Writing team Bob Druker and Steve Dawson have created a new musical with an audience of kids and ‘tweens in mind, and with messages about mental health. There’s a dog, Freckles, who struggles with social anxiety and a traumatized plane who is unable to fly. “The Plane That Took a Train,” a musical with some 15 songs, will be released as a 6-episode podcast soon, available on most podcast platforms including Apple and Spotify.
As much as the story seems to have been written with the effects of the last pandemic year on young people in mind, it actually has been years in the making. Call it a sort of serendipity.
“It just all came together in a way that makes me think this was supposed to happen, Druker said. “We were just the instruments of something that wants this play to be out there, to do some good in the world. That probably sounds like a Pollyannaish kind of thing but I’m old enough to look back and say that kind of thing.”
In addition to the plane and dog, there’s a dog posing as a cat to help Freckles, and a fairy tale kingdom in need of saving from an evil king who distorts the truth. The train helps the plane, grounded by feelings of guilt over a traumatic earlier accident, get home to help the rescue plan. The train, in turn, struggles with substance abuse, though that’s never spelled out in a story meant for kids.
And lest you make your own mental leaps about the king, he’s inspired by the character Claudius from “Hamlet,” of all things, not a certain U.S. president.
The show is for anyone of any politics, and any age, Druker said.
“We hope it’s something kids and parents will want to listen to together,” Dawson said. “It doesn’t talk down to anyone.”
Veteran singer-songwriter Dawson is known in Chicago through musical projects such as the Americana outfit Dolly Varden with his wife Diane Christiansen, and last year he released “Last Flight Out” as the second record with his Funeral Bonsai Wedding band.
Druker is also a psychiatrist in Milwaukee, formerly with a private practice in Sheboygan and Milwaukee and who now works with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. He first got to know Dawson after seeing him perform and taking one of the classes Dawson teaches at the Old Town School of Folk Music. This is their first musical together and they began writing it in Jan. 2018. It was intended to be a live stage musical and was nearing completion when the pandemic shut down theaters a year ago. They instead adapted it into the podcast, mostly by adding more lines for a narrator to tie things together, and it was recorded between April and July last year by cast members in their homes.
Including Druker and Dawson, the cast consists of a dozen children and adults, including Kay Kron (past local stage credits include House Theatre, Lookingglass, Chicago Children’s Theatre and others); Carly Meyer (Illinois High School Musical Theatre Awards winner in 2017) and Thatcher Jacobs (in the national Broadway tour of “Falsettos”).
The title and the image that launched the show’s creation, more or less, came from something Druker saw while traveling in Montana years ago, he said: An actual train carrying an airplane that was crossing the roadway.
“I thought, there has to be a story to this,” he said, and the sight stuck in his mind. The mental-health elements in the story come from him, but for all “Plane That Took a Train” has to say about working though troubles at a time of increased diagnoses of depression and traumatic stress in youths, it’s mostly an adventure story, he said. “It isn’t a treatise or educational project about mental health. If I were a kid, I would run like the daylights away from something like that.”
Episode No. 1 is titled “A Moment of Truth,” and truth is a recurring theme.
“The truth that is something that Bob and I feel really strongly is important,” Dawson said. Being true to yourself, being truthful about facing problems.
Episode No. 5 is “The Lie that You Believe” and the title song includes the line, “It’s easy to convince you you’re not strong.” Well worth a listen.
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