By Sam Elliott
Oklahoma isn’t the only state with a musical named after it anymore.
Fishers-based theater company the Nickel Plate Players is bringing “Indiana – The Musical” to the city this summer to celebrate the state’s 200th birthday as an official Indiana Bicentennial Commission project. The debut performance is 6 p.m. July 16 at Balmoral Golf Club.
“About two years ago we started thinking that it would be good to do something for the bicentennial celebration,” Nickel Plate Players Executive Director Ashton Wolf said. “I had written a song for the bicentennial called ‘It’s still America (to Me).’ It’s a patriotic song and I figured how to put that song in a musical we did last year at the amphitheater called ‘Heartlight,’ and it worked out really well.”
Wolf sent a video of that song’s performance to Brenda Myers, president and CEO of Hamilton County Tourism, which came on as a NPP sponsor in 2015.
“About three or four days later she sent me an email and said, ‘You know, there’s grant money available for bicentennial projects,’” Wolf said. “Well, we were waiting in the wings with an idea, so we wrote a proposal to create a new bicentennial musical for Hamilton County and the state of Indiana … and we got it. That got us going.”
Wolf rounded up a team of 10 local writers and, with the help of Noblesville historian David Heighway, began fishing through Indiana’s history for highlights to include in the script.
“He started feeding my timelines of events over the past 200 years and that’s what got us going,” Wolf said. “It was easy enough to look at the timeline of events and go, ‘Boring, boring, oh I’ll take that, boring, I’ll take that,’ etc., etc., so by committee we chose the scenes we thought might make the best fodder for a musical theater production.”
The musical follows the cast and production staff of a film crew as they shoot the movie “Indiana – The Musical.”
“That gives us a theatrical device to jump all over 200 years of history,” Wolf said.
Kyle Martin plays Sam, the eccentric director hot off the latest Hollywood blockbuster tasked with delivering the story of the Hoosier state.
“I’m a film buff, so he’s a fun character to play,” Martin said. “He’s a very over-the-top character, he’s very obnoxious, he’s not a villain by any means — he may not be the antagonist, but he is an antagonist — so he’s a fun person to play in that regard … He’s the bookmark and the linchpin of the scenes and keeps things moving along, but ultimately the star of the show is the music and the arrangements Ashton put together. That’s the humbling thing about being the lead in a musical — the music is really the star of the show.”
Wolf wrote original music for the show, including opening number “Everyone’s Welcome in Hamilton County” and the rap-style “We got Gas!” — for a scene about Indiana settlers discovering natural gas underground — among others. His patriotic song “It’s Still America (to Me)” closes the show.
Historically accurate scenes of Indiana’s history portrayed in the musical range from four presidential visits to Noblesville, the natural gas boom and William Conner to a 1900 gun fight in Carmel and the squirrel stampede of the early 1800s.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” Wolf said. “To make a long story short, Ohio had a drought and the squirrels couldn’t find anything to eat, so they invaded Indiana and ate the cornfields, all the crop fields and almost ruined the economy.
“It’s going to be a history lesson, but it’s going to be fun,” he added. “We wanted to make it interesting and fun, but at the same time there’s a tremendous history here with the bicentennial celebration and we’re excited to do it.”
The Nickel Plate Players plan to present five performances of “Indiana – The Musical” across four different Fishers venues this summer. Show times, dates and locations include:
• 6 p.m. July 16 – Balmoral Golf Club, 10101 Hamilton Hills Ln.
• 5 p.m. July 24 – The Historic Ambassador House, 10595 Eller Rd.
• 7:30 p.m. July 29 and 30 – Ji-Eun Lee Music Academy, 10029 E. 126th St.
• 7 p.m. Aug. 27 – Nickel Plate District Amphitheater, 6 Municipal Dr.
For tickets, visit NickelPlatePlayers.com or call 317-572-5470.