covid, and in person recently, they sang in masks and distanced.

“It went off very well; it’s been going well,” Callahan said. “We’ve had no breakouts of anything.”

For Chordbusters, they performed outdoors and filmed videos last year. Since the winter, they came back indoors together, and they haven’t

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

The Black Box Theatre is at 1623 5th Ave., Moline.

had any problems, he said.

Next month, you can find Callahan at Genesius Guild in Rock Island’s Lincoln Park, where he has been engaged to direct “Hippolytus,” That will be performed July 17-18 and 24-25.

This October, Callahan will direct The Chordbusters as they present a show to honor first responders, in recognition of the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Haughey is a member and past president of the Illinois Theatre Association and a current 2021-22 “Road Scholar” presenter with the Speakers Bureau of Illinois Humanities, which he has done for the past eight years.

“I’ve been consistently fortunate to have invited to do a show on Ulysses S. Grant, about the Civil War,” he said, noting he’s done one-man shows on both the Civil War-era Grant, and President Grant, who lived in Galena, Ill., in 1860-61 and again in 1865-68.

Haughey said he plans to perform as Grant for Viking Cruise Lines in its new route along the Mississippi River from Dubuque to Davenport, starting summer 2022. “It’s kind of exciting,” he said.

For more information on “Aaron Power!” or to make a contribution, visit facebook.com/donate4music, and tap the secure PayPal link. You can also contact Dan Haughey (“hoy”) at 309-236-2772, aaronpowermusical@gmail.com or danact3.com.

Two Quad-Cities Artists Partner for Over Decade on New Musical

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.
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