I would like to introduce you to my latest passion project, my superhero novel Hero. Hero is the story of Colton Silver, a very average Minnesota teen who is gifted with superpowers. Although Hero is firmly planted in superhero tradition, it is a novel geared toward middle grade readers, and it sheds the more kiddie aspects of comic book storytelling. There are no super villains, Colton isn’t driven by one event in his life (such as the death of an uncle, the death of a father, the death of his parents), and there’s no spandex. As Colton Silver would say, “Yeah, there’s definitely no spandex.”
Oh, and there’s also a high school production of Frank Wildhorn and Nan Knighton’s The Scarlet Pimpernel. We get a glimpse into the rehearsal process as Colton performs as part of “Madame Guillotine” and other scenes in the musical.
Because Broadway theatre is such a passion, it often naturally finds a place in my writing. When I wrote Hero, I knew Colton would be a quiet, wallflower type of kid. He’s very funny and outgoing—very endearing—but he’s not popular or involved in his high school, not because that’s how superheroes are supposed to start out but because he’s like how I was in high school. Back then, I disappeared into the woodwork. In college, however, I came out of my shell by getting involved in theatre, particularly improvisational theatre, where I discovered for the first time that I was funny. Finding a place in theatre was a seminal moment in my life; it allowed me to get involved, to get to know people, and it meant that I couldn’t second-guess my talents like I could as a writer. After all, you can’t wonder if you are good at improv when there is a roomful of people laughing at what you’re doing onstage.
Why, then, did I choose a production of The Scarlet Pimpernel for my novel? If my decision to use high school theatre as a plot point was derived from my life experiences (I also directed high school plays and musicals—look up my suggestion for The Pajama Game in Peter Filichia’s second edition of Let’s Put on a Musical), I picked The Scarlet Pimpernel for a specific reason (and not the one I should have had!).
High schools often (rightful) focus their energies on producing the classic repertoire, shows like Guys and Dolls, Camelot, My Fair Lady, and South Pacific. These shows are brilliant and deserve all the productions they get. But it is modern musicals that speak to young audiences, just as modern literature speaks to them more than the classics. Hairspray tells a story that is closer to home for them than South Pacific. Urinetown is of their generation; Annie Get Your Gun is not. When I was directing high school musicals in 1999-2001, there wasn’t much in terms of new material available that was appropriate for high school students to perform. I very much wanted to do Side Show, but we didn’t have any African-American students to be Jake (cross-reference the “pasty white” community in Hero).
Now, however, there is Urinetown, Jane Eyre, Suessical, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Wonderland, The Drowsy Chaperone, Shrek, Aida, Beauty and the Beast, Sister Act, Little Women, Catch Me if You Can, and In the Heights.
I chose to use The Scarlet Pimpernel in my novel because I saw the tour, staring Douglas Sills, Amy Bodnar, and William Paul Michals. It was tremendous fun, and the music is wonderful. I originally chose it for the modern musical in my novel because I wanted to honor the show and its creators. As I continued to write Hero, however, I realized that nothing could be a better fit for my book—a character learning to be a superhero by appearing in a play about an early superhero, a teen learning to act like a superhero by learning to act. If I was smart, I would just lie and say I planned it all out that way. God only knows where Hero would have gone if I had chosen for the show to be Suessical.
I’m very proud of Hero. It’s a middle grade book that seeks to balance the adventure and action of books like The Hardy Boys with the intelligence and depth of middle grade books like Summer of My German Soldier, My Brother Sam is Dead, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I have worked hard to ensure that I respect my readers by sharing myself through my writing without preaching a message at them or telling them how to think. And along the way, they get introduced to Frank Wildhorn and Nan Knighton’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Hero is currently available as an eBook from Wrobel Street Books. For people wishing to read Hero but who don’t have a Kindle or Nook, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have free apps that allow you to read Hero on cell phones, tablets, iPads, laptops, and desktops. Look on any eBook page for information on either site for information on downloading them. For more information on my book, including links to buy Hero, visit www.coltonsilver.com.
the Broadway Mouth
February 10, 2015
One last thing . . .
By the way, The Scarlet Pimpernel isn’t the only theatre honor in Hero. Just as the main character is named for my nephew, there are background characters among the theatre kids with names honoring Carly Jipson (such an awesome Tracey Turnblad), Andrea Rivette (of Jekyll & Hyde), Elizabeth Ward Land (who played Pimpernel’s Marie is all incarnations of the show), and Michael Lanning (of The Civil War and Bonnie & Clyde). The adults in the theatre department are named in honor of Sutton Foster and Hunter Foster, Gwen Verdon, and Agnes DeMille. Among the main characters, Carol Channing (whose Dolly Levi changed my life) makes an appearance in the name of Susie Carole, and Shaun Taylor-Corbett who was Sonny all four times I saw In the Heights (twice on tour, twice on Broadway) makes an appearance through the name Magda Corbett.