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Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008 01:03 am

Musical musician delivers Camp Sunshine comedy

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Scenes from the Jacksonville Theatre Guild presentation of Camp Sunshine

If you're wondering (and you're probably not) how a theatrical musical found its way into a column about live music happenings, it is simply this: Roger Wainwright, composer of the play's songs, is a musician. A well-respected, veteran keyboardist of several local bands, Wainwright now spends his days writing songs about specific subjects intended for the stage.

He claims to "not like musicals." He couldn't find any that he liked other than Jesus Christ Superstar. The original rock musical inspired his first major work, David: You and I, a set of songs based on the life of King David, the famed monarch from the Old Testament. After writing the music, Wainwright contacted area author and playwright Ken Bradbury who took a listen to the tunes and agreed to create a script connecting the songs into a cohesive story. They debuted the show in 2006 and since have collaborated on three other musicals.

Camp Sunshine, the latest endeavor from the minds of Bradbury and Wainwright, is a musical comedy scripted by Bradbury as an expansion of an eight-minute, one-act play he wrote many years ago about the trials and tribulations of a church summer camp for kids. The former Triopia High School teacher and prolific author received positive feedback from his publisher on the short piece and decided to flesh it out into a full-scale theater work. Wainwright had no problem delivering humorous ditties about "everything you've dreaded about summer camp" including Mr. Romance, Junk Food, and The Girl I Used to Be.

"Writing songs is easy for me, coming up with something to write about is the hard part," says Wainwright. "As a songwriter I like writing a variety of styles and a musical gives me a reason to develop songs."

Wainwright gives Bradbury most of the credit for their success, praising the extensively published writer's ability to build a scene around a song and for providing a good story to write songs about. According to the composer, the key to the pair's collaborative success is being brutally honest as critics of each other's work.

"We had a song all choreographed, written in and acting in the play when Ken and I agreed it wasn't working," says Wainwright. "I wrote a new song and it made the play that much better. "

There is a certain advantage to doing original productions — the authors-as-directors can alter what they feel doesn't work while the play is still in rehearsal stage. The versatility and capacity of the actors for change then comes into action and Wainwright has nothing but admiration for the cast, comprised mainly of central Illinois college and high school students.

"To see these people care so much about this is so great," he says. "I love seeing the passion in these kids. I don't know how they do it."

Last weekend heralded the world premiere of Camp Sunshine and it did so well at the box office Jacksonville Theatre Guild officials added an extra show for the final weekend. David: You and I also debuted in the Sophie Leschin Theatre in Jacksonville, not far from Bradbury's home in nearby Arenzville.

"I will always have a special place in my heart for the Jacksonville Theatre Guild," says Wainwright. "They gave us the time, money and support to get it started."

Bradbury and Wainwright Productions recently received a commission to develop a play for Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial birthday celebration. As soon as Camp Sunshine concludes its run, the pair will start writing in earnest on the Abe show due to debut in February of 2009, while simultaneously knocking around other pieces of plays that just might be coming soon to a theater near you. Already plans are in the works for an independent Springfield production of Camp Sunshine by next spring or summer.

"Ken and I are writing about three shows at any given time," says Wainwright. "We're going to ride the wave while we can. It's just a whole lot of fun."

The Jacksonville Theatre Guild presents Camp Sunshine at the Sophie Leschin Theatre September 26-28. For more information call the JTG at 217-245-1402 or visit www.jaxtg.org or www.bradburywainwright.com.

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